A New Path for China with the Dalai Lama

The author, president of Tibet House U.S., believes joining with the Tibetan leader and his people would benefit China in many ways

When Gandhi took his followers on the Salt March in 1930, and they were beaten by the police for collecting free salt from the beach, a U.S. journalist said, in effect: With these cruel blows on unarmed demonstrators, Britain has forfeited entirely the last shred of legitimacy for its rule over India.

Gandhi's nonviolent mass movements would occasionally spill over into violence by his supporters, which he would unfailingly deplore and he would immediately call a halt to the otherwise principled nonviolent actions.

Today, with the brutal military crackdown on the peaceful protests of Tibetan monks and nuns—who are calling for their religious freedom, for their right to their devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and for the release of the imprisoned youth they consider the rightful Panchen Lama—China has forfeited, on a global scale, any last tattered shred of its pretension to the legitimacy of its rule over Tibet. The basically unarmed response of lay Tibetans to Chinese suppression of the freedom of monks and nuns spilled over into recent violence, with long repressed emotions bursting forth in entirely regrettable destruction of property and some civilian lives.

Failed to Win the Hearts of Tibetans

This in no way justifies the Chinese military and police use of live ammunition fired into crowds, their beatings and killings of unarmed protesters, and the continued arrests of thousands of people all over the Tibetan plateau, who will doubtless disappear for life into the vast Chinese laogai prison system. But these acts are nothing new; they are visible manifestations of the fact that the almost 60-year-long Chinese occupation of Tibet is based on brute force—military invasion, occupation, colonization, and systematic cultural genocide.

The ongoing uprisings in Tibet show that after nearly six decades of various efforts, the Chinese occupiers have clearly failed to win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people across the full extent of Tibet—the entire Tibetan plateau. In an attempt to hide their failure, Chinese officials deceitfully maintain the Dalai Lama and his "clique" have orchestrated this mass convulsion.

But it is clear from the present events that the so-called "Dalai Lama clique" is simply all of the Tibetan people—who famously love the Dalai Lama. Last year, they were beaten and imprisoned by the embarrassed Chinese for publicly throwing away en masse their valuable fur coats and hats because the Dalai Lama in a public speech in India said that killing animals for their skins was a negative thing to do.

Calls Only for Dialogue

The absurdity of China's scapegoating the Dalai Lama is obvious when we reflect that he constantly calls only for dialogue in response to the injustices and injuries inflicted by the Chinese on the Tibetan people. He never even calls for the monks and nuns and lay citizens of occupied Tibet to oppose their Chinese masters confrontationally, since he knows a single act of public protest will lead to the destruction of lives through beating, arrest, torture, extra-judicial killings, and "reform through labor" in gulag-like, laogai prisons. Thus the Chinese vow to "destroy the Dalai Lama clique"—as his followers comprise 99.99% of the 6 million Tibetans—is an open declaration of the Chinese intention to continue the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people.

If the Chinese were really interested in the welfare of the Tibetans and true harmony and stability within a multicultural Chinese state, they would reverse their seriously flawed policy of demonizing the Dalai Lama—one of the most popular people on the planet, a Nobel Peace laureate, and a highly honored global citizen—and instead enlist the help of this beloved statesman to keep the Tibetan people happy and calm.

Securing Respect and Admiration for China

The Dalai Lama at work in cooperation with the Chinese leadership would be highly effective in fulfilling the wishes of both Chinese and Tibetans swiftly and easily.

He could finally give the Chinese the legitimacy with Tibet that they claim they desire, but utterly lack, both historically and in the present, and he could give the Tibetans the political freedom, economic prosperity, and spiritual satisfaction they so ardently desire and deserve.

Open Chinese leniency with the uprising Tibetan people and sincere reconciliation with the Dalai Lama would secure the Chinese nation the respect and admiration of the world's people that they are courting with their extravagant hosting of the 2008 Olympics. This would be an enormous gain for China's leaders and China's people.

