Archive for the ‘Tibet and the World’ Category
My Talk in Minnesota on Understanding the Reality in Tibet
March 31, 2013
A shortsighted and meaningless effort by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to propagandize about Tibet at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis led to an opportunity for me to go there and share my views on Tibet. The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, the Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association in Minnesota asked me to come and be a part of the activities to present the Tibetan viewpoint so that we could challenge the Chinese exhibition on Tibet that was being organized in the University.
So, I spoke on March 27, 2013 at the venue of the Tibetan people’s exhibition on Tibet at the University, which was next door to the one organized by the Chinese students and funded by the Chinese consulate (the story of how the Chinese had to cancel/withdraw their activities in the light of this Tibetan onslaught is a different story, some of which have appeared in the local newspaper, Star-Tribune). I titled my talk “Reality in Tibet Today.”
In my talk, I talked about the different aspects of the Tibetan issue, including political, environmental, human rights angle, and how His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan side had responded positively to Deng Xiaoping’s message that “other than the issue of independence everything else can be discussed and resolved.” I said His Holiness had not only presented his Middle Way Approach as a response but that he had also prepared the Tibetan people to accept that this was in the best interest of both the sides. I told of my own experience of interacting with ordinary Chinese and how we Tibetans have been educated by His Holiness to differentiate between Chinese Government and people and how we should be reaching out to the people. I said, however, the Chinese side had not fulfilled their part of the commitment made by Deng Xiaoping about everything else could be discussed and resolved. The Chinese side has also not prepared the Chinese people and instead is projecting the Tibetans as being against the Chinese people.
But this blog is about another talk that the organizers had arranged for me, which was to the Tibetan community. This took place on March 26, 2013. Despite it being a weekday and people had to go to work, there was a reasonable turnout of Tibetans, old and young. Read the rest of this entry »
Here is an analysis that I did on one aspect of the new leadership in Lhasa.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 19, 2013
The appointment of Jampa Phuntsok (Ch: Qiangba Puncog) as a Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress on March 14, 2013, completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa. This new development could be said to have begun when Pema Thinley (Ch: Padma Choling) assumed the Governorship of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2010; it is now the Chamdowas, the people from Chamdo (Ch: Qamdo) in Eastern Tibet, who hold all the highest Tibetan leadership positions in Lhasa and Beijing.
Earlier this year, we had Pema Thinley becoming the Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal (Ch: Pagbalha Geleg Namgyai) was reappointed as head of the TAR PPCC; and Lobsang Gyaltsen (Ch: Losang Jamcan) has become the new Governor of the TAR. Except for the top position of the Party Secretary, which continues to be in the hands of a non-Tibetan, these three positions are the highest in the region. All three individuals holding the positions are from present-day Chamdo Prefecture (Technically, Phakpalha was born in Lithang, but he is the recognized lama of Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo and is popularly known as Chamdo Phakpalha. Similarly Lobsang Gyaltsen was born in Dagyab, which is also in present-day Chamdo Prefecture). At the national level, Jampa Phuntsok has become the highest rank Tibetan official now and he is also from Chamdo.
The fact that they are all from Chamdo region could be coincidental, but if we look at popular perception of Tibetan history in modern times we see that there have been periods when elites from a particular area dominated the leadership positions in Lhasa. Read the rest of this entry »
I contributed the following to the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog as I feel there is a need for the Vatican to look at the Tibetan issue from a different angle.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 1, 2013
On March 1, 2013, Catholics throughout the world started the day with a new experience, one that none of them had experienced in their lifetime; being without their spiritual leader the Pope, not because he had passed away, but because he had undertaken the papal version of the royal abdication. The Tibetan people had somewhat similar yet different kind of experience in 2011. While the Pope resigned from his spiritual duties now, the Dalai Lama had withdrawn himself from his temporal authorities then.
