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Published on The Guardian, 10 December 2014
Reposted at: http://tibet.net/2014/12/11/the-dalai-lama-has-a-moral-authority-the-leaders-in-beijing-can-only-dream-of/
By Lobsang Sangay
On International Human Rights Day, 25 years after he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, the Tibetan leader’s message has never mattered more
Twenty-five years ago this week in Oslo, a man who describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk was awarded the Nobel peace prize. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and the inspiration of my life’s work, remains a towering figure on the world stage. His message of peace, and emphasis on values of compassion and tolerance, have never mattered more in a world in which moral leadership is in scarce supply.
This week, the Dalai Lama marks the anniversary of the peace prize, a turning point in global acknowledgement of the Tibetan people’s peaceful struggle for freedom, at the 14th world summit of Nobel peace laureates in Rome. In a remarkable turn of events, Nobel laureates refused to attend the original summit, scheduled for September in South Africa, when the Dalai Lama was denied a visa owing to Chinese pressure on President Zuma’s government.
Their actions were a deep demonstration of solidarity, and sent a clear message to the Chinese leadership. Ultimately, in a world in which China has increasing diplomatic heft, too much accommodation of an authoritarian power that seeks to impose its own political and commercial agenda ultimately undermines democratic values and interests.
As the leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in the Tibetans’ second home, in Dharamsala in India, I wish to see positive relationships between China and the rest of the world. But not on terms dictated by a leadership that seeks to undermine and overturn democratic values. Instead of willingly cooperating in the submission of these values – notably freedom of speech – the democracies should take the position of actively seeking to defend them, and influence China’s rise for the better.
It has been profoundly moving for me and fellow Tibetans in exile to watch the “umbrella revolution” in Hong Kong. To witness these courageous young students, 25 years on from Tiananmen Square, determined to hold their ground peacefully and with such internal discipline despite the historic resonances, is an indication that democracy is touching the shores of China.
Tibetans in Tibet have endured many decades of occupation, repression and loss, as the Chinese party-state has adopted a harsh and systematic approach to silencing Tibetans and suppressing dissent, with leaders calling for support of the Dalai Lama to be “crushed”.
Internationally, the Beijing leadership has launched a virulent propaganda offensive against this revered exiled monk, and sought to disrupt and politicise international forums, such as the UN, which have challenged China’s human rights record in Tibet. And yet this concerted effort has had little effect: the Dalai Lama’s influence inside Tibet remains undimmed, with Tibetans risking their lives to express their loyalty to him. Globally, he retains a moral authority the leaders in Beijing can only dream of.
In a world riven by conflict and violence, the peaceful nature of the Tibetan struggle, because of the Dalai Lama’s influence, is an inspiration to a new generation inside Tibet that leads the struggle to protect their national identity, dignity and culture. Schoolchildren link hands and march to government education offices to protest when textbooks use Chinese and not the Tibetan language. Young monks study the precepts of their religion in monasteries run by Chinese cadres, even though they know that if they fail to denounce the Dalai Lama they could be dragged away in the middle of the night to face torture and imprisonment.
Tibetans living in exile seek to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Tibet. We have put forward the Middle Way Approach for Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People to resolve the Tibet issue. It is a policy conceived by the Dalai Lama in 1974 in an effort to engage the Chinese government in dialogue and find a peaceful way to protect the unique Tibetan culture and identity. This policy has been democratically adopted through a series of discussions held over many decades by the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan people. It is a win-win proposition that straddles the middle path between the status quo and independence – one that categorically rejects the present repressive policies of the Chinese government towards the Tibetan people while not seeking separation from the People’s Republic of China.
A fundamental change from 1989 is that His Holiness the Dalai Lama retired “happily, willingly and with pride” from his role as the political head of the Tibetan people in 2011. In the past few decades, he has gradually nudged the Tibetan exile polity towards democracy, sometimes in the face of resistance from Tibetans themselves.
His Holiness’s vision of democracy has been a transformative experience for Tibetans, and is an inspiration for those in Tibet who live under repression on a daily basis. My election as Sikyong, or the political leader of the Tibetan people, in 2011 by the Tibetan diaspora in more than 40 countries around the world is the first since the Dalai Lama’s retirement from political leadership.
