Bhuchung K. Tsering

Thanksgiving Day, the Dalai Lama and the United States

Every November, Americans celebrate a noble occasion, Thanksgiving Day, when we are encouraged “to count our many blessings.” This year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 27, 2014.

Since the day comes a few weeks after yet another successful visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States (as well as Canada), I want to offer thanks to the democracy and freedom of this country that enables His Holiness to make his visits and the opportunity it provides to Americans to benefit from his wisdom.

Although we take visits by the Dalai Lama to the United States for granted today (compared to some other countries that have to capitulate to direct and indirect pressures from China) things were not always that way. His Holiness first began visiting the United States in 1979 but there were efforts many years before that for him to be in this country.

Some recently declassified United States Government documents that include communications exchanged between the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in India, way back in 1970, about a possible visit by the Dalai Lama gives us a taste of the decision making process then. Although it is unfortunate that His Holiness had to wait for nine long years following those deliberations, yet it is revealing to see how different organs of the United States Government approached the issue.

I summarize below the exchange of memos and cables between the White House, the State Department and the American Embassy in India between March and April 1970.

In a memo dated March 23, 1970 to President Richard Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, begins by saying “Tibetan representatives have informed us that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States and Europe this coming Autumn.” He then says the State Department is opposed to this as it “would create, gratuitously and without a compensating gain, a further point of friction between us and Communist China.”

However, Kissinger feels outright rejection is not the right response to the Tibetans and that they should be informed that “The visit would be inconvenient this year but we would wish to consider it seriously in 1971 (after the UNGA session is over).” UNGA is of course the United Nations General Assembly held every autumn in New York attended by many government leaders.

When the above guideline was conveyed to the Embassy in India, it responded to the State Department in a telegram dated April 8, 1970 requesting that “The Department revise its position to permit at least a private visit this year.” The Embassy’s view was that not allowing the visit would be seen by both the Tibetans as well as the Indian Government as “appeasing” China.

The State Department responded through a telegram dated April 14, 1970 from the Secretary of State to the American Ambassador in India saying, “I value your forthright discussion of Dalai Lama visit and have reexamined question in light of your recommendations. However, I must reaffirm decision, which was made by President, that we do not wish to have Dalai Lama come to U.S. this year and ask that you arrange to inform Tibetans of this as soon as possible, following guidance ref B.”

And that was the end of that endeavor, as it turned out to be.

It is interesting that the Secretary of State’s above telegram was followed by another dated April 15, which said: “In conveying U.S. views on Dalai Lama visit, you of course should not mention Presidential involvement in decision.”

Also interesting is the fact that Henry Kissinger, in his memo to the President, draws attention to the maintenance of principles by saying that while the United States need to consider Chinese sensitivity, “On the other hand, the Chinese have hardly abandoned their basic positions in order to talk with us and we should perhaps avoid precipitate decisions to abandon points of principle to accommodate them.”

Eventually, good sense prevailed in the United States Government, and the Dalai Lama has been able to visit this country many times since 1979. We in the International Campaign for Tibet have been privileged to have been involved in many of these visits. The Dalai Lama’s visits have enabled several thousand Americans to imbibe his message of compassion, peace and non-violence.

As a case in point, following the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Birmingham, AL, a journalist summed up his impression in an article headlined “What Alabama learned about the Dalai Lama.” He wrote, “He had a very simple message, and he delivered it. He spoke out for peace, love, compassion and acceptance of others.”

In fact the simplicity of His Holiness and the practicality of his message have resonated well among the American public. The same journalist listed some of these in his article as being below:

“Peace must come from inside – not come from the sky.”
“Everyone wants happiness. Peace is the basis of happiness.”
“Monks, scholars should not accept my teaching by faith, but rather experience, investigation.”
“Modern science should involve more study about mind, emotion.”
“Love and kindness is the key to build happiness.”
“The education system is very oriented to material things. There is no compassion.”
“Healthy mind, very important for healthy body.”
“If our action really narrow-minded, one-sided, cheating others, you cheat yourself. Finally, you suffer. Make others unhappy, finally, you are lonely person, miserable.”
“Without other people, we cannot survive. Even morning tea, I cannot manage (by myself).”
“You have emotions. Me, too, with big name, His Holiness Dalai Lama. But emotions sometimes create difficulties.”
“I always emphasize oneness of humanity.”
“Out of seven billion human beings, more than one billion are non-believers. We cannot ignore these one billion. They also have right to be happy person.”

