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The Rediff Interview/Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama\'s special envoy
'I think China is changing'
April 20, 2006
In the second part of the interview, the Dalai Lama's special emissary for the talks with China Lodi Gyari tells Claude Arpi why he has advised Tibetans to refrain from anti-China demonstrations, and hopes that the revival of Buddhism in China will pave the way for a solution to the issue.
Did you ever have doubts?
I can share a personal experience. Four years back, my father died. For the first year I was like a zombie, it was such a great loss. I realized that that he had so much bitterness towards the Chinese. He was never allowed to go back because he had been part of the Tibetan resistance. He was so upset that he did not even want his ashes to be taken back. He was very tough man: "As long as His Holiness is not going back, I do not want my ashes to go back." After his death, I felt very uncharitable towards the Chinese. Then I thought I must speak to His Holiness, because with this bitterness in my heart, I could not continue this effort. But after a couple of weeks, I was fortunately able to overcome this state of mind.
I today continue to work for this process not necessarily because I believe in the Chinese, but because I believe in His Holiness' sincerity. I believe in his wisdom. It is not because the Chinese have made any concessions. It is rational, it is not just emotional. Many things we thought not possible have happened, so rationally and because His Holiness' complete commitment to his initiative.
Are the Chinese really sincere? Are they doing it to get rid of the international pressure or to tell the visiting dignitaries that something is happening?
The Chinese may have got into this process because of international pressure. It is not by compassion or because they realized that they have committed some mistakes. Having said that, it was our job to make this happen and gradually the Chinese leadership is being engaged. It is not only for PR purpose, but to resolve the Tibetan issue.
They have also come to understand that it has to be solved when His Holiness is very much in control. I am aware that there is in China a school of thought that believes that the Tibetan issue is a single person issue: the moment His Holiness is not there or is not in a position to lead his people, they believe that the issue will have a natural death. I always tell the Chinese that it is a very dangerous thought because, if His Holiness is not here to guide the Tibetan people, though for us it will be devastating, it will give rise to bitterness, anger, resentment. It cannot be imagined today.
I told you my reaction when my father passed away, you can imagine what will happen if His Holiness is nomore. The Chinese will not be forgotten for generations. The bitterness, the remorse will take generations to disappear. I really hope that the Chinese will be wise enough to realize this and will try to find a solution when His Holiness is very much in control. And there will not be a single Tibetan leader who can keep the Tibetans together and make them agree to the kind of solution that His Holiness has proposed. It would be impossible.
Today the Chinese have the opportunity to deal with one single individual. In the absence of His Holiness, they will have to deal with hundreds of solutions, with hundreds of individuals, none of them able to deliver a solution. This has been my argument with the Chinese: "Come to your senses and find a solution when he is very much there. It will good for us, but it will also help you."
What are you discussing? Are you just trying to know each other, to build confidence, or is it going further?
The two first visits in 2002 and 2003 were precisely aimed at building confidence. In fact we deliberately decided not to talk about sensitive issues. We wanted to concentrate on building relations to the extent possible because we are dealing with a communist totalitarian regime. Even though communism is dead, but institutionally there is still a one-party system with a lot of suspicion and mistrust, not only towards us, but unfortunately often between themselves. Despite all this, we managed to make little cracks. We can see these small cracks through the rigid stance of the officials.
But starting from 2004, we started dealing with some of the core issues. There is more tension: the gap is much deeper than we thought. You may have read the Chinese statements as well as my own remarks where I made it clear that the differences and disagreements were vast. It is how it is. The positive aspect is that the Chinese are now ready to discuss. In the past, they just say: "There is no issue of Tibet, Tibetans have been happy to be liberated". Now they realize: "We have a big problem, we have not one disagreement, but many major disagreement and they are fundamental."
I find it very interesting and encouraging because I feel that the first step is that all sides should come out of self-denial and the Chinese are coming out self-denial by saying: "Yes, there is tremendous problem". It is where we are. During the forthcoming visit, we know that we might be confronted with even wider disagreement. But once both sides have let it out, all the points where we differ will be on the table.
Do you hope to solve these issues one day?
It is very challenging, it is very difficult, but once everything is on the table, we can slowly try to sort out all the issues. That is why I told you at the beginning that it will be a difficult task, time-consuming. At times, the talks may break down, but hopefully not forever. At this stage we will need everyone's support. When the Tibetan leadership says: "We are talking to the Chinese, do not interfere because it may disrupt the process" it creates sometimes a misunderstanding with our supporters. But at the same time, I am aware that the day the Chinese sense that there is a lack of support, they will stop the talks right there. Why should they continue? But His Holiness and the Kalon Tripa [the elected prime minister] always ask our friends and our people to support us in a manner which is the most helpful for our cause.
