The Issue of Tibetan Independence

Contrary to the open hand with which the Fourteenth Dalai Lama advocated communism and supported Mao and the Chinese communist government while in Tibet, upon his arrival in India, like a skilled actor, he completely changed roles and began advocating a free, independent Tibet and repeatedly encouraged Tibetans to rise up against China to accomplish this. What could have propelled him to be so blatantly two-faced? Was it a smokescreen to hide the shame of having failed to win the Tibetan populace over to his personal ambition of being leader of a communist Tibet? Or was he daunted by the task of now being under western public scrutiny? Having clearly failed to convert Tibetans to his communist ideology in the confines of Tibet the only way the Dalai Lama could surely maintain his position as a political and spiritual leader in exile was to fulfil the wish of his people – or at least give the impression of striving to do so – and lead them to a free and independent Tibet. Basically, he needed to undo all that his lama policies had created!

Despite now being under the public spotlight in the international arena, the Dalai Lama has not performed the actions of a true leader and worked for the wishes of his people. Although most Tibetans would never dare to question the Dalai Lama directly, it is clear that for them ‘the cause of Tibet’ is full independence from China, whilst for him it is a partial autonomy within China.

‘The vast majority of Tibetans, both within Tibet and in exile, favor independence for Tibet.’161

Lhasang Tsering, once a member of the Tibetan resistance force based in Mustang, Nepal, writes:

‘… I have no doubt in my mind that our people, even for generations to come, will continue to struggle, to suffer and sacrifice so long as independence remains the goal. However, I cannot expect people to make similar sacrifices for a lesser goal. I, for one, cannot struggle to be in association with China.

‘… so long as we do not recognise China’s rule and so long as our goal remains independence, then China’s intrusion into Tibet can be seen as a foreign aggression and our struggle will be one of international dimension. But if we change our goal to seeking some kind of accommodation within China, then the issue is entirely different. And, as China always claims, ours would be an “internal” affair and we would have no right to seek international involvement and support.’162

Jamyang Norbu, another former Tibetan guerrilla fighter and now a well-known author and playwright, writes:

‘… I am convinced that Tibetans must have independence if only for survival as a people. With every passing year we are getting closer to extinction…. No autonomy, or any kind of understanding or accommodation with China will prevent it…. Only full independence holds out some hope for Tibetan survival …’163

Tashi-Topgye Jamyangling, a former official of the Tibetan exile government and member of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s first fact- finding delegation to China in 1979, writes:

‘As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, the final decision, with respect to the future of Tibet, must be made by the Tibetans themselves. The choice is simple: Is it Independence or is it Extinction?’164

However, despite initial rhetoric during the early years of his exile advocating a free, independent Tibet, the independence of Tibet has not been on the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s true political agenda for many years. As early as 1984, in secret meetings in Beijing, independence of the Tibetan State had already been dropped in favour of a Tibetan autonomous region within the sovereignty of China.165 This decision by the Dalai Lama was taken unilaterally, without any referendum of the people or even consultation with his government.166

In April 1988, the Chinese offered to allow the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to return to Tibet on the condition that he would publicly abandon the goal of independence. In the Strasbourg Statement of June 15th 1988, he set forth the conditions for his return, which included, as the Chinese had requested, an acceptance of overall Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, ‘… a kind of autonomous domin- ion much as it had been under the Qing dynasty.’167 In accepting Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, the Dalai Lama lost in one stroke the possibility of an independent Tibet.

The historian Edward Lazar has observed: ‘The Strasbourg Statement was a surrender of the most important concerns of the Tibetan people (independence and an end to the Chinese occupation) …’ These two were relinquished before negotiations had even begun. ‘It would be hard to recall so much being given up, not for so little, but for nothing, in the annals of diplomacy.’168

‘Why’, asks Lazar, ‘do over one hundred countries recognize the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] and not one country in the world recognizes Tibet? A major part of the reason for international tolerance of China’s occupation of Tibet is that the Tibetan leadership has maintained a consistent pattern of accommodation with the Chinese occupiers, and that this spirit of accommodation is currently maintained from exile …’ ‘The official policy of accommodation’, Lazar observes, ‘translates into a legitimatization of colonial status, a kind of national suicide.’169

‘The word itself, “independence”,’ Lazar observes, ‘is avoided in official Tibetan pronouncements and is avoided at meetings. “Independence” is not one of the hundreds of index entries in the 14th Dalai Lama’s new autobiography. The idea of independence is so dangerous that it is only referred to as the “I” word in some Tibetan circles.’170

The Dalai Lama’s present policy of accommodation with China is a mere continuation of his own political ideology, first indicated by his ratification of the Seventeen-Point Agreement in 1951.

