Agam's Gecko
Friday, February 24, 2006

number of events have come together this month, related to the Tibet - China issue. Tibetans in exile affirm their opposition to the 2008 Beijing Olympics by means of a hunger strike at the current Winter Games; Tibetans living under Chinese rule, in a striking display, affirm their continuing devotion within occupied Tibet to the moral authority of the Dalai Lama; he in turn affirms his commitment to a genuine and peaceful solution through honest dialogue and mutual respect; the Chinese government affirms that it has no such commitment nor respect toward the Tibetans, and evidences little more than their standard response of distrust and misrepresent on the one side, crack down and suppress on the other, and look completely juvenile and insecure in the process.

Last week it was revealed that the fifth in a series of meetings between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese government officials was under way in China. Once again, the Tibetan delegation is led by Mr. Lodi Gyari and Mr. Kelsang Gyaltsen, both personal representatives of the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Office of the Dalai Lama released a press statement as follows:
Mr. Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, accompanied by Mr.
Kelsang Gyaltsen and senior aides, arrived in China today for the fifth round of talks on the Tibetan issue.

Mr. Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari is the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Mr. Kelsang Gyaltsen is the Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Envoys received their final instructions from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 13 February 2006 in Bodh Gaya, where he is on a visit. Kalon Tripa, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, took part in the meeting.
["Kalon Tripa" is equivalent to Prime Minister, an elected position which heads a cabinet of ministers drawn from an elected Parliament]

His Holiness is pleased that the present round of talks, which began in 2002, is the longest process of continued interaction that we have had with the leadership in Beijing. For the last four meetings, the envoys have had very candid and serious discussion with their counterparts in the Chinese leadership.

Tenzin Geyche Tethong
Secretary to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to this broadside with characteristic delicacy. There were no "special envoys" of the Dalai Lama visiting China, merely people with "tight connections" to him -- and their purpose was for visiting friends, witnessing "the development and changes of the motherland and in their hometown," and having a "clear understanding of the relevant policy of the central government." One would expect that after having five rounds of these meetings since 2002 (the last one took place in Basel, Switzerland last July), one's dialogue partners might finally be prepared to acknowledge one's existence. No, the childish doublespeak is exactly as it was from the first contact (since Beijing itself had closed the door on direct communications with the Tibetan exiles in 1993). These two men, both long time ambassadors for the Tibetan Government, were merely "overseas Tibetan compatriots having personal visits in their private capacity."

The Presidency of the European Union this week welcomed the meeting with this declaration:
The European Union welcomes the arrival in China on 14 February of a delegation of envoys of the Dalai Lama who will conduct a fifth round of talks with the Chinese Government.

The EU strongly supports this dialogue and hopes that both parties will be willing to address in good faith substantive issues in order to find pragmatic solutions which can contribute to a peaceful and sustainable settlement for Tibet that both sides agree upon.
And that apparently misplaced hope is sure to ruffle some Chinese feathers.

Following his envoys' departure to China, the Dalai Lama himself travelled to the Middle East, with hopes of advancing the cause of dialogue there. With a planned trip to Bethlehem, he said he would be willing to meet members of Hamas, and would try to encourage them to turn away from violence. As it turned out, the Bethlehem visit was cancelled. The Palestinian Authority had pressured the NGO which had invited him, to withdraw the invitation at the behest of China. Once again, the Chinese Foreign Ministry revealed that, in the Chinese view, everything in the universe revolves around them. Xinhua quotes the spokesman: "Qin said the purpose for the Dalai Lama's visit is to promote the "so-called internationalization" of the Tibet question so as to achieve his goal of splitting the motherland." In fact, reports from the visit show his repeated statements that he was not there to talk about Tibet at all, but to encourage peaceful dialogue in the Middle East. His only statements on the Tibet issue were reiterations that he is not looking for independence from China, but a mutually agreeable solution that would include some form of cultural autonomy. Beijing continues to be completely deaf to such clarifications, as it has been for many years.