As the process begins for the search and election of a new Pope, among those watching the development closely will be the government of the People’s Republic of China. One of the unresolved religious issue in China today is the status of its estimated 12 million Catholics, which is having political and cultural implications. The Communist Government of China, despite being atheists, has been wanting to control the affairs of the Catholics and in the process giving them the false choice of obeying either the Vatican or Beijing on matters relating to their spiritual affairs. The Chinese Government has come out with different initiatives codifying the Church, creating in the process virtually two Catholic churches in China; the government-approved one and the underground one that has been showing its resilience for the past many years. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Vatican has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with China.
The Vatican’s ties with China will be one of the issues confronting the new Pope, just as it was with previous Popes. In fact, there are reports saying that one of the ardent wishes of Pope John Paul II had been to “set foot on Chinese soil, kiss the ground and personally embrace the Chinese people.” Observers had also expected Pope Benedict XVI to make progress on ties with China. Pope Benedict XVI had even created a special Commission tasked to help the Vatican examine the issue of relationship with China.
Over the years, both the Vatican and China have sent feelers to each other in their effort to test the situation for improvement of their relations. But there have been no concrete outcomes.
As we await the new Holy Father, it might be worthwhile for the Vatican to look at the ongoing challenge the Tibetan Buddhists are facing in their relations with China to get an indication of whether there are any chances for a forward movement.
The Chinese authorities have been implementing a policy on Tibetan Buddhists, very much similar to the one on the Catholics, to either choose their spiritual tradition and leader, the Dalai Lama, or conform with Chinese government-approved procedures. As long as this mindset is not changed there cannot be any progress. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, February 20, 2013, I participated in a discussion on the Talk of the Nation program on America’s National Public Radio (NPR). Below is the transcript of the same as posted on NPR’s website. You can also listen to the audio recording here. I thought Michael Biggs from Oxford succinctly put the development in Tibet in the broader context of self-immolation as a form of protest.
February 20, 2013
More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule, according to Tibetan advocacy groups. Self-immolations in Tunisia and Vietnam also gained international attention, but the motives and effectiveness of the practice are widely debated.
Michael Biggs, lecturer in sociology, University of Oxford
Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program, Columbia University
Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs, International Campaign for Tibet
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Neal Conan in Washington. A grim milestone last week in Tibet: Over the past four years, more than 100 people have now set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. According to the campaign, International Campaign for Tibet, at least 85 died following their protest.
The practice of political suicide is not new. During the Vietnam War, a horrified world saw pictures of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sitting calmly as his body burned in a public square in Saigon. Two years ago, the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi inspired protests that developed into the Arab Spring.
Thus far, more than 100 such acts appears to have effected little change in China. Later in the program, we’ll talk about the anatomy of a successful movie trailer, but first self-immolation and politics. We begin with Michael Biggs, a sociologist at the University of Oxford. He joins us from BBC Studios there. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BIGGS: Hello.
CONAN: And I have to ask you, I know you’ve looked into it – why – and it’s hard to answer this question – why does someone set themselves afire, kill themselves, to effect change and harming only themselves?
BIGGS: Well, I think we can distinguish two different motivations, although they’re often combined in a single action. So one motivation is to show a distant audience, an audience far away that doesn’t understand your situation just how badly your group is or your group of people is suffering.
So in the example from Saigon in 1963 that you mentioned, the aim was very much to speak to an American audience, to show the American public just what was going on in South Vietnam under the government that was sponsored by the United States.
And so the idea is to speak to, to address and to get the attention of a very distant audience. That’s the first sort of motivation. The second motivation is to strengthen the resolve of your fellow people. So now you’re directing your action, or your action is mainly intended for your local audience. But you’re wanting to say, you know, we need to show greater resolve, and I’m willing to kill myself, and so I hope that my fellows will be willing to perhaps take part in the street demonstrations or to do some other more modest action for our collective cause.
CONAN: I read in a piece you wrote for Foreign Policy titled “Ultimate Sacrifice” that in fact this act has caused the definition of the word immolation to change.
BIGGS: Yes, I mean classically immolation means sacrifice. I mean, the etymology is sacrifice. And yet since the 1960s it’s now come more and more to be used to mean death by fire or a fiery death.
CONAN: And fire, why – this – is the act augmented by choosing such a painful death?
