Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The trouble with Tibet. Saw a very interesting interview with Clark Shimatsu on Dialogue the other day. Clark Shimatsu is a Japanese-American who grew up in an internment camp in California, then eventually went to Japan and worked his way up through the ranks at the Japan Times. Anyway, he has spent a considerable amount of time in Tibet and India as a journalist studying the whole issue. And he is no great fan of the Dalai Lama. One of the most difficult things about this whole issue is trying to develop an understanding of just what kind of person the Dalai Lama really is.

For a whole variety of reasons, the Dalai Lama is the perceived spokesman for the disaffected people of Tibet. Everyone seems to contribute to that idea, including the Chinese. They are always talking about how they are more than willing to dialogue with him if he will only renounce independence for Tibet. Why should they talk with him at all if he is just another Buddhist monk? Clearly he is the one everybody recognizes as the "spiritual" leader of the Tibetan people. But just who is he? Obviously, I don't believe he is a living god. He's a cozy bugger, you have to give him that. He has a winsome personality. But that doesn't make him God. When he is asked about it himself, he's pretty cagey on the matter. Between you and me, I don't think he really believes he is a god, either. He would do a service to his people, and to the whole problem, if he would disavow his deity, as Hirohito did after World War II. You know, the whole "god" thing has gotten a little ridiculous. I read a headline recently in the China Daily reminding the world that the government reserves the right to approve all reincarnations. In fairness, this practice goes back to the emperors, but I just can't picture how it would be implemented. "No, stay down! You can't come back from the dead until we get authorization from the Religious Affairs Bureau!" But the Dali Lama isn't any better. During the recent trouble, he said that if the violence continued, he would "resign." How does a living god resign? One apologist for the Dalai Lama said that what he really meant is that he wouldn't reincarnate again. Like it's up to him? The whole thing is foolishness, of course.

But what to do? And how does one get an honest assessment of what is going on, and who is telling the truth? It now appears that the Dalai Lama did order a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa by the members of his sect, and that the demonstration got out of hand. But to what extent is he personally responsible for the violence? Yang Rui posed this question to Mr. Shimatsu. He did not answer the question directly, and part of his answer was edited out, which is both disappointing and curious. There is pretty good information that the recent trouble in Tibet was due, at least in part, to outside influence. But there is no evidence that the Dalai Lama himself countenanced violence. So I don't know. It's an unanswered question. But clearly the Dalai Lama is not a supporter of China. Ordering a demonstration of any kind, violent or nonviolent, cannot be considered cooperation. And even though the Dalai Lama may not have specifically encouraged violence, surely he knew that even a peaceful demonstration at such a sensitive time could become violent. So his statements that he did not encourage violence ring hollow, because even though he may be telling the truth, it doesn't change the fact that the violence would not have taken place if he had not ordered the protests.

The whole world seems to think that China should dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and tends to view China as intransigent because they refuse to. The Chinese have repeatedly said they were willing to talk with him. In saying this, they may have unwittingly contributed to his status as the "spokesman" for Tibet. For example, if the government of suddenly China announced to the world that they were willing to talk with Eric Langager if I would renounce independence, a whole lot of people would suddenly want to know what I thought about the matter. I think there should be some dialogue--some conversation between China and the Tibetan people about what level of autonomy is acceptable to both sides. China needs to decide with whom they are willing to have these conversations, and then just do it, because right now, the Dalai Lama is clearly winning the PR war, and I am not sure he completely deserves to.

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