The Tibet-China Conflict - Part 3: Current Policies and the Dalai Lama
History and the Dalai Lama
This is part three in a series of articles on the Tibet-China conflict, specifically focusing on current policies and the Dalai Lama. Here are links to Part 1: History and Overview and Part 2: Why China wants Tibet .
Because the Tibet-China conflict is a controversial subject, both sides have ardent supporters and opponents. Due to the strong interests and stakes of all parties involved, information is often disputed, and conclusions drawn even more so. The question "Is Tibet part of China?" can begin a fierce and often heated debate.
Again, I ask all readers, no matter how passionate on either side, to please keep an open mind and be open to further research and discussion. I will post all of my sources of the end of the series to try to avoid HubPages' duplicate bot. (Please see Part 4.) Comments are welcome and I will not censor, so please comment responsibly.
Current Talks and Disagreements
Partially due to the lack of agreement in even basic historical facts (see Part 1 if you are unfamiliar with the conflict's history), current negotiations are not going smoothly. Ever since 1960, when Tibet’s government-in-exile was formed in India’s Dharamsala, peace talks have generally been unproductive.
The latest round in meetings began in 2002, when the Dalai Lama’s brother succeeded in convincing Chinese officials to meet groups of Tibetan delegates for discussion. Although hopes were high in the beginning, the talks quickly stalled and the delegates were unable to agree on even the smallest policies to enact. International governments, most of them having taken an official stance encouraging the talks, generally laid the blame on China for not being open to implementing policies deemed priorities by Tibet.
The 14th Dalai Lama’s Five-Point Peace Plan asks for “1.) Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace; 2.) Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people; 3.) Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms; 4.) Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; 5.) Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples” (Dalai Lama XIV, 5 Point Peace Plan Presentation to U.S. Congress. 9-21-1987).
China refused to consider the plan. By 2008, the Dalai Lama expressed frustration and called the talks “difficult and disappointing” (www.savetibet.org/tibetan-chinese-negotiations). Meanwhile, demonstrations and unrest have staunchly continued, straining the PRC-Tibet relationship even further.
Map of Tibet
Tibet’s protests have not been quiet; its advocates spend large amounts time and effort publicizing unpopular Chinese policies and their flaws. One of the procedures that have sparked the most outrage from Tibetans is the incentives offered by the PRC to Han Chinese who migrate to Tibet.
On the surface innocuous, deeper digging reveals that this policy is wickedly innovative, directly aimed at undermining Tibet’s cultural integrity in the next generation. Han immigrants, mostly doctors and teachers, work in Tibet for a number of years in exchange for money or a much improved chance at promotion.
With a large surge in Han teachers combined with cultural suppression in schools, it has become very difficult for Tibetan youth to learn about their native culture outside of their homes. This has infuriated many Tibetans, including the 14th Dalai Lama, who called the policy “a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their [the Tibetan people’s] national and cultural identities” (Dalai Lama XIV, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. 12-10-89).
Religious Suppression in Tibet
No analysis of the current PRC-Tibet conflict can be complete without taking into account Tibet’s richly Buddhist culture, along with China’s attempts at smothering it. With over 65% of the Tibetan population calling themselves Buddhist, it is no mystery why most everything in Tibet has some connection to the religion.
Though Buddhist traditions can vary from region to region, Tibetan Buddhism shares with other varieties an emphasis on realizing truths through personal contemplation and analysis, a reverence for bodhisattvas (beings who postpone their own nirvanas to help others achieve Buddhahood) and lamas (teachers), and an encouragement of an attitude of questioning and open-minded skepticism. It differs in its recognition of incarnate lamas, especially the immensely important Dalai Lama reincarnation.
Picture of the 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of previous Dalai Lamas, who are in turn the human representation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The position is highly revered by all Tibetan Buddhists; followers refer to the current Dalai Lama, his shortened Buddhist name Tenzin Gyatso, as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (referred to from here on as HH14DL, to prevent confusion with other Dalai Lamas).
Traditionally, the Dalai Lama is both the religious leader and the head of state; however, in March 2011, HH14DL renounced his position as head of state, stating his intention to turn power over to a democratically elected administration. In an age where violent lifelong dictators, like Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi, are often in the limelight, HH14DL’s choice to peacefully pass his power to the Tibetan people is highly unusual, if not unique.
This instance has definitely not been the only noteworthy occurrence in the HH14DL’s life. Though his 76 years could be and have been the subject of many books, due to his importance to many Tibetans and his influence on the world, a brief biography will have to suffice here. He was born Lhamo Dondrub to a farming family in a small village. Recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at age 2, he was prevented from journeying to Lhasa, the capital, by Chinese officials until he was six.
HH14DL became head of state in 1950 at age 15 after studying in the Jokhang Temple for nine years. For another nine years, he engaged in peace talks and treaty negotiations with PRC officials, including Mao Zedong, who HH14DL has mentioned in his books and autobiographies.
After a rather clumsy abduction attempt by China in 1959, he fled to exile in Dharamsala, India, where he currently resides. On his website, the 14th Dalai Lama names his three major commitments as “the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics in the interest of human happiness, the fostering of inter-religious harmony and the welfare of the Tibetan people, focusing on the survival of their identity, culture and religion” (www.dalailama.com). An author of more than 72 books, many of them bestsellers, HH14DL has spent much effort in spreading his ideas for tolerance along with awareness about Tibet.
Having also conferred with many heads of state in the 62 countries he has visited, including U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, he has been a highly influential advocate for Tibet, as well as for the environment and global cooperation. The 14th Dalai Lama is widely acknowledged as the main reason Tibet and Tibetan culture first began to wield influence in the Western world. A more through description of him can be found on his official website: www.dalailama.com .
Dalai Lama Controversy
Though the Dalai Lama is hailed worldwide by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike as a voice for peace, the PRC-run Chinese media bashes him almost daily. Two recent articles from the “Global Times”, a newspaper widely acknowledged as a mouthpiece for the government, are titled “Dalai uses suicides for political gain” (Published 1-11-12) and “Dalai group not keeping Tibet’s interests at heart”(1-30-12).
China also tends to avoid questions about conditions in Tibet that may be the cause of protests, instead choosing to deflect responsibility onto the Dalai Lama. Following a series of reported self-immolation attempts, there was a sudden growth in articles like “Self burnings drama shows Dalai Lama’s desperation” (9-5-11) and “Dalai Lama politicizes monk suicides” (9-28-11).
However, there are also criticisms of the Dalai Lama from within the Tibetan community, mostly about recognizing incarnations, especially of the 17th Karmapa. The 14th Dalai Lama also has been criticized for disapproving of certain prayers, which its followers state have lead to them being shunned by the Tibetan community, as well as his ties to the CIA and India. Wikipedia has an excellent summary and collection of sources for the Tibetan controversies surrounding the Dalai Lama.
Despite the controversies surrounding him, it's undeniable that the 14th Dalai Lama has had, and is having, an incredible influence on Tibet-China relations.
I have one installment left on this series, which will be about the current controversies and protests happening, as well as China's claim that she rescued Tibet from being a "slave-owning serfdom". Here is the link: Part 4: Controversy Over Violence, Past and Present.
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