So, this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has been working tirelessly for the past more than seven decades in the service of humanity. I am also thankful to the United States, a country whose adherence to the fundamental values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law continues to provide hope and succor to the Tibetan people, including in giving a sense of belonging to thousands of Tibetan Americans.

My take on the Obama-Xi Jinping summit and Tibet

Now that we have a picture of where the issue of Tibet figured in the summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 11 and 12, 2014, overall President Obama deserves our commendation.

On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, during his press meeting with President Xi, President Obama publicly said he had urged the Chinese authorities “to take steps to preserve the unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.”

The President also made it clear that “America’s unwavering support for fundamental human rights of all people will continue to be an important element of our relationship with China.”

Such a clear outlining of American approach was needed at a time when there are many who feel that the United States is giving into economic consideration by being soft on the fundamental American values of human rights, democracy, and freedom.

I have no doubt that President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Government have once again received the message that the American people and government have not slackened off in their support for the rights of the Tibetan people.

However, there were people who were perturbed at President Obama saying, “…we recognize Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. We are not in favor of independence.” While I would have wished for the President not to have said this, to be fair, recognizing Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic of China is a known American position, and as the Washington Post put in an editorial, “Obama was more diplomatic“ by reiterating it. But of course the Chinese media exploited this by focusing only on it and conveniently neglecting to refer to President Obama’s strong stress on the importance of Tibetan identity.

So, how would one sum up the summit in terms of Tibet? Here I can only quote the Washington Post editorial, which said, “In short, it’s possible for Mr. Obama to speak forthrightly in support of human rights in China and to press Mr. Xi about matters such as Tibet and Hong Kong while still partnering with Beijing in areas of mutual interest. It’s a lesson the Obama administration has been slow to learn, but the president’s performance Wednesday was auspicious.”

China’s corruption inspection team finds what Tibetans already knew

Chen Quanguo

Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo

The report from Lhasa about the visit there by the central inspection team and finding corruption at grass roots level, and remarks by the Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo warning cadres who continue to be loyal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama is interesting in a few ways.

First, here is a summation of the report. The official Tibet Daily carries a report on November 5, 2014 about the findings of an inspection team of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), which was in the Tibet Autonomous Region from July 25 to September 24, 2014. It quotes Ye Dongsong, head of the inspection team, as saying, “Some officials have failed to take a firm political stand and some grass-root officials in the region were found to have serious corruption issues.” Apparently, the team collected the information by “interviewing some people, receiving letters from the public, receiving phone calls, personal visits, and looking at and reading relevant documents.”

It is good that the authorities are finally realizing something that has been an open secret among Tibetans in Tibet for many decades; corruption is rampant and even routine tasks that are expected from any official cannot be performed without going through the Takgo (“back door”). Therefore, finding “serious corruption issues” will not be a surprise to the Tibetans, but they will now be waiting to see how the authorities will be following up on this. Ye is quoted as reiterating that on the issue of anti-corruption campaign, Tibet will not enjoy any special privileges. But a belief among the Tibetan public is that the authorities will not be prosecuting any of these officials as they are also the ones who mouth slogans of loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. So far the trend is for the authorities to specifically reward those officials who are criticized by the public because this was taken as an indication that these officials are upholding party lines (and conversely demote those who are praised by the people).

The Tibet Daily reports Chen Quanguo, Party chief of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as accepting the team’s findings saying that they were “factual and comprehensive” and have “woken us up from the sleep of ignorance.”

Chen then expands on the situation saying that the anti-corruption campaign should be coordinated with the anti-separatism campaign. He is reported as saying that one hand should uphold the anti-corruption campaign and the other hand should uphold the anti-separatism campaign.

Now here comes the interesting part. Chen is reported as saying, “Those cadres and officials who harbor fantasies about the 14th Dalai Clique, follow the 14th Dalai Clique, participate in supporting separatist infiltration sabotage activities will be strictly and severely dealt with according to the law and disciplinary rules.” Chen adds that they should not be Go-nyima (“dual headed”).

