The Dalai Lama has expanded on quite a few issues in this interview to India’s NDTV, which was broadcast on November 28, 2009. The interview, conducted by ace anchor Barkha Dutt, touches on His Holiness’ feelings prior to his recent visit to Tawang, when he hopes to meet President Obama, and his views on India’s role in the world.
The interview has quite some touching moments and the broadcast seems to have been received well by the Indian viewers.
Now that President Barack Obama has ended his maiden East Asia visit, it is time to start reading the tea leaves concerning his reference to Tibet during the joint press appearance/press conference in Beijing on November 17.
First of all, here is what the President said publicly as can be seen from the media video footage below. I am yet to see the transcript on the White House website.
“I spoke to President Hu about America’s bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights. We do not believe that these principles are unique to America but rather they are universal rights and that they should be available to all peoples, to all ethnic and religious minorities. We did note that while we recognise that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.”
If you read this in conjunction with what Ambassador Jeff Bader, White House Senior Asia Director, said in a subsequent media briefing on the same day, you might begin to get some flavor. Ambassador Bader said,
“They discussed Tibet. The President — you saw in the joint press conference, the President referred — the joint press conference, the President referred explicitly to the importance of protection of freedom of religion and the rights of ethnic minorities, and then immediately discussed the importance of a resumption of a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and representatives — the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government. That was a deliberate and a clear statement of the priority the President places on this, and it was discussed privately, as well — the President making clear his respect for the Dalai Lama as a cultural and religious leader, and his intention to meet with the Dalai Lama at an appropriate time.”
The tea leaves show that there are three things to note. On the positive side, President Obama has publicly affirmed his interest in seeing not merely a “resumption” of the dialogue between the Tibetans and the Chinese but one that will “resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have.”
Secondly, Ambassador Bader has said in another media quote that the President spoke very strongly on “human rights” in the private meetings. I would assume that this would mean Tibet figured in that, too. It could be that the United States may have offered initiatives that could encourage the Chinese to move forward in the dialogue process with H.H. the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
Thirdly, the United States has made clear its position on the President meeting His Holiness saying he had made it clear (to the Chinese I assume) “his intention to meet with the Dalai Lama at an appropriate time.” This is important because of the negative perception that a non-meeting in October between the two created in the public and the media.
I look at the Beijing statement as the beginning of the process on the US approach to Tibet. Now the challenge for the Obama Administration is to see what approach it intends to take to back its “support” for the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue process. The statement in Beijing could be and should be the tip of the iceberg of a new strategy. It is also a challenge to the Tibet Movement in the United States to make the Administration to follow up on this.
The tea leaves also show one negative point in the Tibet reference. The negative is not just because President Obama said, “we recognise that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China” as loosely this is more or less the position of the United States Government. It is negative because of the perception it has created and the way the Chinese have taken advantage of this in strengthening its political strategy on Tibet. Even Xinhua quoted it spreading it far and wide to say as if this is a new position of the United States (to be fair to Xinhua, it did also report on the President calling for the resumption of dialogue part). Many people ask what need was there for our President to offer it unilaterally in Beijing?
I watched an interview with Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew by China’s well known TV Talk Show Host Yang Lan on her show “One on One.” In the course of their discussion about China’s approach to issues, the matter of the “riot” in Tibet last year and how China could have handled it better came up. Minister Lee’s contention is that it would have been in China’s own interest not to have closed Tibet but to let the journalists report from there. I think he referred to the Economists’ correspondent who was there and said that his report showed that the “Tibetans started it.”
That let me to think about the following report by the Straits Times of an interesting dialogue that took place in April this year during an event organized by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prof. Tommy Koh is Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singpaore.
While I do not agree with Minister Lee’s conclusion, his views are certainly food for thought.
Tussling over Tibet issue
April 10, 2009
The Straits Times
THE issue of Tibet, which is claimed by China, became a bone of contention between Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, who chaired yesterday’s dialogue, and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday. An edited extract of the exchange:
MM Lee: I don’t see the Chinese giving one inch away. During the Olympics they said: ‘Yes, let’s begin talking.’ I was absolutely confident that you will never shift them from their basic position, which is, Tibet is ours, let’s not argue about it, it’s off the table.
Prof Koh: So you’re very pessimistic about the possibility of arriving at a negotiated settlement.
MM Lee: This is their unshakeable and immoveable position. Whether it’s a communist or a KMT government, (they will say): ‘Tibet belongs to us and it is going to be part of our western border. That’s that.’
Prof Koh: The Dalai Lama does not question that.
MM Lee: But they say that’s not his true position…(The Chinese) are long-term players. They’ve outlasted the ups and downs for thousands of years and they write their own history. They always write up the history of the last era. So they’re doing things in order that the next dynasty that takes over from them will write that they are Chinese patriots…
No Singaporean Chinese is going to say that Tibet is not a part of China. We’ve never said so. We’ve never received the Dalai Lama. We know that this is going to be a bone of contention.
Prof Koh: The Dalai Lama has been here in his private capacity.
MM Lee: Anybody can come here who has a visa.