In Rome this week, we are proud that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will stand shoulder to shoulder with other Nobel peace laureates including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Lech Walesa and Betty Williams, who also seek to stand up to oppression and insist upon resolving conflict through peaceful dialogue. Many of us will also reflect on the poignant absence from the summit of the Chinese Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, serving 11 years in prison as a result of his long, nonviolent work for human rights in China.
The Nobel committee draws attention to the close connection between human rights and peace as a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” that Alfred Nobel hoped the prize would help to achieve.
As we mark both International Human Rights Day and the 25th anniversary of the award of the Nobel peace prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the threats to this vision are many, and the stakes are high. Moral leadership is in short supply. Let us celebrate that which we have.
By Senge Rabten (New York)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings recently at the Beacon Theater on Tsong Khapa’s Essence of True Eloquence was truly amazing. Even though it was hard for was hard for for me to fully understand what was being explained by His Holiness and eloquently translated by Geshe Thupten Jinpa, I could feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation to the Buddha Shakyamuni and all the great masters who paved the way so that ignorant people like me could walk on the path to self-liberation. As I sat there watching His Holiness explain the text in great detail and often times interrupting only to make sure he didn’t miss relevant points, I could see a man so full of compassion and a sincere desire to help in every possible way so that we may walk on the right path to liberation.
And yet, just outside the Beacon Theater were a group of people, mostly western monks and nuns backed by a few Tibetans who were shouting “religious freedom, stop lying, false Dalai Lama” etc. Obviously they were part of the Dorjee Shugden group and had gathered there with the explicit intent to malign the Dalai Lama with their false allegations and fabricated lies. Even as a common layman, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pity on these protesters who were ignorant of the true story surrounding the Shugden spirit and who were being used as pawns by the organizers of the New Kadampa Tradition headed by Geshey Kalsang Gyatso.
Well, I thought, the Shugden group could howl and shout for as much as they wanted but this one thing I was absolutely sure. They could never succeed in their attempts because His Holiness the Dalai Lama has the love and support of the entire Tibetan people who have this unique spiritual relationship which is so special and so precious that not even the strongest of force on this earth can break it.
They may call him what they want - “false Dalai Lama”, “lier” etc. (the Chinese called him a “demon”, a “wolf in sheep’s coat” and a “jackal”. And god knows what else they might call him. But the fact of the matter remains that he is still the simple Buddhist monk and, most important of all, he is still the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet who is adored and loved not only by his own people but by tens and thousands of people around the world.
So why is this small group of people so hateful in nature? What is it they want? Their claim that they have no religious freedom is not at all true as they continue to worship the Shugden spirit with full freedom just like they used to and, in fact, with even more zeal and enthusiasm. So where does the question of religious freedom come from? Oh, wait a minute, do they mean the deprivation of their own religious right in their own center where, we are told by former members, they are forced to listen only to Geshey Kalsang Gyatso’s teachings and read books written only by him? We don’t hear something like this anywhere else! The Dalai Lama admits that he himself lost his freedom when he practiced the Shugden spirit many years ago due to ignorance but says “he is now free to listen to and receive valuable teachings from all the teachers of the Sakya, Kagyud, Nyingma and Bon traditions” without any fear or reservations.
I ask again, why are they so hateful in nature? Has this something to do with the Shugden spirit itself? When we look back at the violent activities of the Shugden followers in the past, (the brutal murder of the Principal of the School of Dialectics and two of his students in Dharamsala in February of 1997, the beating of the settlement officer Mr. Phurbu Sithar and his wife in the middle of the night in Bylakuppe, the beating of Khensur Rinpoche, burning down of the common storage room where food grains are stored and the death threats to scores of individuals) it certainly looks like the spirit had its hands in all these and had sowed the seeds of hatred and violence in the minds of the people who committed these ghastly crimes. It is now very clear to us all why it is in our own interest not to engage in the practice of this spirit because of the harm it brings not only between individuals and communities but also between the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, mainly out of concern for the Tibetan people, had disapproved the practice of the Shugden spirit but had left it wide open to the people whether to take his advice or not. He often repeated this. “Khache balue ki ningtam shey yo to. Nyen dang ma nyen so soi lagpa re” (I have revealed the secrets of Khache Balue but whether you want to take note of it or not is up to you.)