Last month the Dalai Lama was giving public teachings in India which were attended by over 100,000 participants. According to the Tibet Information Network, about 10,000 of them had travelled from Tibet -- probably the highest number of such attendees to have ever joined an event of that kind in India. This in itself was a possible sign of thawing attitudes on the Chinese side, that they would enable so many Tibetans under their control to attend a Kalachakra ceremony in India. His Holiness spoke on the subject of wildlife conservation (he had launched a conservation awareness campaign almost a year ago), and urged his people to give up the use of animal skins in their garments. In recent years the use of skins, including those of endangered species, has increased dramatically in Tibet.

A recent TIN investigation shows that this trend has been driven, not so much by increased affluence, but by the Chinese government promotion of such extravagance through their control of cultural festivals and fairs.
On the one hand, dance presentations that were once improvised, make way for choreographed shows by state-sponsored and ‘developed’ government dance troupes. On the other hand, ceremonial displays of ‘traditional’ garments, or, more accurately, kitsch versions of them, have lately become an essential element of such festivals. Rural Tibetans that participate in such displays are encouraged to compete for the title of the most (at times, grotesquely) impressive among them and receive awards presented by party representatives. Researchers in Tibet observe that people lavishly dress up for such shows in a way that is unheard of for more traditional occasions, such as new year festivals (Losar), which are celebrated in more intimate surrounding, far from public attention. Precisely because of their traditional scarcity, garments adorned with real tiger skins are in high demand among organisers. Debbie Banks from EIA mentions that officials exhort festival participants to wear tiger and other skins. Another source from Tibet witnessed officials scolding Tibetan dancers who had turned up without enough tiger furs with the admonishment: “Do you want our county to look poorer than its neighbours?”
Official state functions also require ostentatious displays of a "wealthy" and "exotic" Tibetan dress code. At last year's 40th anniversary of the CCP's establishment of the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region, a government offical of India was quoted saying, “All this is very impressive, but I wonder why dead Indian tigers have to dance to the glory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Without some change in this equation, the Indian tiger's chances of survival were bleak. The Dalai Lama told his people who had travelled from Tibet, that “I am ashamed and don’t feel like living when I see all those pictures of people decorating themselves with skins and furs.” The last thing a Tibetan wants to hear, is a Dalai Lama who doesn't feel like living anymore. He also spoke of the chiru (an endangered Tibetan antelope, which Chinese authorities have now chosen as one of their Olympic mascots), which are poached for the manufacture of the famous (and famously expensive) pashmina shawls. He encouraged them to live in harmony with nature, and not to use or trade in these wildlife products. And he asked the Tibetans to take his words back with them, into Tibet.

If there was any doubt as to the degree of influence he has among his people -- who have now been separated from him for almost 47 years -- it should be dispelled now. His strong opposition to the wildlife trade spread like a fire through dry grass on the Tibetan plateau. Clearly the Tibetans were not too firmly attached to the ethic of extravagance promoted by their rulers through control of the cultural festival circuit. Almost overnight, attitudes were reversed, and the wearing of furs and skins became socially unacceptable. It wasn't dry grass that was burning, but piles of tiger, otter, fox and leopard skins. The skins became worthless, an object of shame, and so did the market for them.

While the campaign against the use of wild animal products could be seen to be in line with international conservation agreements, and indeed with Chinese law itself (which is supposed to outlaw the trade in endangered species), the Chinese authorities didn't see it that way. To them, the burning furs and skins represented proof of Tibetans' undiminished reverence for the Dalai Lama, 55 years after they'd "peacefully liberated" the place. So earlier this month, they outlawed the practice, and have since begun arresting people for it. In eastern Tibetan regions where the movement began, troops have been deployed alongside police. The campaign has now spread to four out of the five provinces with Tibetan populations (regions that were once part of pre-invasion Tibet, but were since "re-districted" into Chinese provinces). The movement is expected to intensify with the arrival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year on February 28.