Prof Koh: But I fear that when His Holiness passes on, the Chinese may not find a better interlocutor.
MM Lee: They need no interlocutors. They need time to bring up a new generation (of Tibetans) speaking Chinese and thinking like them.
Prof Koh: I think that will never happen.
MM Lee: They’re prepared to wait.
Kusug Sangpo (or Kuzoo Zangpo) everyone. Here is something for your listening pleasure. Yes, I am saying it right! Even though this is a blog, I would like to draw your attention away from the text and to the footage below being that of a gentleman from Bhutan by the name of Leki.
It is no secret that I have some interest in Bhutan and thus try to follow the happenings in that country. I came across this footage while reading the blog of a Bhutanese politician, Tshering Tobgay. Interestingly, Tshering Tobgay la is a rare breed. He is the only other member of the Bhutanese Parliament who belongs to the opposition party. Added to this is the fact that he is the Leader of the Opposition.
Anyway, back to Leki and his aural capability. I am amazed at his ability to mimic birds of different feathers, mammals like a crying child, a barking dog, even inanimate objects like a jacket zipper being closed or the playing of the flute and the trumpet. The best way to enjoy this footage is to watch this first and then replay it with your eyes closed.
If you were in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2000 you would recall the excitement of the Tibetan section of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival held on the Mall that year. The photo above is on the blog of an observer who attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s unique appearance on the Mall as part of the Festival. It is accompanied by an interesting observation.
For the two weeks or so on could feel that Tibetan culture had been transplanted on the Mall, which is the big open space stretching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. It was coordinated by the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture.
That Tibetan festival was followed by a Bhutan festival in 2008 and it was time for the Aku Drukpas to take pride in their culture.
Tibetan Americans now have another opportunity to look at a different aspect of their identity when the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for 2010 features the Asian Pacific American community.
The Festival’s website says the following:
“Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) in the Washington, D.C., area speak dozens of different languages, teach classes that emphasize ethnic identity, participate in traditional practices, and contribute to the cultural landscape of our nation’s capital and its surroundings. With approximately 30 Asian American and 24 Pacific Island American groups in the U.S., the more than 350,000 APAs who live in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area represent a microcosm of the cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity found from New York to Hawaii, and every state in-between. The Asian Pacific American Connections program at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will focus on what it means to be a person of Asian descent living in the United States today and examine strategies for adaptation.
“The program will bring together people from diverse communities to highlight the breadth of traditions practiced by APA cultures, and make connections not only to each other, but to the broader communities in which they live, work, and play. Through interactions with theater, music, and dance performances; language and calligraphy traditions; martial arts, healing arts, and ritual arts; crafts and foodways demonstrations; sports and games presentations; and children’s activities, Festival visitors will learn about APA identity, history, and culture, and discover shared and integrated traditions among APAs.”
Apparently, “In addition to the Festival program, collected stories, images, video, and audio clips of traditional culture in APA communities will come together in a Web site that combines user-contributed content with the work of Smithsonian curators.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has arrived at the famed Tawang Monastery in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, in north-east India on Sunday morning.
The people of Arunachal Pradesh, as represented by their Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, have extended a grand reception to His Holiness when he arrived in Tawang. Many Arunachalis interviewed by the Tibetan language radios have expressed their strong positive emotions at the visit of their spiritual leader. In his first day in Tawang, His Holiness has already opened an exhibition (being the monastery’s collection and composing of both religious and secular artifacts) at Tawang Monastery and received a report of the monastery’s activities from its abbot, Guru Rinpoche.
It was a bit amusing to see how the political pundits, primarily in India, were having a field day in recent times dissecting China’s statements concerning the visit and predicting grave calamities. The latest among them was the Indian politician, Dr. Subramanium Swamy, who tweetered on November 4 saying, “I hope the Indian governmrnt is ready for a violent reaction from the Chinese once Dalai Lama sets foot in Tawang on Nov 6th.” Was he predicting China’s declaration of war against India by his use of the term “violent reaction”? Others were advising the Indian Government to discourage His Holiness from visiting Tawang with the implied meaning that this might assuage the Chinese Government.
Despite Chicken Little’s fears, the sky has not fallen. I would be greatly surprised if the sky did fall. It is my view that these commentators had fallen prey to Beijing’s public relations strategy. My hunch is that the recent Chinese unusual outburst is not because they believe that it would be in their interest if the Dalai Lama did not visit Tawang. It is more to do with the natural India-China competition as emerging regional and global powers. To me, it seems China is using the issue to gain political points that could be used later on and to make India owe them one.
May be some in China have the view, as spelled out by the Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo in a writeup on YaleGlobal on September 8, 2009, about Tawang’s implication to China for the future. The Singapore Minister had referred to the Dalai Lama saying “In a recent TV interview, he said that he was born to accomplish certain tasks, and as those tasks were not completed, it was ‘logical’ that he would be reincarnated outside China. Many believe that ‘outside China’ means Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh where the 6th Dalai Lama came from, a Tibetan area controlled by India but claimed by China. This would greatly complicate the border demarcation between China and India. Beijing, of course, insists on the old rule that the appointment of high lamas must have its approval.”
