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Chinese Views on Tibet: The Cry of Tibet

June 12, 2008

Tibet Custom
June 10, 2008

The recent troubles in Tibet are a replay of events that happened two
decades ago. On Oct. 1, 1987, Buddhist monks were demonstrating
peacefully at the Barkor -- the famous market street around the
central cathedral in Lhasa -- when police began beating and arresting
them. To ordinary Tibetans, who view monks as "treasures," the sight
was intolerable -- not only in itself, but because it stimulated
unpleasant memories that Tibetan Buddhists had been harboring for years.

A few angry young men then began throwing stones at the Barkor police
station. More and more joined, and then they set fires, overturned
cars and began shouting "Independence for Tibet!" This is almost
exactly what we saw in Lhasa two weeks ago.

The fundamental cause of these recurrent events is a painful dilemma
that lives inside the minds of Tibetan monks. When the Chinese
government demands that they denounce their spiritual leader, the
Dalai Lama, monks are forced to choose between obeying, which
violates their deepest spiritual convictions, and resisting, which
can lead to loss of government registry and physical expulsion from

 From time to time monks have used peaceful demonstrations to express
their anguish. When they have done this, an insecure Chinese
government, bent on "annihilating unstable elements" in the "emergent
stage," has reacted with violent repression. This, in turn, triggers
violence from Tibetans.

In recent decades, the Chinese government's policy for pacifying
Tibet has been to combine the allure of economic development on the
one hand with the threat of force on the other. Experience has shown
that this approach does not work.

The most efficient route to peace in Tibet is through the Dalai Lama,
whose return to Tibet would immediately alleviate a number of
problems. Much of the current ill will, after all, is a direct result
of the Chinese government's verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama, who,
for Tibetan monks, has an incomparably lofty status. To demand that
monks denounce him is about as practical as asking that they vilify
their own parents.

It should be no surprise that beatings of monks and closings of
monasteries naturally stimulate civil unrest, or that civil unrest,
spawned in this way, can turn violent.

Why aren't these simple truths more obvious? Phuntsog Wanggyal, a
Tibetan now retired in Beijing who for years was a leading Communist
official in Tibet, has observed that a doctrine of "anti-splittism"
has taken root among Chinese government officials who deal with
religion and minority affairs, both in central offices in Beijing and
in Tibet. Having invested their careers in anti-splittism, these
people cannot admit that the idea is mistaken without losing face
and, they fear, losing their own power and position as well.

Their ready-made tag for everything that goes wrong is "hostile
foreign forces" -- an enemy that justifies any kind of harsh or
unreasoning repression. When repeated endlessly, anti-splittism,
although originally vacuous, does take on a kind of solidity. Careers
are made in it, and challenging it becomes impossible.

I am a supporter of the Dalai Lama's "middle way," meaning autonomy
for Tibet in all matters except foreign affairs and national defense.
This arrangement eventually would have to mean that Tibetan people
select their own leaders -- and that would be a major change from the
way things are now. Tibet is called an "autonomous region," but in
fact its officials are all named by Beijing, and are all tightly
focused on their own personal interests and the interests of the
Communist Party. Tibetans can clearly see the difference between this
kind of government and self-rule, and there is no way that they will
support bogus autonomy.

It follows -- even if this is a tall order -- that the ultimate
solution to the Tibet problem must be democratization of the Chinese
political system itself. True autonomy cannot come any other way.

It is time for the Chinese government to take stock of why its
long-term strategy in Tibet has not worked, and to try something
else. The old problems remain, and they are sure to continue, perhaps
in places like the "Uighur Autonomous Region" of Xinjiang, if a more
sensible approach is not attempted.

(This article appeared in the Wall street journal on 28 March 2008. Mr. Wang, a Beijing-based writer, was the
organizer of the recent 12-point statement on Tibet by 30 Chinese
intellectuals. This article was translated from the Chinese by
Princeton University Prof. Perry Link.The views expressed in this
column are those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Central
Tibetan Administration)
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