Agam's Gecko
Saturday, June 14, 2008
On patrol in Shangri-la
Riot police patrol Shangri-la, formerly Zhongdian, formerly Gyalthang, March 25, 2008.
Photo: AP / Greg Baker

he journey of the harmonious flame of Olympian brotherhood (otherwise known as Her Totalitarian Torchiness) has become a Magical Mystery Tour, as Beijing's organisers refuse to disclose any dates or details of her upcoming visit to Tibet. Previously scheduled to be in the Tibetan "Autonomous Region" from June 19 - 21, and in eastern Tibetan regions (subsumed into Chinese provinces) both before and after that period, her Tibet visit has been shortened to a single day. Although which particular day has apparently become a state secret. Sometime next week, which means that anyone can have a one out of seven chance of divulging state secrets.

The Qinghai and Gansu (Tibetan Amdo) sections of the mystery tour are even more mysterious, and it is not clear whether they will actually take place. The official Beijing torch website continues to provide the old, long out of date schedule. But Her Scorchiness did make it to "Shangri-La" this week, so she has that going for her.

Shangri-la was a Tibetan town known as Gyalthang before the Chinese took over and renamed it Zhongdian, which was before the Party declared it the true and actual Shangri-la of James Hilton's novel in 2002. They do love them some tourist bucks. "Honey, we're taking our vacation in Shangri-la this year!" "Ooooooh! I've always wanted to go there!"

But even in Shangri-la security was tight, with a large presence of military troops.
At a monastery on the outskirts of town, some Buddhist monks said they had been forbidden from leaving during the torch run, while others were made to attend a sutra reading session that lasted from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. -- right when the torch was passing.

"Our teacher told us not to go out today," said one novice. Another said police had ordered the monks to stay in their compound.

Paramilitary police lined the streets in town, some kept watch atop buildings and others were posted at intervals on a rural road that the torch and its huge entourage had to drive down to get to the location of the closing ceremony.
There were no demonstrations in this Tibetan part of Yunnan province over the past months, yet the authorities sent in thousands of troops anyway. Most ethnic Tibetans interviewed in this story gave positive assessments of the torch's visit -- in Chinese language as the reporter notes -- although one interviewee said it was "a little offensive to Tibetans."

Karma Chopel, president of the Tibetan Parliament (of course in exile, there's no such thing in Tibet itself) has said its "remotely possible" that Dalai Lama could attend the Olympic games, if there should be some progress in the Tibet - China talks now expected next month. The meeting had been scheduled for June 11, but the "United Work Front" officials who have been representing the central government are apparently busy carrying medical supplies into the mountains of Sichuan, and were unable to make the appointment. No, of course they aren't, but the earthquake is the reason given for postponement.

Chopel also told the Italian news agency AGI that the adjustments to the torch itinerary in Tibet had little to do with the Sichuan earthquake.
On the troubled relay of the Olympic torch, Chopel stated that the Tibet leg was not postponed because of the earthquake in the Chinese Sichuan province but because of Beijing's desire to distract the world's attention away from the Tibetan cause. "Tibet", he explained from his exile in the Indian town of Dharamsala, "has been transformed by the Chinese into an open-air prison. The streets are under the complete control of the police and the army. Tough restrictions have been introduced against the movement of people, even within the same residential areas".
Dalai Lama is now in Australia for some long-planned teaching engagements, and recently completed a similar trip to Britain. During his time in London, he was invited to testify before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about the Tibet crisis. China did not approve.

His Holiness told British MP John Horam, who questioned him in the hearing, that he did not know how many people had been killed since the demonstrations began in Tibet, now over three months. Horam says that China made its great displeasure known in no uncertain terms.
"I got a furious letter from the Chinese Embassy. They said when he was questioned he admitted he did not know what happened in the riots. They shot themselves in the foot.

"Media are not allowed into the whole of Tibet, so it is difficult to get a balanced perspective."


Mr Horam is now penning his response to the Chinese Embassy.
For all the protesting going on, Mr. Horam has one of the best chances for influence (apart from the world leaders who can just call up Hu or Wen, when and who-ever). He gets to write to China, since he got that "furious letter" from the Chinese Embassy. His reply has to get to the Ambassador at least, and maybe Hu will read it, whenever.

The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan had an interview with Dalai Lama yesterday. Sheridan has interviewed him before, and is not one of those "emotionally bowled over" types, but just finds him an impressive man, a person with integrity.
As before, he answers all my questions directly. He is good humoured, self-deprecating in his way, makes no extravagant claims, and radiates goodwill towards all the players in the tragedy of Tibet: even the Chinese Government.
The spiritual leader repeatedly stresses that he is pro-Chinese, has never urged an Olympic boycott, and supported China's entry into the WTO, yet he also tells the truth about China's behaviour in Tibet. He acknowledges that accurate detailed information is difficult to get, and calls for the international media to be permitted to do their job. "It is one of his most powerful arguments. If the Chinese are not violently suppressing Tibet, why are they scared of permitting outsiders, especially the media, to go there?" writes Sheridan.