Whenever I have the occasion, I tell people that because of our Buddhist culture, we always look for someone supporting us, a patron. It is where the trouble started with China, though we felt that we were a sovereign nation, the Chinese emperor was at times the patron of our Church: it is what we call the priest-patron relationship. For the Chinese this relation became later assimilated to suzerainty and then sovereignty. So today, we have to be careful when we look for patrons. I tell the Tibetans that we should not look for patrons, even in our present struggle. We should do it ourselves. We must always be in the forefront. I tell the Tibet supporters: "You can help in staying behind us. You have to be solid like a rock on which we can lean." Sometimes I am not so popular in the West, because I tell them very bluntly: "It is our struggle".
The Chinese also used to believe that we were backward people who needed to be 'liberated'. So when a foreigner tells me: "Oh, Tibetans do not know how to conduct their struggle," I reply: "No, we may commit mistakes, but we are able to learn from these mistakes not to repeat historical mistakes." By being ourselves, we are in the forefront. At times, we will fall down, at times we will go in the wrong direction, but ultimately we will find our way. But we need you on our side and whatever small progress we make, we will not go back because we can lean on you.
Today you advise people to not demonstrate against China. Can you explain?
I demonstrated too. It was my path also. I was a founding father of the Tibetan Youth Congress and I am very proud of it. But today we are more efficient, we have been able to take the issue at a much higher level, we can deal directly with the [Chinese] government. When I arrived in Washington, I was not even allowed to walk into the State Department. It was as if I had some type of disease and that I would contaminate the State Department. The 7th Floor is synonymous with the Secretary of State, as it is on this floor that she has her office. On the same floor there is now an office called 'Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues'. So, we should not spend our energy in the streets, we should get our energies to go inside the government.
I am telling people to do things differently, in a more subtle way, in more creative way. We have to show the Chinese that we have become mature. We have learned from the past, we are now an efficient organization, we can make a difference and we can now influence government's policies. This is sometimes misunderstood. We are telling our supporters: "you can help us in a more subtle and sensitive way". The Chinese themselves have become much more sensitive. Some 20 years back, the Chinese would always help us by doing some stupid things. Now, they do not commit this type of mistakes. So, we should also not do stupid things.
In China, more and more young people are becoming Buddhist. Do you think that one day these young people will support the Tibetan cause in China?
One of the most decisive factors [in the Tibetan issue] is this newly found interest for Buddhism in China. Thirty years back, for the Chinese, Tibet was the most backward piece of land on the planet and Tibetans were the most retarded people. The Chinese had a very negative attitude towards Tibetans. They considered Tibetan Buddhism as a very strange concept. But today, in China Tibet is becoming a new phenomenon. For example among poets or artists, many Han Chinese write songs on Tibetan themes. Several young artists are interested by Tibet.
In places like Lhasa, 50 years ago, the only Chinese you saw around the Central Cathedral were lifting their nose up and they were often deliberately going the opposite way [anti-clockwise]. Today you see young and erudite Chinese walking shoulder to shoulder with Tibetans nomads. For them, it is very auspicious. They are on pilgrimage. There is a renewal of all religions, including Tibetan Buddhism. It is natural as many Chinese dynasties adopted the Tibetan form of Buddhism in the past.
But in the past [Buddhist] influence was through the emperor's daughter or wives; it remained confined to the court. It was limited. Once the dynasty was overrun or if something happened to the Emperor, the relation disappeared. Similarly, in Tibet, it depended on a Tibetan lama having a great predominance at that time in Tibet (like the Sakyas, the Karmapas, etc). Now for the first time, the relation is not limited to the court, it is the ordinary Chinese man or woman who is interested in the Tibetan religion. It is nomore limited to a particular household or lama or sect. Therefore the influence has taken root.
Earlier when the lama passed away or the emperor died, it was the end of the relationship. Sometimes it was even followed by a counter-reaction. Our hope is that the Chinese become aware of our problem [through this religious revival]. It is also encouraging to see that many Chinese scholars from mainland China are coming to meet His Holiness to discuss with him and offering to help.
I have seen on Chinese TV that a lot of Tibetan children are taken to China and educated as Chinese. What do you think of this?
It is one issue that we raised with the Chinese: the importance of the Tibetan language, particularly in areas where the Chinese are a majority. It is not that we are against the presence of the Chinese; we know that Tibet cannot be a homogeneous country anymore. I do not say that the Tibetan plateau should be populated only by Tibetans. But Tibetans must be predominant; otherwise our identity will be lost. In the negotiations, this is a fundamental difference with the Chinese.