The Shugden issue, however, has now reached a disturbing level with the intervention of the Chinese government. It is disturbing because the Chinese are now using the Shugden issue to blame the Dalai Lama for violation of religious freedom and deliberately worsening the situation by destroying statues of Guru Rinpoche in direct show of support to the Shugden followers. Anyone with the right frame of mind can see that this is politically motivated by the Chinese and the Shugden followers are playing their paid role as puppets made in China. It is so sad and pathetic that Geshey Kalsang Gyatso, Ghangchen Lama and the lot can bow down to such a low level as to bring harm and suffering to their own people. But then isn’t this the very nature of the Shugden spirit which does nothing but harm? It is no wonder it has earned the name of “monlam log pai dhamsi”.
In short, the nature of the Shugden practice can best be described as violent, fundamentalist, fanatic, sectarian and divisive. Let us all be aware of this.
By Susan V. Lawrence (Congressional Research Service, U.S.)
November 5, 2014
The Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 (TPA) is a core legislative measure guiding U.S. policy toward Tibet. Its stated purpose is “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.” Among other provisions, the TPA establishes in statute the State Department position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and defines the Special Coordinator’s “central objective” as being “to promote substantive dialogue” between the government of the People’s Republic of China and Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, or his representatives. The Special Coordinator is also required, among other duties, to “coordinate United States Government policies, programs, and projects concerning Tibet”; “vigorously promote the policy of seeking to protect the distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, and national identity of Tibet”; and press for “improved respect for human rights.”
While the Special Coordinator coordinates Tibet-related U.S. government programs, congressional mandates and earmarked appropriations for most such programs are contained in legislation other than the TPA. The programs include assistance for nongovernmental organizations to work in Tibetan communities in China; an educational and cultural exchange program with “the people of Tibet”; Voice of America and Radio Free Asia Tibetan-language broadcasting into Tibet; assistance for Tibetan refugees in South Asia; a scholarship program for Tibetans outside Tibet; and National Endowment for Democracy programs relating to Tibet.
Congress has shown a strong interest in Tibet since the 1980s, passing dozens of laws and resolutions related to Tibet, speaking out about conditions in Tibet, and welcoming visits by the Dalai Lama and, more recently, the political head of the India-based Central Tibetan Administration. Such actions have long been a source of friction in the U.S.-China relationship. China charges that they amount to support for challenges to Chinese rule in Tibet.
Since passage of the TPA, three bills seeking to update it have passed the House of Representatives. In the 113th Congress, H.R. 4194, the House-passed Government Reports Elimination Act of 2014, would eliminate a report required by the TPA: the provision was removed in the Senate-passed bill. H.R. 2410 in the 111th Congress and H.R. 2601 in the 109th Congress both included substantial revisions to the TPA, but the Senate did not act on either bill.
If the Congress again considers amending the TPA, questions it may wish to consider include:
• To what degree, if any, should policy toward Tibet be considered in the context of relations with China?
• Should Congress clarify its position on Tibet’s political status? In the early 1990s, Congress passed legislation declaring Tibet to be an “occupied country,” but subsequent legislation has often implied congressional acceptance of a status for Tibet as part of China.
• What should be the balance between U.S. programs, activities, and policies focused on the six million Tibetans living under Chinese Communist Party rule and those focused on the approximately 130,000-strong Tibetan diaspora?
• With dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives stalled since January 2010, should the TPA continue to define promotion of such dialogue as the Special Coordinator’s “central objective”?
By Chewing Ngokhang (a.k.a. Ajo Che)
In the last few days there have been flurry of activity in the international forum starting with the APEC summit at Beijing. It was quite evident that this time Xi Jinping, the President of People’s Republic of China, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and the Chairman of the Central Military looked more robust, accentuated by his dark overcoat in the wintry evening at Zhongnanhai, as opposed to the summer summit in 2013, at Sunnyvale, California, in casual shirts sleeves during which Xi stated that the Pacific Sea is big enough for both the United States and China.