BIGGS: Yes, I think it’s obviously – partly we can find earlier examples of suicide protests, earlier in the 20th century. So for example in Japan, Japanese people protesting against the exclusion of Japanese from the United States in 1924, they committed suicide by disemboweling themselves, the sort of traditional Japanese seppuku. So we find suicide protests earlier, and it’s really this action in 1963 that attaches suicide protest with fire and that now most cases, the vast majority of cases of suicide protest are carried out by fire.
It’s partly because of this terrible – the fact that it’s a very painful death. It’s also a very visually – you can capture this on film and you can show a picture of this in a way you can’t show a picture of someone being disemboweled. So it’s a very kind of tele-visual protest.
And also, it also has a kind of cultural resonance in some cultures in the way that fire is purifying. So for us, I think, in the Christian tradition or the Western tradition, fire is often kind of horrifying. But of course in Buddhist or Hindu traditions fire has much more a positive resonance of something that’s purifying and holy.
CONAN: You wrote in that piece that the monk in Saigon in 1963, that changed things. Among those horrified by it was President Kennedy.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. He realized that the effect on American public opinion, also global public opinion – remember, of course, the United States was in a Cold War, and this was terribly bad publicity for the Western side. If you say, you know, that here’s our great democracy in South Vietnam, and yet a Buddhist monk is willing to set himself on fire to protest against religious persecution, then that’s very, very bad for – it was used by the communists as propaganda, and of course it was very bad for the West.
So the feeling was we have to make sure this regime changes.
CONAN: And it did, in an American-sponsored coup just a couple months later.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. So that’s a very clear connection between the action, these actions – and of course there were lots of other protests going on as well, street demonstrations and so on, by monks, and that very clearly and quickly led to the overthrow of the government.
CONAN: Yet we have in the case of Tibet over 100 now, and as mentioned, very little change.
BIGGS: Yes, I think that the situations are very, very different because of course the – well, the Tibetan cause already has considerable amount of sympathy among the Western public. But of course there’s nothing that Western governments can do or want to do in forcing China. China is a major power, and you cannot boss China around like the United States bossed South Vietnam around.
CONAN: And also those images, they do get out to the West, but they are not seen in China.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, and so China can censor at least the majority of the Han – the local majority population, the Han Chinese, from seeing these. And even if they did see them, I’m not entirely sure that – I mean Chinese nationalism is very strong, and so I’m not sure that they would garner such great sympathy. But that’s of course speculative.
But it’s not – you know, it’s certainly not the case that the Tibetans have been trying to speak directly to the Chinese public, or the majority Chinese public.
CONAN: Joining us now to talk about Tibet is Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University, author of a number of books, including “Lhasa: Streets with Memories.” Thanks very much for being with us today.
ROBERT BARNETT: My pleasure.
CONAN: And what’s the cause of this recent wave, the past four years of these horrible protests?
BARNETT: Well there’s of course a long history of 60 years of rather troubled rule by China in Tibet in which the Chinese have been really rather aggressive in trying to persuade Tibetans that they are Chinese and a part of China. It hasn’t really worked. But the thing that seems to spark this in an area which had been relatively calm for some 30 years was a decision in about 1998 to ban the photographs of the Dalai Lama and quietly to ban worship of him.
This had already been done in western Tibet a few years earlier, but from ’98 they began to push this idea, this policy across the eastern areas which had been much more relaxed after the death of Mao and where people had been allowed to practice religion, at least to a considerable extent.
So a very big change there in religious policy, particularly about the Dalai Lama and a number of other issues: nomads being made to settle; language, Tibetan language being gradually withdrawn from schools; very strong controls on information and travel; these kinds of issues as well. But I think the religious question is primary.
CONAN: Those of us in the West might see this as a sign of despair. Do you find that to be accurate?
BARNETT: It’s hard to say. I mean I think that we have to listen carefully to what Michael said about this being a way to try to reach the ears of important people. Of course Westerners and exiles tend to see it as trying to reach the ears of the international community, but I think as Michael explained it’s really about trying to get the Chinese leadership to pay attention to what’s happening in their far-flung western areas.