If that indeed is the Chinese fear, anyone who understands the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual process would know that a true lama will choose to take a rebirth in a place where he is needed most and from where he can serve his congregation and the broader humanity. In the past, when there was an appropriate spiritual environment and need, one of the Dalai Lamas was born in Mongolia. So, the answer to this possible Chinese concern can be got from the answer to the question whether there is a possibility of an appropriate spiritual environment in Tibet or China when that time comes. Just a thought!
Sikkimese media are reporting the beginning of a Tibet Festival in Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital, today as a symbol of gratitude from the Tibetan community to the state of Sikkim and to India. There is going to be several events in the next couple of days, including exhibitions, panel discussions and performances.
In his message on the occasion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about the close historical relationship between the Sikkimese and the Tibetan people and also recalls his visits to Sikkim.
The close cultural affinity can be seen from the fact that the first research institute for Tibetan studies, now known as the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, was established in Gangtok in 1958, and the first illustrated magazine in Tibetan was published from Sikkim. It was called Yargyey Gongphel and I remember seeing some of the issues. It has now become defunct, unfortunately. Sikkim used to publish a newspaper in Tibetan called Dejong Jamata, edited by Tsewang Tamding la, but I don’t know if it is still in circulation.
I have been to Sikkim only once, the year His Holiness the Dalai Lama bestowed the sacred Kalachakra Initiation in Gangtok in 1993. In between my official duties (I was then with the Tibetan Department of Information & International Relations) handling the media and overseeing an exhibition, I was able to visit some of the historical places like the Choegyal’s Palace, the Tsuglakhang, Tashiding, the Enchi Monastery, as well as institutions like the Namgyal Institute of Tibetlogy etc. It was interesting to see the hillside around virtually covered with rows of prayer flags.
I still recall the well organized arrangements made for the Kalachakra Initiation. Quite many officials of the Sikkimese Government were deputed for the same. In my interaction with these officials, I noticed an interesting trend of using three languages, simultaneously, when they conversed among themselves. They would start in Sikkimese (Bhutia language), continue in English and conclude in Nepali, or something along these lines, thus giving an indication of the sort of cultural development they were undergoing.
While going around Gangtok one day, a friend pointed to an ordinary looking building on a hillside, I think, and told me that this was the place where the Tibetan gold was stored when they were sent from Lhasa to India. As followers of contemporary Tibetan history know, the gold belonged to the Tibetan Government and it was later converted into cash, invested in some not-too-successful ventures, and also became the initial financial source for the Central Tibetan Administration in undertaking its socio-economic activities.
One way to get a deeper understanding of the situation of Tibetans in Tibet is to get a visual perspective through interviews with the people directly. Today’s edition of Voice of America’s TV program in Tibetan, Kunleng, was devoted to a discussion with Ven. Rinchen Sangpo, who had made a film documenting the experience of Tibetan nomads in the Golok area of Amdo, presently under Qinghai Province.
The discussion is of course in Tibetan, but the footage that are shown now and then from the documentary, although brief, can clearly give a vivid idea. One of the topics these nomads raise is their reverence for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and how the authorities’ effort to distance them from him is affecting their basic religious practice. The more than half a dozen people who spoke on this (as shown the broadcast) mention the historical “divine allocation” that His Holiness is to the Tibetan people and how their sole desire is to have a glimpse of him before they pass away. One of the images is that of an old lady talking about His Holiness in a dark smoky room (you can see the smoke behind her).
The producer Rinchen Sangpo had shot these interviews in October 2008, according to Phayul.net and had subsequently fled to India in December 2008. An edited version of the documentary was released in Dharamsala in September 2009.
According to a report on www.tibet.net, Ven. Rinchen Sangpo had “interviewed a large number of Tibetans from all walks of life in Machen (Chinese:Maqin) County and Gade (Chinese: Gande) County in Golog TAP, throughout October 2008. He sought the views of the interviewees on three issues – 1) What was the old world look like? 2) What sufferings they endured under the current Chinese government? 3) What actually happened in 1958?”
He was speaking to Kunleng from Dharamsala.
Today I was asked to be on the Voice of America’s Tibetan service TV program, Kunleng, to comment on the recently released Congressional Executive Commission on China’s Special Topic Paper on Tibet.
I had read the document, which was released on October 22, and had also attended a briefing given by its author Steve Marshall at the US Congress on October 30.
Every year, the CECC is mandated by the Congress to come out with a report on the situation in China and to give policy directions to the President as well as the Congress. The Tibet section of the report can be considered a gist of the Special Topic Paper that was released subsequently.
Basically, the report makes some pertinent points. It says China’s policy aims at distancing the Dalai Lama from the Tibetan people; everyone needs to watch the proposed rail link between Chengdu and Lhasa; and that the Memorandum for Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People that the envoys of the Dalai Lama presented to the Chinese Government can be a basis for talks between the two sides.
The report has looked at the decisions taken by different levels of the Chinese offices connected with Tibet to support some of these assertions.
I think anyone concerned with Tibet needs to read this report to get a better understanding of the developments relating to Tibet.