Since then Xi Jinping has harnessed the reins of power by making some bold moves in tackling corruption which he believed would disintegrate the party if not checked. Thus he vowed that he would start from the tiger to the fly. Sure enough Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing leader and Liu Zhijun, the Railway minister were both incarcerated for graft infraction charges. China’s court found both guilty and sentenced the former life imprisonment, and the latter death sentence which was later reprieved. Besides doing away with sumptuous banquets, he also made it mandatory that young adults must visit their aging parents once a week; sounds like a conscientious leader in tune with sentiments of older people.
Certainly the world sees that China now has a leader who seems much more assertive and not pusillanimous in any way. Besides border incursions at several contiguous regions to China, China has more than flexed its muscles in the South and East China seas making many states in the area feel jittery, mainly Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc., and in addition, cultivating new relations in far flung Pacific island nations. On November 23, 2013 China imposed “Air Defense Identification Zone” (ADIZ) requiring all foreign aircrafts to report their presence over the area mapped. The border incursions are nothing new; it has been going on for decades. The recent opening up of BRICS or CRIBS bank to challenge WTO and IMF should also strengthen the Yuan by making it a global currency. These tactical moves seem to have been borrowed from the famous Chinese military general of the 6th century B.C. by the name of Sun Tzu, a strategist and philosopher. His writings titled “The art of war” points out to ‘WWWWW’ or win war without waging war. And, in the Hollywood film ‘Enter the Dragon’ Bruce Lee calls it the art of fighting without fighting.
Incidentally, China’s three most famous martial art experts and actors had and have some affinity with Tibetan Buddhism and its rich cultural heritage. While attending University of Washington in Seattle in the 1960s, Bruce Lee was said to have had a class in Buddhism under Nornang Geshe-La who recently passed away in India after completing his pilgrimage in the holly Buddha land. Although well acquainted with the Tibet issue Jackie Chan seemingly prefers to remain apolitical which is understandable. And Jet Li a devout Buddhist had visited Dharamshala and met with the Dalai Lama, Karmapa and other Tibetan religious figures. As advised by Li during his visit the Dalai Lama had sagely supported the 2008 Olympics at Beijing.
Today the United States’ Monroe Doctrine is not relevant as John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of the state has stated early this year. In addition to gaining traction in Africa, China is already discussing with Mexico’s leaders in building a super speed railway network there, and decision is already made to ahead with the project. Making a canal across Nicaragua is also in the offing which can damage the relevance of the antiquated Panama Canal, thus withering away the leverage of the west in the region.
Many youths in China lament that their ancestors had not done enough to expand China’s territorial ambition although we Tibetans see it differently. The Chinese have historically shunned the vast sea for whatever reason except for a brief period. It is necessary to point out here that China’s Zheng He has sailed several times to the eastern shores of Africa and other nations over one hundred years before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. Subsequently, the Ming Emperor forbade all seafaring adventures outside the coastal areas of China. Is it possible the emperor had entertained the notion that venturing far in the choppy waters of the sea had contributed to the demise of the Yuan Dynasty, as a result of its failed ambition to conquer Japan? It is believed that the Mongols with the aim of conquering Japan, with about ten thousand ships loaded with their elite generals, warriors and soldiers were met with tsunami that more or less wiped out the entire fleet, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the Mongol empire. A lesson learned at the time that the land powers should not venture out in the vast uncharted seas. Today the scenario is different as evidenced by the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands dispute between China and Japan.
As predicted decades back that the west would slowly shift its focus to the Asia Pacific since China is becoming more assertive in the area; consequently, the States’ pivot in the Pacific. Regardless of all the changes in geopolitics across the globe, China is bent on furthering its influence not only in the Pacific but also across the west of Xinjiang under the auspicious of Silk Road Economic Belt. This is clearly evidenced by its plans to connect China to Europe with the building of ‘Silk Road’ railways through some former Soviet states. Their plan to build a mega city at Horgos in western Xinjiang, bordering Kazakhstan will have an impact that is beneficial to more employment opportunities in Xinjiang as well as other regions along the belt. The work has already begun. When the building of the city is completed it should be twice the size of the New York City. Construction and building is in China’s blood as demonstrated by past building endeavors. They are already in the process of building a mega dam across the Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra) that is twice the size of the Three- Gorges Dam. Experts spell environmental catastrophe.