You ask me about the children being sent to China. In the '60s and '70s we used to oppose this policy, because we said: "The children are thus becoming Chinese". But something very interesting happened. By and large, these kids uprooted from their villages and taken to mainland China become Tibetans after experiencing a lot of discrimination. They become aware of their identity. They ask themselves: "Who am I? I am not a Chinese". I know a few of them that are more Tibetan than someone educated in an institute in Lhasa. Those who come back from Beijing are more Tibetan. Today we are not protesting anymore. It is very interesting. Most of them become Tibetan with a deeper commitment and the rest of their lives they will continue to feel very much Tibetan.
You spoke of the Strasbourg proposal, about a zone of peace, a zone of ahimsa. Is this getting support from the Government of India? They would be the first to benefit from such a zone of peace, isn't it?
Well, a zone of peace is far beyond Tibet. Its impact, ramifications would not be just limited to Tibet. I am happy that you ask because sometimes people feel if it is part of our bilateral discussions with the Chinese government. These issues such as zone of peace is part of a long term vision of His Holiness, I would not say unrelated to Tibet -- of course it is related to Tibet, but it was proposed precisely so that Tibet could become, not a buffer, but a bridge. Obviously one of the countries that would have an immediate and significant impact would be India. Among many Indian leaders, there is an understanding and appreciation of that concept. Whether the Indian government officially is ready to endorse it, is a different matter. We ourselves did not explicitly ask for an endorsement at this stage.
We feel it should not be confused with Tibet-China relations. It is much more than that. Actually if we read the statement of the Kashag [Tibetan Cabinet] on March 10 last year, it was to clarify and differentiate some of the issues that are relevant to China-Tibet and some issues relevant to much broader areas.
What about South Block? Is there some opening in the Foreign Office?
There is some parliamentarian group which is quite active but it seems to me that the main problem since Nehru and the early '50s has been the attitude of the Foreign Office on the Tibet question. I think today there is a new generation of Foreign Service officers. I am not saying that the last generation was unsympathetic, individually they were fine. I had the honour of knowing most of the foreign secretaries, not of the Nehru era, but of the Indira Gandhi era. Each one of these senior officials have been very understanding, very sympathetic. In terms of their official approach, there have always been certain hesitations; they have become kind of prisoners of the ancient school of thought.
Today I feel things are different, the Indian Foreign Service officials are much more self-confident, particularly in their relations with China. While they are definitely committed to a closer, healthy and even vibrant relation with China, they feel less constrained on issues like Tibet. They feel that they should not simply try to sweep these issues under the carpet. I tell them very frankly whenever I have the occasion: "My advice is when you deal with China, you must not pretend that you have no interest in Tibet. When you do that, the Chinese become even more suspicious. How can any sensible people think that you have no interest?" India's interest in the Tibetan plateau is intense, inseparable. I always advise the ministry officials: the Chinese will trust more if you tell them frankly: "The issue of Tibet is very important to us."
Sino-Indian relations can reach their best only once the Tibet issue is resolved. As long as it remains unresolved, there will always be lingering issues and problems. I think some of the senior foreign service officials understand this. My feeling is that sometimes they deal with this issue in that manner. We certainly hope that they could be more proactive.
Twenty years ago, the Dalai Lama told me that the change will come from inside China. You mentioned that it is happening now. My question is: do you see new leadership emerging, like Zhao Ziyang or Hu Yaobang who have been quite sympathetic to Tibet? Hu Yaobang's visit to Tibet in 1980 opened the doors for negotiations for the next 3 or 4 years. Do you see the emergence of a new leadership which would help bridge the gap between the Tibetan position and the Chinese position?
I think so. The fact that Hu Yaobang was rehabilitated tends to prove this, though it is not to the extent I was hoping. But the fact that for the first time this present government decided to honour him is positive. [President] Hu Jintao was a protégé of Hu Yaobang. Even though after Hu Yaobang was purged he had shifted his allegiance, he however never attacked or criticized his former mentor in an open manner. Now when he tries to rehabilitate him by celebrating his centenary, it is a good sign. Similarly if you watch the images of Tiananmen Square events [of 1989]: when Zhao Ziyang comes to talk to students, the person standing right next to him is Wen Jiabao [the present Premier]. The Chinese people more than any other take this type of association seriously: the Confucius concepts in which loyalty and lineage are very important.
So I think the present president and prime minister, given the opportunity, will bring about some changes. A fundamental breakthrough on the Tibet policy is not possible unless there is also a major change in China itself. We know that the present prime minister has much reverence for Buddhism. So I think China is changing and it is one reason why I believe that His Holiness can really be a catalyst to bring about this change.
Photo: Department of Information and International Relations, Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamshala
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