And this may be a way to also – I don’t know if it’s to rally the community, I don’t think that’s an intention of these immolators, but it’s a way to express a real commitment to their cultural and religious ideals. It’s probably not thought through as a deliberate strategy. It just makes huge sense within the terms of traditional Buddhism, the idea of self-sacrifice for a noble cause, that’s very strong in Buddhism, and the idea that there is something here that’s been threatened: the culture, the language, the religion, and the nation, really, by current Chinese policy.
But it’s not a clear political movement or a specific strategy.
CONAN: We mentioned there had been little change. There’s been little reform. There has been a change, and that has been, of late, a crackdown by the Chinese government.
BARNETT: Yes, it’s very interesting. In the first like year and a half or so of these terrible self-immolations in Tibet, the Chinese officials were very uncertain about how to proceed. But the realized very quickly they shouldn’t criticize monks, and instead they started to say that the monks, most of the first year, the first 40 cases or so were monks or nuns or former monks.
And they didn’t criticize them, but they criticized the people around them, who they accused of helping them. And they regarded the immolators as, quote, innocents. But recently, in the last two and a half months, they’ve very radically changed this approach and begun to arrest almost anybody they can find in some areas who they can accuse of inciting immolations.
It seems to be anybody who expresses the idea that an immolation is justified in Buddhism or is noble. These people seem to be arrested in some areas. It’s not the same in every area, but it’s – they’re offering large amounts of money for information about immolators. One person has already received a suspended death sentence for supposedly inciting immolation.
It looks to me that he just expressed support for the notion and said the people who’d done it were heroic. So we’ve moved into a very aggressive phase here, trying to contain this wave.
CONAN: Michael Biggs, let me ask you. As Robert Barnett just mentioned, the first 40 or so were monks or nuns or ex-monks. Now it has begun to widen. There are people from all walks of life who’ve now become immolators in Tibet. What’s the significance of that?
BIGGS: Well, I suppose it shows the incredibly, the incredibly positive resonance that these actions have with the general public, with the general Tibetan people. And we find a similar pattern in South Vietnam, where first of all it was monks, and then ordinary lay people began to copy the action as well. So I think it shows just how not popular but how much symbolic resonance this action has with the ordinary people, who see this as a, you know, exemplary action by monks; a few brave people who are not monks will try to imitate and strengthen the cause by following in the same, in their footsteps.
CONAN: We’re talking about self-immolation. Our guests: Robert Barnett, he is the director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University; Michael Biggs is also with us, you just heard him, a sociologist who studies social movements and collective protests at the University of Oxford. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll get to the Tibetan perspective. I’m Neal Conan. It’s the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I’m Neal Conan. When Thich Quang Duc self-immolated in Vietnam in 1963, journalist David Halberstam was there. In his book “The Making of a Quagmire,” he remembered that day. Please note the description is graphic.
Flames were coming from a human being. His body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh. Human beings burn surprisingly quickly, Halberstam wrote. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered even to think.
Today we’re talking about recent self-immolations, more than 100 in Tibet in the last four years now. Michael Biggs of the University of Oxford and Robert Barnett of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University are our guests. Joining us now is Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs at the International Campaign for Tibet. He’s been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Welcome to the program.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: My pleasure.
CONAN: And I – what’s been the response to these immolations among Tibetans?
TSERING: I think there are two broad responses, and we’re talking about Tibetans in the free world, not inside Tibet. First is the strong emotional connection that people have sort of got upon learning from these reports, these emotional connections both of sorrow that yet another Tibetan has died, just like in the case of yesterday, and at the same time admiring their courage of willingness to do the utmost for the sake of their people. So that’s one aspect of it.
The other aspect is to say what is there that we can do outside that really you cannot at all match what the people inside Tibet have done but that can really help change the situation for the people inside Tibet to no longer have to do those things. Read the rest of this entry »
VOA and China’s Latest Narrative on Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I am glad the Voice of America has lost no time in challenging the Chinese Government’s accusation that it is encouraging Tibetans to self-immolate. On February 6, 2013 VOA released a video and written statement in which its Director David Ensor said the allegations were “totally false and called on China Daily and CCTV to retract their stories.”
