Agam's Gecko
Monday, November 07, 2005

Lady Liberty supports Tibetan freedom
"I'm a person who always wanted to be free and wanted it not only for myself; freedom is for all human beings."
- Rosa Parks

his week China's President Hu Jintao visits London for talks with Tony Blair and a state banquet with the Queen, while Tibet's exiled head of state, the Dalai Lama, arrives today in Washington for talks with George W. Bush and a 10 day program of events. No state banquets are planned.

The coincident timing of the two visits should make for an interesting, and contrasting set of news stories this week. As much as I like to criticise the mass media's undeniable bias on many issues, there is thankfully not much media axe-grinding going on in regards to the Tibet - China problem. Surely the ruling communist clique which runs China would disagree with that statement, but given their explicit anti-democratic policies and persistent claims that any criticism of these policies amount to nothing more than the "anti-China" bias of the west, such disagreement with my statement would only bolster the case that the media is generally doing a pretty good job on this issue.

The last time a Chinese president visited Britain, when Jiang Zhemin was there in 1999, Tibetans and their supporters dogged his every move with peaceful protests. Law enforcement authorities were later embarrassed by their heavy handed attempts to shield Mr. Jiang from what he might consider to be the offensive sight of Tibetans exercising their freedom of expression. Large buses were used as mobile "view-obstructors," lest the sight of chaba wearing Tibetan women and the colourful flags of independent Tibet would soil his eyes. This week, President Hu -- a man who made his rise to power via an earlier posting as the all powerful Party Secretary in Tibet, overseeing brutal crackdowns on expressions of Tibetan nationalism -- is likely to receive a similar welcome from many Londoners, as Tibet campaigners have pledged to get in his face at every turn. Last week saw many protest actions against collaboration with the half century occupation of Tibet, when offices of the Canadian multi-national Bombardier were targetted at their headquarters in Montreal, and in 18 other cities around the world.

While British authorities will be trying to limit President Hu's contact with any unscreened London commoners during his two days in the capital, the problem in Washington will be precisely the opposite during Dalai Lama's 10-day event packed program. How to ensure that everyone wishing to attend the public events, or simply to see His Holiness, will have the opportunity? He will participate in several scientific conferences, give public talks and meet with students, present the ICT Light of Truth Awards, as well as engage in meetings with the US Congress' House International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Last minute schedule info can be found here. President Hu's schedule is highly classified.

The top diplomat of the Tibetan Government, Mr. Lodi Gyari last week spoke about what his country hoped to achieve from Mr. Bush's third meeting with His Holiness:
Gyari said the Dalai Lama would stress to Bush in his third meeting with the US leader since he took office in 2001 that the Tibetans were not seeking independence but "the right to self governance."

"I must say that President Bush, on this issue, has been consistent and we very much appreciate his strong support.

"He does it not because he is pro-Tibet or anti-Chinese but because he understands that resolving the Tibetan issue can bring more stability in that part of the region," Gyari said.

Bush, whose previous two meetings with the Dalai Lama drew angry complaints from China, is scheduled to visit Beijing on November 19 for talks with Hu and is expected to raise the Tibet issue with him.
I notice that his final day in Washington coincides with the 55th anniversary of his official installation as the Tibetan head of state, on November 17, 1950. Normally, it was the practice that political authority would be held by a regent until a Dalai Lama reached the age of 18. But in his case it was done at the age of only 15 in an atmosphere of national emergency, with the Chinese Red Army already crossing into Tibet's Amdo province that autumn.

Chinese leaders always portray their rule of Tibet as one befitting a benevolent elder brother, "developing" the region and its economy for the benefit of local people, protecting their unique culture and language, and so on. The fact is that government policies resulting in population redistribution are making Tibetans into a minority in their own country. They have already become the minority in the Tibetan capital, a place which Tibetan Buddhists consider as their "Holy City." The new railroad, with the collaboration of Bombardier and others, will soon greatly accelerate this process. The end of the civilisation which evolved and flourished for centuries on the Tibetan Plateau, the Roof of the World, is now in sight for Big Brother at last.

Think I'm exaggerating?