Amidst all these juggernauts where do we stand? Ever since Xi acknowledged religion in people’s life, even CCTV hosts had panel discussions on religion and the need for it in people’s life. Professor Zhang Wei Wei of Fudan University urged China to respect all religions. It is also interesting to note that another scholar stated that there are at least two hundred million Buddhists in China although the actual figure is believed to be about double the number; that’s more than the entire population of the U.S. And, an interesting comment came from CCTV’s Tian Wei, one of two hosts on its program Dialogue that China’s elites and the younger generation are opting for Tibetan Buddhism while the poorer peasants showed some ecumenical propensity.
Early this month while interviewing one of China’s think tanks on Dialogue, Yang Rui deftly interjected that recently he had a Dutch friend for dinner who stated that economic development in Tibet cannot be measured, since it’s a very spiritual region with many devout Buddhists to whom pursuit of religion is second to none.
To this the think tank replied that there was a lot of truth to the statement. And the best line came from Professor Tu Weiming of Beijing University that China must foment dialogue in order to bring cultural harmony without cultural homogenization. He stated China must show empathy, sympathy and compassion to other cultural groups in the nation. There are many think tanks, scholars and professors from prominent China’s universities dexterously urging their government to reform. If the government heed their call and show a degree of compassion, and loosen the screw on Tibet it can be serendipitously conducive to the soul of the spiritually starved nation and its people.
So, China is changing rapidly except in the case of Tibetans who are still being severely punished for articulating their beliefs in the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and their religious rights. Change in China’s attitude and reforms are inevitable as pointed out by one former ambassador. Chairman Mao got a rating of 70% from Deng Xiaoping who had said 30 % bad and 70 % good, and let’s leave it at that.
However, Deng Xiaoping, the architect of today’s China got a rating of 80%. Had it not been for the excesses of the 1989 incident, Mr. Deng could have got a 90% rating. Now if Xi Jinping wishes to surpass the previous two and earn a 90% rating or more, it is vital he resolves the Tibet issue once and for all. This can be achieved through meaningful dialogue, and heed to a new MMW (Modified Middle Way) Initiative. Resolving Tibet issue would be a stunning feat for Xi Jinping in the international arena, further ameliorating his growing image and China as a whole. Now the ball is on Xi’s court.
Tibetans Applaud Relocation of Nobel Peace Summit to Rome After Being Scrapped over Dalai Lama Visa Row
By José Elías Esteve Moltó
Centuries ago, when the “Central Empires” flourished, representatives of “barbarian” missions (i.e., foreign diplomats and other subjects) were required to kneel three times and even prostrate themselves with their heads on the floor nine times while the Chinese Emperor, the Son of Heaven, sat unmoved on his high throne. This protocol of solemn reverence to the celestial supreme power, known as the kowtow, was necessary for maintaining friendly diplomatic and commercial relations with the Beijing Empire. The basic aim of this Confucian court ritual was to show public respect and submission towards a superior; in other words, to openly acknowledge the Emperor’s hierarchical rank with regard to his subjects or vassals.
Today’s times of upheaval appear, among other numerous and pernicious effects, to have rescued this embarrassing ritual belonging to the etiquette of the exotic Far East. Although the differences are not subtle, and today’s new kowtow has been performed by the Spanish Government before Beijing’s new leaders, who instead of sitting on a divine throne, sit in the soft armchairs of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo while amassing million-dollar fortunes in fiscal paradises that secretly evade the law and Maoist utopia. Whatever the case, this initial return to the imperial past has turned out to be a matter of imperative necessity, as economic interests had to be safeguarded and the Spanish debt placed in the hands of the new oriental owners, as our Foreign Minister García Margallo openly admitted.