China first made this allegation in a TV report on its Chinese language television channel (CCTV 4) on February 5, 2013. An edited English version was broadcast on February 6, 2013 in English on CCTV 9. Xinhua also released reports based on the TV report.
These reports are but the latest attempt by the Chinese authorities to change the narrative relating to the spate of Tibetan self-immolations.
China is increasingly finding it difficult to justify its harsh crackdown on the Tibetan people. The Chinese security forces have no legal justification in taking the entire Tibetan people to ransom and denying them even the limited rights enshrined in China’s own constitution. China is punishing the entire Tibetan people even as it wants the world to believe that only “A few individuals with a strong sense of extreme nationalism showed sympathy with the self-immolators.” (Xinhua report of February 7, 2013 quoting Lu Benqian, Qinghai’s deputy police chief. ) Therefore, they have started what virtually seems to be a conspiracy theory.
There is a historical consistency in this Chinese strategy of blaming others for developments in Tibet. Initially, the Chinese Communists blamed “Western imperialist forces” of encouraging the Tibetans. In the post-1959 period, they have experimented with putting the blame on everything that happened in Tibet to “the splittists”, “Dalai Clique” Tibetan Youth Congress, etc. The much-maligned Cultural Revolution provided a slight change in the narrative. The Communist leaders found a new “other” to be blamed for everything bad that took place in Tibet during the period, as they did in the case of China, too. Since it serves their conspiracy theory and narrative, the Chinese Government does not hesitate to use the term “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” in its reports about the involvement of Tibetans abroad although they are the first to deny that such an entity does exist or is legal.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that in the course of the self-immolations, the Chinese Government had no qualms in blaming Tibetans outside for what is essentially a result of its misguided policies in Tibet.
The latest report by China has blamed the free Tibetan-language media, including VOA, that exist outside of Tibet, for virtually spreading propaganda in Tibet. This is ironical, if not laughable. VOA is right to be incensed by this Chinese allegation.
The Chinese don’t get it. Since they control all media in China, the Chinese authorities may be assuming that all the Tibetan-language media in the free world are under the control of the Tibetan leadership in exile. The CCTV documentary shows footages (I wonder what the rules say about copyright in such usage, but that is an aside!) from VOA TV’s Kunleng program as well as the websites maintained by other Tibet-related media houses.
As part of my work, I closely monitor Tibetan-language media, both those in Tibet and outside of it. They all do a commendable job of “serving as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (as the VOA’s Charter says). The information about the self-immolations is a case in point. News about these were broken by the free Tibetan language media like VOA, RFA, VOT (as well as Tibet Times, Tibet Express, Phayul, etc.) while the CCTV and Xinhua continued to maintain silence for a considerable period of time. As VOA Director Ensor said in his statement, “We report them. We certainly don’t encourage them,” It was only when China realized that it was losing control over the narrative that it began to acknowledge the self-immolations.
VOA’s Tibetan Service chief, Losang Gyatso, has “also denied that any news reports were influenced by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile. He noted that VOA Tibetan’s news reports often present the views of Chinese officials.”
I know this for fact because both VOA and RFA are based in Washington, D.C. whenever they are aware of Chinese officials giving a press conference on Tibet here, they make attempts to cover these events. However, on several instances it is the Chinese Embassy that indulge in racial discrimination by denying Tibetan-language media access to such events even as they allow others, including Chinese-American journalists, to cover them.
The latest Chinese narrative needs to be seen in the context of the international community’s assertion (see statements by the United Nations, United States, the European Union, etc.) that China needs to address the “deep underlying issues” in Tibet that are the cause of the self-immolations and not to use “heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.” It is China’s attempt to justify its violation of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.
China’s baseless allegation against VOA and other media is already starting a discussion on how the United States Government should look at its liberal policy of allowing the Chinese Government’s media to have a free hand in the United States. Currently, both CCTV and Xinhua are expanding their capacities in this country. China Daily has started an American edition. In the days to come I won’t be surprised if discussions touches on their activities.