One small example might serve to show the vast gulf between what the occupying power says is its good stewardship of the Tibetan language, and what is practiced in reality. Minority rights, including language rights, are "protected" by Chinese law. While one might expect the status of the Tibetan language to be disregarded by the new commercial concerns of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" (who after all want to sell products to the people with money, which in Tibet means people who don't read Tibetan), one might expect that state agencies would be slightly more observant of its own regulations. Or at the very least, of the constitution itself. What better example of a state agency which has close interaction with the public, than the postal service? How does a Tibetan, literate in his own language, fare in sending letters to other Tibetans in his own country and in his own language? One student, now studying in the west, recalls:
In summer 1995, as a curious student in Tibet, I went to a local post office to send some registered mail to friends in Lhasa. I was wondering whether my letters would be delivered if I wrote the address in Tibetan. Usually, the Chinese lady clerk, whom I had known for a long time, would give me forms to fill out and tell me the charges. On this occasion she took my letters and, as she was about to put stamps on them, she saw that the addresses on the letters were written in Tibetan. She said with a smile: "You have to write the address in Chinese, otherwise your letter won't be delivered."

In my accented Chinese I replied: "Under the Chinese constitution, all languages in China are equal. Why can I not use Tibetan in Tibetan areas?" She told me that I was wasting my money. For a while we argued the legality of this in a friendly way. Then I convinced her at least to try to send the letters addressed as they were. I filled in all the necessary forms and paid my fees, and went home.

Several weeks later, I went back to the post office to inquire about my letters. They had not been delivered, but had remained in the post office, marked in red ink with the words "WRITE ADDRESS IN CHINESE" (written in Chinese) stamped on the envelope. Since then, several of my friends have tried to send letters with Tibetan writing on the envelope; all of them ended up with the same fate.
How could this be? Tibet had an efficient postal service before the Chinese invasion, and it issued postage stamps for this purpose (which were purchased with Tibetan currency, both stamps and currency of course printed with the Tibetan language). Now, under benevolent big brother, addressing letters in their own national language will ensure that the mail is undeliverable -- and receive a warning stamp in the occupier's language to boot! As a state agency, I suspect that being a postal worker would be a highly prized, dependable job. And as such, there are probably somewhere between few and no Tibetans working in Lhasa post offices, which is why they can't sort out those letters. This student advocates for a mass mailing protest, sending postcards and letters addressed in Tibetan both through the state post office, and via the international courier companies who are now operating in China. Maybe there would be some loss of "face" involved, if DHL could deliver a parcel addressed in Tibetan, while the Chinese post office could not.

While China can marginalise the Tibetan language in Tibet itself, it's more difficult to do so where it is used in other countries whose independence is recognised. China can however, stomp its feet and pressure toadying western capitalists -- such as Microsoft Corp. -- to make sure that other national forms of Tibetan shall be referred to as China wishes it to be. Oh, and that even six degrees of separation from the Dalai Lama, is just not nearly enough.
Microsoft has barred the use of the Bhutanese government's official term for the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha, in any of its products, citing that the term had affiliations with the Dalai Lama. In an internal memorandum, Microsoft employees were told not to use the term Dzongkha in any Microsoft software, language lists or promotional materials since "Doing so implies affiliation with the Dalai Lama, which is not acceptable to the government of China. In this instance, replace "Dzongkha" with 'Tibetan - Bhutan'."

The Kingdom of Bhutan is situated in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. The state religion is the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and Dzongkha is the official language. Dzongkha has a linguistic relationship to modern Tibetan in a similar way to that between Spanish and Italian.

The use of the word Dzongkha was graded by Microsoft as a 'ship-stopper', which means that a product may not be produced in any form until the problem is resolved. Microsoft has four levels of error severity, ship-stopper being the most severe.
A small example of the sort of baby-like tantrums delivered by Chinese officials at the merest hint of recognition for Tibet's historical status or the Dalai Lama's international stature. A UN-published book plans to include a quote from him? China sez: Stop the presses! A Tibetan artist presumes to participate in an international art show at UN plaza? China sez: Kick him out! I picked up this recent instance from my daily WTN email newsletter, which are archived at WTN News, Oct. 24 edition. After Microsoft's cynical collaboration in helping the PRC to censor such ideas as "freedom," "democracy," and "human rights" from its online "blogging" system, the real "ship-stopper" ought to be Bill Gates' grovelling attitude. In praising China's hybrid system of economic liberal reform with political and social repression, Gates gushed, "It is a brand new form of capitalism, and as a consumer it's the best thing that ever happened."