It is obvious that from the beginning the Dalai Lama strongly favoured communist ideology and the new developments it promised. ‘In 1955, after meeting Mao he was quoted as saying, “from the time I left Lhasa, I had looked forward to our meeting. I was overjoyed to see him [Mao] face to face, and felt he was a dear friend to our people.” ’171

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s first autobiography My Land & My People confirms this enthusiasm. He says that his first meeting with Mao was a ‘memorable interview’, and describes him as a ‘remarkable man’.172 The Dalai Lama’s infatuation with Mao can be seen in a remarkable poem he wrote while on his visit to China in 1954. The following is an extract:

‘The great national leader of the Central People’s Government, Chairman Mao, is a Cakravarti [Universal Ruler] born out of boundless fine merits. For a long time I wished to write a hymn praying for his long life and the success of his work. It happened that the Klatsuang-kergun Lama of Kantsu Monastery in Inner Mongolia wrote me from afar, saluting me and asked me to write a poem. I agreed to do so as this coincides with my own wishes.

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama Dantzen-Jaltso at Norbulin-shenfu Palace, 1954.

‘O, the Triratna, (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) which bestow blessings on the world,

Protect us with your incomparable and blessed light which shines for ever.

‘O! Chairman Mao! Your brilliance and deeds are like those of Brahma and Mahasammata, creators of the world. Only from an infinite number of good deeds can such a

leader be born, who is like the sun shining over the world.

‘Your writings are precious like pearls, abundant and powerful as the high tide of the ocean reaching the edges of the sky.

O! most honourable Chairman Mao, may you long live.

‘All people look to you as to a kind protecting mother, they paint pictures of you with hearts full of emotion,

May you live in the world forever and point out to us the peaceful road!

‘Our vast land was burdened with pain, with shackles and darkness.

You liberated all with your brilliance. People now are happy, full of blessings!

‘Your work for peace is a white jewelled umbrella, giving shade over heaven and earth and mankind.

Your fame is like golden bells on the umbrella, ringing and turning forever in the sky!

‘Our foe, the bloodthirsty imperialists, are poisonous snakes, and messengers of the devil furtively crawling,

You are the undaunted roc which conquered the poisonous serpent. To you be power!

‘The cultural and industrial constructions which make the people prosperous and defeat the enemy’s armed forces are like a vast sea;

These constructions develop continuously until they shall make this world as full of satisfaction as heaven.

‘The perfect religion of Sakyamuni (Buddha) is like a Moonlight pearl lamp shining bright.

It is like a perfumed pearl ornament which we wear without prohibition. O! Of this we are proud.

‘Your will is like the gathering of clouds, your call like thunder, From these comes timely rain to nourish selflessly the earth!

‘As the Ganges River rushes precious and to all the earth The cause of peace and justice will bring to all peoples boundless joy!

‘May our world gradually become as happy as paradise! May the torch of our great leader, be lit forever.

‘May the powers of the benevolent Bodhisattvas, the resourceful Dharma-Protector and the truthful words of the Maharishis make these good hopes true.’173

These verses of adulation do not give the impression of someone unhappy with the Chinese presence in Tibet – quite the opposite! The sentiments expressed go far beyond protocol, revealing instead a genuine admiration for Mao and a heartfelt conviction that communism could release his people from their ‘shackles and darkness’.

We have seen how, right up until his flight from Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama was working closely with the Chinese. The Dalai Lama ‘… expressed his most effusive support for China in speeches and articles as late as January, 1959,’ including Learn from the Soviet Union and Construct Our Socialist Fatherland and Strive for a Glorious Leap Forward in Tibet.174

Furthermore, many Tibetans can remember that in the 1970s the Dalai Lama attempted to start a Tibetan Communist Party with the intention to spread communism amongst the Tibetans in exile. The Dalai Lama supported this group, which arose at a time when he often spoke sympathetically of communism.175

In 1996 the Dalai Lama was reported in the Times of India as saying:

‘Sometimes I think that, boldly stated, the Marxists’ socio- economic theories can be considered Buddhist – a part of Buddhism … The capitalist West is simply thinking about money and how to make more profit. My main consideration is to find a closer working relation with the Communists.’176

In an interview with Pico Iyer that appeared in Time magazine in December 1997 the Dalai Lama is reported as referring to him- self as ‘half Marxist, half Buddhist’ and that Mao Zedong was ‘remarkable’.177

For the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Marxism has formed his political framework since the 1950s. It is clear that long before the Strasbourg Statement in 1988, indeed throughout all of the years in exile, the Dalai Lama’s own political ideology has been the main stumbling block to the Tibetan people achieving their goal of an independent Tibet. As the Dalai Lama said in August 2009 in an exclusive inter- view with BBC, ‘The Chinese Government considers our problem a domestic one. And we also.’178

Throughout all of this time there has never been within the Dalai Lama’s political outlook a basis for developing a strong commitment to the idea of an independent Tibet. As Lazar points out: ‘… the goal of Tibet is not defined as independence, with the result that there is not a clear overall strategy for change.’179