As it is on February 7, 2013, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to a question about the Chinese accusation saying, “obviously VOA has made clear that they were not involved, and we support VOA in that statement.” She further said that she expected this issue to be taken up at the official level with the Chinese. Nuland also reiterated the U.S. position that “there are deep grievances within the Tibetan population which are not being addressed openly and through dialogue by the Chinese Government.”
Be that as it may be, I think the Chinese leadership needs to realize that such conspiracy theories are not the solution. The solution could begin with China’s Tibet-policy makers really following some recent advices by their new leaders, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
Xinhua has quoted Xi Jinping telling at a Chinese New Year event on February 7, 2013 that Chinese leaders needed to “be more tolerant of criticism and receptive to the views of non-communists.” “The CPC [Chinese Communist Party] should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not,” Xi is said to have added. Xi further said, “Non-CPC personages should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words jarring on the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations.”
What the Tibetans have been doing is just that.
Meanwhile, China’s potential Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said (this week) following a meeting with disadvantaged Mongols in Inner Mongolia: “You are living in bad conditions and we really feel sorry.” Will China have the courage to say that to the Tibetans?
May be we should watch VOA to get the answer!
On January 31, 2013 I participated in a panel discussion on “Ticking Time Bomb: The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership” in the Cannon House Office Building of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. My co-panelists were Mr. Enghebatu Togochog, Director, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center; Mr. Alim Seytoff, President, Uyghur American Association; and Dr. YANG Jianli, President, Citizen Power for China.
The discussion, organized by Citizen Power for China, was moderated by its Vice President, Dr. Lianchao Han.
I am giving below the text of my prepared statement (I based my remarks on this) and a video recording that are posted on the website of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Vice President, Special Programs of International Campaign for Tibet
January 31, 2013
I would like to address the topic of this discussion, “The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership,” in the context of the current critical situation in Tibet.
The problem in Tibet is a subject that the International Campaign for Tibet has, by its mandate, been seized with for the past 25 years. This is reflected in our two latest reports – “60 Years of Chinese Misrule/Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet” and “Storm in the Grasslands/Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy”. The first report reveals that Chinese policies and practices of cultural repression and destruction are so systematic and persistent in Tibet, and their effects are so serious, that they contain elements of cultural genocide. The second report, particularly relevant to our discussions today, shows that the Chinese government has responded to the Tibetan self-immolations by intensifying the military build-up and very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts. The above reports are available for download from the ICT website (www.savetibet.org).
In his first speech after becoming the new head of the Chinese Communist Party on November 15, 2012, Xi Jinping said: “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” In the same speech, Xi also said, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
The self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet is certainly one of the severe challenges that the new Chinese leadership is facing. They are clear indications of the depth of feelings among the Tibetan people at their current state of affairs. China’s hope of the issue of self-immolations by Tibetans fading away — as a result of a combination of threats, suppression and increased control — is not happening.
The following are some of the reasons why China’s misguided policies on Tibetans are leading to continued tension and possible crisis, contradicting any claims of “ethnic groups living in harmony.”
First, one of the possible solution choices that the Chinese leadership seem to have considered to resolve the Tibetan problem is doing away with the limited constitutional rights for what they call the minority nationalities. In an article in the official newspaper of the Central Party School, Xuexi Shibao (Study Times), in December 2011, Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun of the Central United Front Works Department essentially maintained that the current nationalities problems that China faces are on account of the separate policies for nationalities, and he suggests doing away with them, including on how ethnicity is identified on government-issued identity cards. Read the rest of this entry »
Bhuchung K Tsering
December 12, 2012
On December 10, 2012, China’s official CCTV broadcast a discussion on Tibetan self-immolation on its Dialogue program. It was titled, “Realities in Tibet,” and obviously, the aim was to drive the narrative on the issue in the way the Chinese Government wanted: to place the self-immolation in the context of crime and to justify any action that the Chinese Government takes on individuals they deem to be involved in supporting them. The two experts who were in the panel — Victor Gao Zhikai, a CCTV current affairs commentator, and Liu Huawen from the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science — made the point that the self-immolators were innocent and victims of people who had “whitewashed their mind” and that these people were committing crimes and need to be punished. There was a reference to the recently promulgated ordinance that made incitement to self-immolations a criminal act. These messages were emphasized by the captions that appeared on the screen, which included “Self-immolation incited by Dalai Lama group” and “Inciting Self-immolation is murder” (interestingly these captions appeared before the experts even made their comments indicating that the message was being coordinated beforehand, no surprise there, though!).