The first time this kowtow was acted out in public was on 17 January 2014 when the spokesman of the Popular Parliamentary Group, Alfonso Alonso, presented the Spanish Parliament with a bill to modify Organic Law 6/1985 of Judicial Power, of 1st July, regarding universal justice. Once again, international law was invoked in an attempt to violate the most fundamental values and principles of international law itself. The explanation also took a quantum leap into the distant and obsolete past improved upon in international law, returning to a time when human rights were the preserve of states. Thus, international treaties and commitments signed in Rome, which led to today’s International Criminal Court, were unashamedly invoked in order to cut short decades of a tireless fight against impunity initiated as a last resort for victims of forgotten and ignored international crimes. Indeed, universal jurisdiction was being used as the only lifeline from which to lodge cases against heinous international crimes that had not succeeded in obtaining effective guarantees of protection in the conventional and extra-conventional international systems of the United Nations or in regional human rights courts, let alone in the very discredited International Criminal Court.
Thus, when a new globalisation of justice began to take its first steps enabling unacceptable black holes in the international sphere to be tackled, which pointed to the leaders of some of the countries with veto powers in the Security Council, political alarm bells began to go off.
It was at this point that it was decided to take a second Great Leap, not Forwards as the Great Helmsman had, but backwards into a past that seemed to have been overcome. In effect, this new law has returned to an outdated past in order to rescue the principle of non interference in internal affairs and thus safeguard and protect political and military leaders who, in addition to committing genocide and torture, are first and foremost first-class commercial partners. And how they have gone to the aid of the Chinese leaders! Only weeks after passing the reform of universal justice, the Tibet and Falun Gong cases against the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were stayed by the Plenary of the Special Court’s Criminal Court, with the agreement of the public prosecution, although five of the investigative judges voted against.
The political favour of closing the judicial investigation had to have its recompense. Thus, to call in the favour, on his official visit to Beijing accompanied by the CEOE (the Spanish Confederation of Business Organisations), Rajoy will have to perform the last submissive prostration of the kowtow ritual and once again kneel before the de facto powers of China, while never losing sight of large corporate interests. It is clear that defending the Spain brand seems to require this humiliating obsequiousness.
Europe and Spain are in crisis, but the economic recession is not the principal factor or its original cause. The crisis has its roots in the disintegration of the so-called values of European identity (those of Article 2 of the Treaty of Lisbon), which should in fact be an international point of reference. If democracy and human rights in Europe kowtow to autocratic and corrupt powers like those of China’s current regime in order to save our public debts and the million-dollar investments of trans-national companies, further poverty will be inevitable: social, legal and even ethical poverty.
José Elías Esteve Moltó is a professor of public international law and secretary of Valencia University’s Human Rights Institute. He is the author and researcher of the Tibet lawsuits lodged in Spain’s Special Court.
Article originally published by EL PAIS Planeta Futuro (in Spanish) 30th Sept. 2014 at: http://elpais.com/elpais/2014/09/29/planeta_futuro/1412002490_639525.html
By Tenzin Norgay*
The “Forum on the Development of Tibet, China” organized in Lhasa on 12-13 August 2014 is a significant public relations activity in the Tibet component of Beijing’s goal to build China’s soft power. In her quest to become a super power, the Tibet factor has made significant dent in the country’s soft power metric. The outburst of Tibetan political and human rights grievances in 2008 and the subsequent crackdown made a deep negative impact on the country’s worldwide image despite the successful staging of the Olympics. Beijing’s diplomatic charm offensives around the world have been relatively successful but the Tibet issue creates considerable doubts about the country as a model for others to follow in finding solutions to their domestic issues.
So far, Beijing’s decades old main policy planks of development and stability in Tibet have turned a hard sell. The 2014 Tibet Development Forum is definitely an escalation in public relations exercise to disingenuously persuade the international audience to adopt its success narrative. However, the results are not guaranteed. Just as there is no international audience for the brittle propaganda started in 2009 in announcing plans to spend billions of dollars to develop global media giants “to use soft power rather than military might to win friends abroad,” positive outcomes from the conference is also uncertain.
