Tibet is way up high in the Himalaya Mountains tranquil and peaceful. The Tibetans have a unique religion subject to the test of time like any other religion in the world, except the pace is slower in Tibet due to its remoteness. However, the world has changed especially in transportation and communication. People all over the world are impacted by the fast technological progress made in the past century. Naturally, Tibetans are impacted as well and they deserve to have the modern elements available to them just like anyone else in the world. Tibetans may choose to absorb the technological impact and any social changes that come with it in their own pace but that are Tibetans’ choice, not the outsiders’ nor the Dalai Lama XIV’s. This belief of mine was influenced and firmed up by reading the book written by Dalai Lama XIV’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, ‘The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet’ (co-authored with Anne F Thurston, published by Public Affairs 2015). The book tells the extraordinary story of the Dalai Lama family, his selection to be the spiritual leader, how Tibetan people were controlled, and Dalai Lama’s exile from the religious holy land to political battles for his exile government fighting for Tibet’s Independence, independent of Tibetans’ will but more dependent on world politics.
Of course, living in the U.S. far away from Tibet, I am exposed to more international news concerning Dalai Lama than any Tibetan will. Dalai Lama was often featured as a celebrity by Western presses partly because he would grab any opportunity of high exposure such as any invitation from any head of state and partly he would often participate in political forums raising the flags of human rights, freedom and democracy. He had opportunities to remain as a spiritual leader in Tibet and influence Tibet’s governance and Tibetans’ welfare but he was manipulated by world politicians into exile of no return. It is a pity for him that he cannot accept the separation of religion and politics which has been accepted throughout the world even by the oldest monarchy States. Tibetans now have the freedom to practice their religion and enjoy being a free citizen like anyone else in China with no political bondage imposed by any religion. Dalai Lama is now 82 years old, with his wisdom, he should be able to understand what the destiny of a modern Tibet should be.
Interesting enough, just about the time “The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong” was published, the Chinese government published a white paper about Tibet. I did not read this document until recently someone alerted to me its existence. I read the entire document and the Gyalo Thondup book once again, and came to the following conclusions:
1. Tibet has gone through a very much needed transformation in the past six and half decades (1949-2015 when the white paper was published). Tibet has joined the total of China’s 56 ethnic groups experiencing a social, political and economic transformation, a process of establishing a true independent republic nation marching towards modernization.
2. Separation of Religion and Politics is no doubt a correct policy compared to a religion controlled political governance system. Modern citizens understand it and Tibetans now understand it. Dalai Lama’s exile government representing the old system (Tibetans are slaves to monks and local landlords) is in no position to speak about Tibetans’ freedom and rights. How can any other nation equates Dalai Lama to freedom and democracy is beyond me. I believe that the faults of the old system, absolute religious power, class and slavery system, poverty etc., described in the white paper, are true (corroborated by Thondup’s book).
3. The transformation process for Tibetans is remarkable if we compare to what happened to the American Indians when the European settlers came to America. Tibetans are treated and respected as equal partners in the new Republic nation. In 1951, amid some independence movements supported by external organizations, the local government and the central government reached an agreement to allow peaceful transition of governance. Dalai Lama XIV, then, telegrammed Chairman Mao: “Tibet’s local government and Tibet’s common citizens and monasteries jointly support the central government under Chairman Mao’s leadership to expel the foreign forces out of Tibet and uphold our mother nation’s sovereignty.” In 1954, China and India signed a Tibet Trade and Transportation Agreement which eliminated the special privileges left from the British Empire based on prior unequal treaties. In 1956, similar Trade and Transportation Agreement was signed with Nepal giving Tibet a fairer deal.
4. Monastic figures held important roles in Tibet society in the past and those roles were diminished since 1959. The religious rivalry between the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama was historical. Panchen Lama was part of the elaborate process by which Dalai Lama was chosen. The current system solved the historical issues and made Tibetans more united. The central government has helped Tibet financially to develop its infrastructure and economic system. From 1952 to 2013, the subsidies to Tibet amounts to 544.6 billion Yuan, 95% of Tibet’s budget. In the past 20 years nearly 6000 selected talents were recruited from the rest of China to work in Tibet. One credit may be given to the external support groups for Tibet Independence is that their noises made the Chinese Central Government more conscious in evaluating its achievement in the economic development of Tibet. One must say the results are impressive.
5. All the noises on the world stage demanding Tibet to be independent are clearly politically motivated from geopolitical strategic viewpoints. India since Nehru has been supporting Tibet Independence with the same motive as her control of Bhutan as a strategic policy of weakening China, perhaps a legacy inherited from the British Empire. The U.S. with her anti-communism strategy shared that purpose, thus Gyalo Thondup’s story of CIA involvement in Tibet is absolutely believable. Later after establishing diplomatic relation with China, the U.S. shifted her position to human rights joining the international chorus on Tibetans being suppressed. As China rose economically so did Tibet, these noises became more subdued. Judging on comments from recent tourists visiting Tibet, Tibetans are not only better off than decades earlier, they became models of China’s effort in eliminating poverty.
6. China has always been concerned with any agitation challenging her legitimacy, sovereignty and policies regarding human rights and racial issues. China is still concerned with Dalai Lama’s activities and any echoer in the international community even though China is in a ever better position to defend her governance in Tibet and China as a whole. The progress in Tibet and in the entire China is her best defense. There are still anti-China plots using Tibet or whatever can be twisted into a negative story, but the Chinese government has gained more self-confidence as seen from their diplomatic actions and over all PR work. The recent incidence of India sending troops into China-Bhutan border was handled rationally and successfully. Hence, Dalai Lama is no longer a threat but a nuisance.
As a religious leader Dalai Lama should have realized that his quest for power and control of Tibet was not justified. He should have returned to Tibet and practiced his religion with his followers. As Buddhists say “it is never too late to return to safe shore”. Dalai Lama still has the choice as long as he is alive.