If there was any doubt on why Chen Quanguo was saying this, it was clarified by a Chinese professor to the official Global Times on November 5. “Some officials in Tibet still sympathize with the Dalai Lama. They continue to support the Dalai Lama out of their religious beliefs,” said Xiong Kunxin, a professor with the Minzu University of China. The professor also adds, “… those officials also support the Dalai Lama’s separatism activities.”

The findings of China’s inspection team and the admission by Chen Quanguo that even cadres are looking to the Dalai Lama instead of to the Communist Party confirms the reality that despite all their efforts the Chinese authorities have not been successful in severing the historical and special bond between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama.

China has always attempted to make the world believe that everything is fine in Tibet, and that the Tibetan people are happy under the Communist rule. They even claim that “Earth-shaking changes have taken place in Tibet since the peaceful liberation 60 years ago.”

But the latest report confirms what the Tibetans knew all along; their steadfast devotion to the Dalai Lama and the existence of corruption at all levels in the Tibetan society in Tibet. The sooner the Chinese Government acknowledges these and positively addresses them, the better it is for China and Tibet.

Fang Lizhi was right about Tibet and China

On April 6, 2012, a prominent Chinese democracy advocate and noted thinker, Fang Lizhi, passed away in Tucson, AZ. He was forced to flee to the United States in 1989 in the wake of the Chinese authorities’ clampdown on the democracy movement in China.

In addition to his well-known effort on democracy and freedom for China, he was also a Chinese intellectual who had a good grasp of the nature of the Tibetan problem. One of his ways of indicating his concern for the plight of the Tibetan people was by serving on the international council of advisors of the International Campaign for Tibet.

In 1991, a few years after he came to the United States, Fang addressed a conference, most probably the first-ever dialogue between Chinese and Tibetans, on the issue of Tibet in New York. What he said then holds true even now.

There are some Chinese people who tend to hold the view that Tibetans may have suffered under the present regime, but so have the Chinese people. Fang had this to say on the issue. “Tibet has suffered much during the years of Chinese Communist Party rule, as has all of the People’s Republic of China. But Tibet’s cultural and religious life has been more severely attacked by the Communist Party than the traditions of the Han culture. Still, Tibetan culture has managed to survive; it seems to have great resilience.”

On the question whether a democratic China may be better off for the people of Tibet, Fang said, “We all want democracy. But will democracy make interaction among various social groups more harmonious, or less? A change toward genuine democratization is a necessary condition for such harmony, but it is not a sufficient condition in itself. In other words, we need both democracy and human rights if we are to find a way to live together peacefully, but something more is needed.”

He went on the expand on this “something more” that was needed by talking about the Chinese authorities’ discriminatory policies against non-Chinese people. Fang said, “The Chinese Communist Party has always suppressed nationalistic feelings among the ethnic groups that make the People’s Republic of China. Han nationalism is considered to be fine, but minority nationalism is labeled “splittism” and “counterrevolutionary.” Just as in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union in past decades, communism has driven nationalisms underground. The Communist Party’s solution to the problem of the various minorities is to cover up their sense of uniqueness, to forbid any expression of nationalism. This, in the long term, is no solution at all. As long as the one-party rule of the Communist Party lasts, ethnic conflict will continue.”

If we look at the Chinese authorities repressive policies on Tibetans, we can see that what Fang mentions is something that has not merely happened, but continues to happen, to the Tibetan people today.

Fang, nevertheless, promotes dialogue as a way to resolve conflicts. In a way of encouraging both Tibetans and Chinese to understand each other better and to create trust and confidence, he said, “I think we must not retreat into our separate corners and stare at each other suspiciously from a distance. We must create an environment in which we can continue to talk through the problems that come up and find solutions to them, rather than allowing them to fester. We must find universal standards that bring us together in agreement and fellowship.”

I have never met Prof. Fang Lizhi, but just as those many Chinese people who have been inspired by his words and action, I believe that his position on the issue of Tibet is something that is increasingly felt by Chinese intellectuals who truly care about the future of China. As such, he is also an inspiration for me.