Meanwhile in Turin, Italy, Tibetan patriots in exile enter the second week of a hunger strike. Their purpose is to draw attention to the lack of any progress whatsoever on the Tibet issue since Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games. Assurances made by the IOC at that time, that democracy and freedom could possibly flourish in China and Tibet before 2008, show no signs of coming to fruition. The stated demand of the hunger strikers is "No Olympics in China Until Tibet is Free". If China expects to have something meaningful to show the world before the torch is lit, they'd better get a move on.

Most remarkable is the senior hunger striker, the Venerable Palden Gyatso. This 75 year old Buddhist monk fled Tibet a few years ago, after having spent 33 years in Chinese prisons. He also smuggled out a collection of torture implements of the kind that he himself had endured during that period. This elderly monk is constantly active, leading Satyagraha style long marches in many countries, and offering his testimony and evidence to people all over the world. His autobiography is a book called Fire Under the Snow:
“In my prison, we used to sing, ‘one day the sun will shine through the dark clouds’. The vision of the sun dispelling the dark clouds and our unbroken spirits kept us alive. It was not only prisoners who were resilient; so were ordinary men and women who lived their daily lives in the shadow of the Chinese Communist Party. Even today, young boys and girls who knew nothing of feudal Tibet and who are said to be the sons and daughters of the Party are crying out for freedom. Our collective will to resist what is unjust is like a fire that cannot be put out. Looking back, I can see that man's love of freedom is like a smouldering fire under snow.”
You can see this great man in the photos at the hunger strike link, above.

Over in Rome, a group of Tibetans demonstrating outside the Chinese embassy decided to crash the gates. They put a Tibetan flag over a Chinese official's car, and sang their national anthem. The officials had to look at at those harshly prohibited colours flying over their sovereign national territory for half an hour, and they were stunned. This account is from the "Tibetan Community in Italy."
Rome, February 21 - A group of Tibetans stormed the Chinese Embassy in Rome this morning. They forced into the Chinese Embassy compound dodging the tight Security. The demonstration started from via Largo Ecuador, the place allotted by the Rome authority, which is quite close to the Chinese Embassy. Heavy rainfall obstructed the attendance of media and local supporters but the Tibetans were not deterred.

The protest began with an inspirational and encouraging speech from Mr. Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, former TYC president. A minute's silence was observed in tribute to the Tibetan martyrs who laid down their lives under Chinese oppression. The protest continued with recitation of Dhentsig Monlam and shouting of slogans before the Tibetans crashed the gate of the Chinese Embassy. Astonished Chinese officials Italian security personnels stood stunned at the sight of Tibetan demonstrators with national flags. The demonstrators unfurled a huge Tibetan national flag on windshield of a car belonging to Chinese official. The Tibetans were driven out of the Embassy after about half an hour. The angry protesters sang the Tibetan national anthem right in front of the Chinese Embassy.

The purpose of today’s protest is to display total solidarity to the Hunger Strike being undertaken by the TYC and Tibetan Community in Turin, Italy. Venerable Geshe Palden Gyatso, former political prisoner, Mr Sonam Wangdue, President of RTYC Dharamsala, Mr. Tamding Chomphel, vice president of Tibetan community in Italy have been sitting on an indefinite Hunger strike to strongly appeal to the members of International Olympic Committee to reconsider its decision to award 2008 Olympics to China. The Tibetans demanded immediate improvement in the human rights situation in Tibet. They demanded the release of all the political prisoners of Tibet. Also in the list of demands was the unconditional release of the young Panchen Lama and Tulku Tenzin Delek.

This is the first ever incident of gatecrash at the Chinese Embassy in Italy. Protesters say it is prelude to more such demonstrations at Turin winter Olympic which ends 26th February.
Keep it cool, don't get rough -- give the Inti-toony-fada ragers some lessons in how it's done with honour. They have nothing to be mad about, compared to half a century under Chinese communist rulers, your most beloved spiritual leader exiled. Yet the fire under the snow continues to burn, the hunger for freedom that won't go out.

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