While Beijing did manage to maneuver the current forum on its position by bringing together a good number of qualified professionals on its side, the impact of such a publicity gain remains to be seen in the future. Except for positive reportages by the domestic media and one India based media, the global media took a low level of interest on the forum; and where there were discussions, the associated controversies may have outweighed the public opinion against the conference objectives.
In fact, the “Lhasa Consensus” which is purely a political statement may have done more harm than good to Beijing’s public relations goals as consumers of international media can smartly distinguish between good and bad publicity. Ill managed publicity can boomerang on the state’s credibility which is a contradiction to its goal in building soft power. For example, the veracity of the statement is easily destroyed with negative impacts through New Zealand’s former Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker’s response to the BBC’s inquiry on his consent to the document. He responded, “I’m aware that the statement was made but I certainly haven’t signed up to it. I think a number of people who were there were a little surprised to hear about that statement…Certainly the conference that I’ve been attending has been focused on sustainable development and there were no real political themes running through it at all.” Similarly, Irish politician Pat Breen in an email response to the Irish Tibet Support Group replied, “I was asked to sign the Lhasa Consensus statement and I refused to do so.” Corroborating this statement was the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade’s response which stated “Your email was considered by the joint committee at its meeting on Wednesday 3rd September 2014. The joint committee directed me to inform you that Chairman Breen did not sign the “Lhasa Consensus”. Similarly, the Rector of University of Vienna stated that “according to Prof. [Richard] Trappl, the Lhasa consensus statement was not a discussion topic for the participants of the conference. The statement was prepared by the organizers of the conference and simply read out at the end of the conference…Prof. Trappl is not responsible for the content of the consensus statement…The consensus statement does not reflect in any way the official position of the University of Vienna.”
Being the fourth international development forum on Tibet, the central government seemingly is on a hurry to gain leverage from its forum investments beginning from 2007. The controversial “Lhasa Consensus” statement is a calculated political statement under the guise of being a statement on development in Tibet.
Development is a jargon popularly understood in terms of high GDP and infrastructure. In such a narrow understanding of the term, human well-being is sidelined in pursuit of double digit economic growth to impress the domestic constituency and international audience. While there definitely is a short term gain in such a pursuit, the long term implications of putting under the carpet today’s problems may come to haunt disadvantaged policy makers in the future. This is what is problematic in Tibet’s “development” as the local government is under a massive bad debt to the central government and today’s economic and development gains are not sustainable so long as the human welfare aspect of it is simply sidelined. The forum topics while broadly covered various topics in development studies overlooked the rights based approaches in developmental work and also the local opinion impact resulting from the state’s development programs so far. It falls short of the inclusivity standards needed for any development program to work successfully.
The “2014 Forum on the Development of Tibet, China”, jointly organized by the State Council Information Office and the People’s Government of Tibet Autonomous Region, saw participation of around 100 delegates. Titled as “The Development of Tibet: Opportunities and Alternatives” with “Sustainable Development”, “Inheritance and Protection of Tibetan Culture” and “Ecological and Environmental Protection” as sub-themes is the fourth international development forum on Tibet. The first three were held in Vienna, Rome and Athens in 2007, 2009 and 2011 respectively. Unlike the previous three forums, the current forum drew the largest number of 41 foreign delegates comprising of academics, politicians and journalists representing 31 countries. 52 Chinese participants also attended the forum.
Country wise representation of the international delegates are as follows: Austria (2), Belgium (1), Britain (2), Canada (1), Chile (1), Costa Rica(1), Czech Republic (1), Iceland (1), India (2), Ireland (2), Italy (1), France (1), Greece (2), Japan (1), Kenya (1), Malaysia (1), Mexico (1), Mongolia (1), Nepal (1), New Zealand (3), Nigeria (1), Peru (1), Poland (1), Romania (1), Russia (1), Slovenia (1), South Africa (1), Sri Lanka (1), Switzerland (1), Thailand (2), U.S. (3).
*The writer is a senior fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute.
This article was originally published on tibetpolicy.net on 18 September 2014
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