One of the events in London to be attended by President Hu, is an exhibition of ancient Chinese art. Once he is past the Tibetan protesters and inside the gallery, expect him to reiterate China's current demand for restrictions on the importation of such works. He is not likely to comment on China's plundering of ancient Tibetan artworks:
As the US considers China's request for restrictions on the import of archaeological material, the question of China's alleged organised plunder of Tibetan artefacts is about to come under US congressional scrutiny. The move is likely to be seized upon by dealers in the US who oppose restrictions on the trade in Chinese artefacts.

Dana Rohrabacher, a conservative Republican representative in the United States Congress and a long-standing critic of China's human rights record, has announced he will lead an investigation into what he suspects was the systematic looting of Tibetan art and objects by Chinese authorities since the 1949 Communist revolution. The inquiry has coincided with a high profile auction in Beijing of artefacts that previously belonged to Tibetan monasteries...
Bravo, Congressman Rohrabacher. The same regime which conducted the looting of monasteries and homes, stole every religious artwork it could get its hands on, and took them back to China by the truckload, is still in power today. Many pieces were sold in the international market, gold and silver statuary were often melted down, and much was simply destroyed for the hell of it.
Congressman Rohrabacher suspects the Chinese government carried out systematic confiscation of valuables before the widespread destruction of monastery buildings during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. "Just as the Nazis stole from European Jews, Chinese officials have refused to return or apologise for their pillaging of Tibet", Rohrabacher said when announcing his inquiry.

The California congressman is being helped by an exiled senior Tibetan monk, Rinbur Tulku, who has written in his biography about the destruction of Lhasa's Johkang temple and Ganden monastery during the Cultural Revolution and who helped retrieve some Tibetan religious treasures in China in 1982.
China's conquest and relentless destruction of Tibet has continued for more than half a century, with a brief relaxation in the early 1980's when Party Secretary Hu Yaobang recognised that there was a problem. He stated in 1980:
"We feel that our Party has let the Tibetan people down. We feel very bad! The sole purpose of our Communist Party is to work for the happiness of people, to do good things for them. We have worked nearly thirty years, but the life of the Tibetan people has not been notably improved. Are we not to blame?"
Now it is more than fifty years, and the question is the same. Hu Yaobang initiated contact with the exiled Tibetans and permitted representatives to visit during that brief period of openness. The authorities were shocked by the overwhelming and emotional reception these delegations received, and they were halted. Mr. Hu was later purged from the leadership, and zero tolerance returned to the Tibetan plateau -- a policy faithfully carried out by a succession of Party Secretaries of the "Tibetan Autonomous Region," the current President Hu among them.

But the door has opened ever so slowly in the last couple of years, once again allowing some limited contact between the two sides. The above quoted official, Lodi Gyari has led three delegations to China, and this past July continued discussions for the first time outside China, when the two sides met in Switzerland. Mr. Gyari also participated in the Tibetan visits during the brief opening of the early '80's. He is optimistic about prospects for another meeting before the end of this year, and hopefully some signs of progress that China would finally understand that the Dalai Lama had stopped calling for Tibetan independence about 15 years ago. So maybe they could stop shrieking about him being a "splittist" now? The Tibetan spiritual leader has also declared he would have no political role in the new Tibet, having personally driven the democratisation of the exile government over the past 45 years.

China claims that what's left of Tibet -- the part not subsumed into various Chinese provinces -- is an "autonomous" region of China. The Tibetans have conceded a lot by accepting to be a part of greater China, and are asking that the "autonomy" be made genuine. That's not unreasonable. It's merely asking Chinese leaders to be honest, and to genuinely grant what they already claim to have granted. If China continues to play this out as a waiting game until the Dalai Lama's passing, they will be making a big mistake. He is the only Tibetan figure with the capacity to seal such an agreement with his people. After that, all bets are off.

UPDATE: It turns out that Chinese complaints to Microsoft about their Bhutanese language option, were complete nonsense which Microsoft swallowed whole without even checking it out. See my subsequent posting here (if you haven't already).

Powered by Blogger

blogspot counter