I believe this program was a result of the continued self-immolations by Tibetans and indications of increasing international opinion that the Chinese Government’s policies were the causes. These are indicated by the statements, specifically by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Maria Otero, (there was a reference to her recent statement although it was attributed by the host to a “Deputy Assistant Secretary of State” instead of her rank as an Under Secretary).
It is not that the Chinese Government has not spoken about the self-immolations. In addition to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s several remarks, there have been remarks by officials in Lhasa as well as Beijing. CCTV itself did a documentary that was broadcast only on its English channel. But these were all official lines and the Chinese Government realizes that the Chinese people as well as the international community do not place any value to such official utterances. They therefore wanted experts to weigh in on the matter so that their narrative is established through a different channel.
Having watched the broadcast, I feel that beneath this official narrative a different voice was coming out from the discussions, which seems to be just closer to the reality of the situation regarding the Tibetan self-immolations. Even as the experts were vociferously seeking to project the official narrative, they presented the issue as being “complicated” and “complex.” They also made two interesting points: i) In a country as large as China, it is natural and even logical to have some grievances; the Government need to make sure there are channels whereby people can use legitimate and legal means to give expression to their grievances, and ii) the right to defend themselves (who are considered criminals) was a human right that needed to be guaranteed.
These points are relevant to the discussions about Tibetan self-immolations. Whether the self-immolators were led by others (as the Chinese narrative wants people to believe) or they undertook the action on their own freewill, the fact that there must be some reasons behind these is clear. So if there are grievances among the Tibetan people, they need to find a way to channel them and for the Chinese Government to address them. Secondly, as we see China undertaking the misguided policy of intimidation as a way to deal with the self-immolations, the point that those people being accused of wrong doing should have a fair trial and the right to defense is integral to the process.
Therefore, even if the Chinese Government feels that “Western Media Reports Tibet with colored Glasses”(which was one of the captions that came up near the end of the Dialogue program, although the experts did not touch on this issue) I hope they will pay heed to these Chinese experts that they themselves have encouraged to speak.
As an aside, this program also included footage of an interview with and Indian scholar, Prof. M. D Nalapat of Manipal University in Karnataka. I was taken aback to find his superficial response to some of the questions by the host. He could have been more forthright than the Chinese experts about the underlying Tibetan grievances because he knows something about Tibet. I thought the Chinese experts were more thought-provoking than him. To be fair, this interview was pre-recorded and so what was broadcast may not be everything that Prof. Nalapat said.
In any case, I hope China’s CCTV will encourage real discussions on the realities in Tibet. I can only agree with the host who said, “We really need to know what is the reality facing them (Tibetans) to understand the real story.” This will be good for Tibet and good for the People’s Republic of China. After all, if CCTV has “80 million subscribers around the world” they will know the difference between official propaganda and expert views, irrespective of how these are presented.
Also, I want to believe that China’s CCTV discussing the situation in Tibet on World Human Rights Day was not a coincidence!
The following writeup of mine was posted on the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog.
November 16, 2012
A preliminary look at the outcome of the much-hyped 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was held from November 8 to 14, 2012, shows that Tibetans should not expect much under the new leadership, unless, saner thoughts prevail.
Here are a few reasons for this.