One interesting bit of information I hadn't heard before, is that the Chinese authorities had at one point actually accepted that Tibetans weren't demanding separation.
In the fifth round of talks in February 2006, he tells me, the Chinese acknowledged that Tibetans were not seeking independence: "But then in April-May 2006 the Chinese intensified their accusations against me as a splittist, and political repression in nunneries and monasteries (in Tibet) increased."
It's such a shame that he doesn't have other people with integrity to deal with on these issues. For the past months the Chinese been demanding that he should create proper conditions for dialogue, even while continuing to denounce him with the shrillest Maoist demonizations and name-calling, wrapped in still-unsubstantiated accusations.

The treaty forced upon the Tibetans at virtual gunpoint in 1951 (the agreement was signed in Beijing while the guns were pointed at Lhasa) was the first and only such treaty made with any of China's captive minorities -- itself singling out Tibet as a unique case. It was the very first example of "one country - two systems," an arrangement which was broken by the CCP almost immediately. Had the Chinese government kept its signed word, none of this would likely have happened. The first uprising of 1959 would have been unnecessary. But the CCP had became more leftist by that time, and had no problems breaking their agreements. The cultural repression of today is a sad reminder of the genuine autonomy promised 57 years ago.
"Subjects involving Buddhism are being withdrawn from schools. Up to the '70s, Buddhist logic was taught in Lhasa (Tibet's capital). Not any longer. Schoolbooks with words which carry Buddhist meaning are being removed. Nunneries and monasteries are forced to emphasise Chinese political education. Schoolchildren are forbidden to visit temples.

"Two-thirds of Lhasa is now Han Chinese. Most shops are Han Chinese. I met some Tibetan students from eastern Tibet a few years ago who could speak no Tibetan. They had asked the Chinese authorities (to be instructed in Tibetan) and were told Tibetan was of no use." This is despite the Chinese at one stage affording Tibetan the status of an official language.
He has had to face hostile demonstrations from Chinese nationalists while travelling in these past months, yet he continues to attempt to reach out to them. He had a meeting with some Chinese students in Rochester, NY in April.
"I met seven Chinese students and while I explained my views, two listened very carefully and at the end they smiled and were very calm and friendly. But the other five had too much emotion, there was no desire to listen. Luckily there was a long table between us or otherwise they would have taken physical action."
I had a similar experience the same month, but in that case it was a steel barrier that prevented foreign students from attacking human rights supporters.

I always want to publish his statements here because they are so -- almost impossibly so -- conciliatory toward those who consider him an enemy. One I had missed recently was on the occasion of an 800 km. walk for Chinese democracy by exiled dissident Dr. Yang Jianli. Dr. Yang had spent five years in a Chinese prison after travelling there to observe labour unrest, and being charged with spying for Taiwan. He was released about a year ago. Last month he set out to walk from Boston to Washington DC, arriving on June 4 for a memorial gathering on the 19th anniversary of the crushing of China's democracy movement.

Dalai Lama had written a message of support which was read out to the assembly by Mr. Bhuchung Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet.
I applaud Dr. Yang Jianli for leading a march from Boston to Washington, D.C., culminating on June 4, 2008 - the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement.

As a Tibetan, one of the most encouraging, moving and hopeful events in recent Chinese history has been the democracy movement of 1989. Chinese brothers and sisters displayed, openly and peacefully, their yearning for freedom, democracy, and human dignity. They embraced non-violence in a most impressive way, reflecting the value for which the movement stood.

I maintain that the Chinese leadership's response to the peaceful demonstrations of 1989 was most unfortunate. It is my basic belief that brute force, no matter how powerful, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom, whether it is that of the Chinese democrats and the farmers, or the Tibetan people. On the other hand, everyone appreciates truth and respect, which are really in our blood. Truth is the best guarantor and the real foundation for freedom and democracy.

China today is an emerging world power. The international community has acted wisely by making efforts to bring her into the mainstream of the world economy. But economic integration alone is not sufficient. China needs human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. These values are the foundation of a free, dynamic, stable, and peaceful society. Such a society would also offer far greater economic freedom, security, and other advantages to all citizens of the People's Republic of China.

As a believer in non-violence, peace, and freedom, I have supported the non-violent democracy movement in China from the beginning. In spite of the brutal response from the authorities, I pray that those involved in China's democracy movement will always remain non-violent.

It is ironical that today, while the Chinese Government is making every effort to get recognition as a leading world power, many Chinese people, particularly the victims of the Tiananmen tragedy, their parents, as well as farmers and workers, continue to be deprived of their basic rights. I hope and pray that the leaders of China will realize that a nation's greatness can only come about when it starts treating its own people with dignity and respect.

I wish Dr. Yang Jianli all success in his present endeavor and hope the march will bring about greater awareness of the continuing plight of these people.

With my prayers and good wishes,

Dalai Lama

May 8, 2008
Chinese leaders should be ashamed of themselves for keeping such statements from ever being read by Chinese citizens. The headline for Sheridan's interview is entirely right: Dalai Lama is no foe, and wants only the best for China. Anyone can see that clearly, except Beijing.

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