So why don't they just show their resiliency, relieve from duty the current hardline officials in Tibet who are the immediate cause of this recent mass outburst, and set about retrieving the friendly assistance of the key figure, His Holiness the Dalai Lama? The reason they have not already done so, and may not do so now, has nothing to do with some sort of fear of "loss of face," or simplistic egotistical pride that makes it impossible to admit a mistake, or fools one with the distorted thinking that being realistic is a sign of weakness.

Can't State What Isn't True

It has to do with the fact that the Chinese leaders know full well that they have no plausible case for their invasion, annexation, and occupation of Tibet, and they fear that, if they openly negotiate with the Dalai Lama about the future of Tibet, it will bring up, for all to see, the issue of the right of self-determination of the Tibetan people. It might even make clear to all, the natural, historical, and legitimate independence of Tibet.

That is why Jiang Zemin and subsequent leaders continue to say they can only talk to the Dalai Lama if he states categorically that Tibet has always been an inalienable part of China. But as obliging as the Dalai Lama tries to be, he cannot state as the truth what is not true. No Chinese persons ever lived long-term in Tibet (that is, anywhere on the plateau above 12,000 feet) until 1950. So how can China validate its claim to having always "owned" Tibet?

However, the Chinese leaders need not be so afraid of this historical fact. Can they not hear the Dalai Lama's oft-repeated statement that he thinks it lies in Tibet's best interest to join the Chinese union? He is perfectly willing to let bygones be bygones and to join a "United States of China," persuading his followers, the entire Tibetan people, to ratify his carefully considered decision in a transparent, internationally supervised plebiscite that would finally give the Chinese government the legitimacy it desires. Why would they turn down this deal, refuse this immense gift freely given to them in spite of their decades of abusive behavior?

Allow Tibetans to Manage Tibet

Do they think the price is too high? They call the western half of Tibet the "Tibet Autonomous Region," and the eastern half the 11 "Tibet Autonomous Prefectures" (plus a few "Tibet Autonomous Counties"). They simply have to let them be reunited as one single Tibetan Autonomous Region, and allow them to be truly autonomous, which means free of any oppression; they only have to remove their colonists and their occupation troops and armed police, and let the Tibetans have their own basic law and democratic government, run their own economy, and preserve their own environment (which needs a lot of restoration after half a century of reckless exploitation and dramatic mismanagement).

A New Face of Kindness

But this is not a loss for China—it will save them a huge amount of money, and it will save them the cost of the half-million troops they maintain there, the cost of the huge subsidies required to attract Chinese people to live with half the oxygen their lungs and hearts require for comfort and health, and the cost of the ill repute they have earned throughout the world for their destruction of Tibetan culture and natural resources. They can still garrison the borders of Tibet to ensure that the Burmese, Bhutanese, Indians, or Nepalis won't think that they could get away with an invasion of the barren highland.

They can still invest in mining, tourism, wool, salt, borax, or any other resources Tibet might offer, as long as their operations are entirely green. And, they will gain the applause, respect, and heartfelt admiration of the whole world and their own people, many of whom have a mysterious love for, and fascination with, Tibet. By showing a new face of kindness, realism, and reasonableness with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, they will make their phrase "Peaceful Rise of China" have real meaning, and a huge sigh of relief will be heard around the world.

The only reason the Chinese leaders would not take this deal, the Dalai Lama deal, is fear. However, any such fear is entirely unwarranted. How can they be the truly powerful, truly risen, Great Chinese nation of 1.3 billion people, if they fear a harmless tiny group of 6 million Tibetan highlanders and their simple Buddhist monk leader, who goes to bed soon after dark and gets up every day at four in the morning in order to perform ritual prostrations, say his prayers, and practice meditation? Let them be the true Olympic heroes and show a new face of gentleness, rise to a new level of greatness, and join the Dalai Lama in demonstrating the power of truth to set all free.

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