Although we saw “political structural reform” as one of the buzz-phrases at the Congress, there was no indication that this reform would apply to communities that the People’s Republic of China proclaims as its ‘ethnic minorities.’ And, even as “scientific outlook on development” was incorporated into the Party’s Constitution, we found nothing to indicate that a “people first” spirit would be applied to Tibetans when it comes to matters relating to their destiny. A statement after the first meeting of the new Politburo on November 16, 2012, said: “The foremost political task is to concentrate the mind of the Party, the nation and people of all ethnic backgrounds onto the congress’s spirit…” But the spirit of the Congress is only to consider the economic side of the equation, namely “the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” As the spirit of Tibetans is in crisis, with 74 confirmed incidents of self-immolation, this is a tragically narrow approach.
Another indication that Tibetans are given lesser weightage is the decrease in the number of Tibetans in the Party’s 18th Central Committee. In the past few Party Congresses, there were at least two Tibetans among the 200 plus members of the Committee. This time only one Tibetan is included. He is Pema Thinley, the current head of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, and he was a member of the official Chinese delegation during the eighth round of discussions with the Dalai Lama’s envoys in 20087. If members of the Central Committee are ‘elected,’ then the reduced weightage it is an indication about the thinking of the majority Chinese members; if they were ‘selected,’ then it reflects the thinking of the Party itself. To be noted, there are four Tibetans who serve as alternate members in the Central Committee, the largest number we have had to date.
Speaking of representation, the most visible position that an ‘ethnic minority’ secured this time is that of being a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This honor is bestowed on Yang Jing, a Mongolian. He already serves as the Minister in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and a Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department. Otherwise, no ‘ethnic minority’ finds a place among the deputy secretaries, or standing committee members of the 18th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection], or the 25-member Politburo, not to talk of its Standing Committee. Read the rest of this entry »
Bhuchung K. Tsering
September 28, 2012
(I have made a correction here based on a reader feedback. Apparently Dorji from Gyatsa is not the same one as Dorji Cezhug and so I have deleted this photo and the name.)
The Chinese Communist Party has finally announced that its 18th Party
Congress will be held from November 8, 2012. I would, therefore, like to
look at its significance from a Tibetan point of view, but from a different
Of course, the new leadership of China that will come out of the 18th Party
Congress will determine the future direction of the country, which will have
an impact on the Tibetans. However, I would like to look at another aspect
of the issue; the nature of Tibetan presence in the highest echelons of the
Chinese Communist Party.
Reminding China about Mao and Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Growing up in the Tibetan community in Diaspora, among those things I learnt was the belief in a supernatural action that will finally lead to the triumph of the good over the evil.
Given the politically charged environment of our community, of course this thinking spilled over into the arena of Chinese attitude towards Tibetans. Mao Zedong (or as we came to know him as Mao Zhuxi, the latter being his rank in Chinese) symbolized to us the face of evil. Mao has a distinct mole above his chin. We children were told at that time that the mole will gradually move upward and when it enters his mouth, Mao will die, or something like that. Similarly, we were told of the mystical power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; it went like this: he will not do it, but he has the capability of destroying all the Chinese by merely pressing his right palm over his left palm. That way, all Chinese will be on his right palm and they will be vanquished when he presses his palms, we were told. I did not have any reason not to believe such assertions.
Those were the days!
Today, Mao Zedong continues to have influence over China, as we saw in the developments relating to one of China’s next generation of leaders, Bo Xilai. Recently I was going through documents that had a reference to Mao’s thoughts on Tibet. I think given the current Chinese policies on Tibet, it will be worthwhile for the leaders in Beijing to consider what Mao told Chinese officials in the 1950s.These are related to the emotionally-charged issue of the Chinese authorities not allowing Tibetans to possess portraits of the Dalai Lama as well as about respect to Tibetan language and identity.
Mao refers to them in his conversation (relevant excerpts reproduced below) with Kunzig Panchen Rinpoche, the previous Panchen Lama, way back in 1955 and is quoted in A History of Modern Tibet, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Volume 2 The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955
Chairman Mao’s Conversation with Panchen Erdini
23 February 1955 (Tibetan calendar: First month, First day)
Panchen: When I went back to Tibet, the Dalai cared about me very much. Although we have had some trouble between each other, the problems have all been solved during this visit to Beijing. Read the rest of this entry »