— Comment on Dr Dibyesh Anand’s interview by Phayul
Last Feb, Dr. Dibyesh Anand received interview by Phayul.com and raised several interesting points on the Tibetans in exile (TIE), democracy development, the post-Dalai Lama era, and the relationship with India. In general Dr. Anand viewed the democratisation a positive development in exile, but questioned whether the new democracy could boost the Tibet movement.
The overall Tibet movement, from 2008 to 2011 and beyond, is going through a critical point, from the south side to the north side of Himalaya. It is obviously the 2008 movement, centered with the idea of anti-Beijing Olympics, was planned in Dharmsala and spreaded to Tibetan area in China. On the contrary, the self-immolation events since 2011, even perhaps conceptized oversea (which is still controversy), were mainly formed and evolved in China. The center of Tibet movement has now shifted to Tibetans in Tibet (TIT). The exile community is in a position of guessing, following, re-acting on whatever happened inside China. The shift itself is a clear indicator that some of TIT no longer think a Beijing-Dharmsala negotiation will likely solve the Tibet issue therefore meet their religious and other needs.
Dr. Anand also indicated the extreme difficulty of the new democracy of claiming to represent the entire Tibet with a couple of percentage population. With Beijing’s excellent job of isolating the TIE and TIT, the exchange of people, information and idea is more and more difficult. However, the top task for TIE, is still to understand TIT exactly, to be engaged in their movement, other than as a stander-by. For example, in the 2010 US SFRC Tibet report, an interviewee questioned whether TIE still understand the TAR situation clearly. Dr. Anand also observed the TIT are fighting for freedom especially religious freedom, but not democracy per se.
Keeping this in mind, the relationship with China is always the most important one to TGIE, even currently it is a deadlock, both are undeniable. It is not easy for both sides to start meaningful talk in the atmosphere. Both Beijing and Dharmsala may have to act unilaterally, but still need to keep other side’s core interest/concern in mind; therefore prepare for possible compromise in the future. Another work both can do is to maintain and create backchannels for under the table communication.
From China’s point view, it finds the terms of TGIE/HHDL are too high to meet so it has to resort to the passive waiting strategy. Beijing may possibly give more religious/culture freedom to Tibetans but the arguments of genuine autonomy actually touched the core political system of China government and the consequence of accepting it is too complex.
Will TIE democratisation change anything of above? The answer is no. Democracy will likely strengthen the Ranzen popularity and it will only increase the difficulty of making a deal. But, if current unbalanced Sino-Tibet relationship continues, a Ranzen ruling party can’t change the vast power difference and will only result in more conflicts. One example of similar development is Sino-Taiwan relationship. Beijing gradually learned from the lesson, it now takes a position of opposing the Taiwan independence but not the democracy.
However, as the center of Sino-Tibet talk is about religious leaders. The separation of religious leaders from political affairs may help it. I’ll expect Beijing increase its lobby of those leaders including HHDL in a non-political cover. It also depends on how much authority the new democratic government may have on the leaders.
There is one democracy impacting the Sino-Tibet relationship which is the very one of China itself, or even as little as some political reforms by CCP. Just like policies in Hu Yaobang era, the opener political governance will make TGIE’s genuine autonomy offer less intrusive. Other than China’s total collapse, this is another way out of current impasse.
The most significant challenge therefore shifted from making Tibet alive in international community, to meaningful connection between TIT and TIE. From one side, China is a rising power with influence southward. We have already seen it in Nepal and it seemed TGIE can only bless the continuing hostility between India and China. But from another side, it is extremely difficult for China authorities to continue extreme suppressing of certain Tibetan areas at the same time still grow the areas economically. After all, China is a semi-open society but not North Korea. It is inevitable to loosen the control and achieve agreement with local Tibetan community.
In this big picture, it is important to understand the TIT and TIE’s role, their advantages and disadvantages in the movement. So far, TIE is the most sustainable exile community in the world. It maintains the community and its characteristics in exile. It has housed the political and religious dissidents for over 50 years. With this community, where most Tibetan Buddhism leaders are based with, it turns Dharmsala the Buddhism center of Tibetans and the world institutionally and scholarly. From this perspective, the change in exile community will not damage the movement ONLY if it can still maintain the community integrity, thus its religion and culture.
Having said that, although TIE is successful compared with other exile community, over time, it is difficult to keep an exile presence. This is why we saw the discussion over India citizenship. For a democracy community, it is politically incorrect to discuss whether one should or not to make decision per his/her personal future, for a concrete or vague collective goal. Instead, the TIE community should discuss how to deal with the trend and gain most from the move.
On the positive side, as Dr. Anand indicated, the India citizenship will benefit the eligible Tibetans economically and politically. A newly Tibetan Indian population is freer to advocate the Tibet movement aligning with India national interest. With voting power, the Tibetan Indians will protect the TIE community from the possible change of the generosity of India government.
On the other side, India law doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, so it is a little bit tricky for TIE to claim India citizenship at the same time reserve the de facto Tibet one. With time goes by, the Tibet movement in exile will be diluted politically over the potential conflicts between Tibetan identity and India citizenship. TIE have to focus more on the culture and religious aspects.
One may argue that why Tibetans diasporas in other Western countries are encouraged for local nationality. But India is very different from others. Besides the above reason of India’s dual citizenship law, India hosts the largest TIE population and is the only place maintaining the Tibet culture life (maybe Nepal is still qualified). The change in Indian Tibetan will dramatically change the overall picture.
In 1898, Mr. Sitong Tan was arrested for his leadership of the Hundred Days Reform and facing the death sentence. It is said he wrote a poem on the prison wall to the colleagues in exile, and here were the last two sentences:
I’ll laugh toward the sky, with sword in my hands;
Either stay inside or exile outside, we are as bravo as khu nu ri rgyud.
For a long time, I admired Tibetans’ attitude toward TITs like tenth Panchen Lama, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme and Phuntsog Wangyal. It shows the spirit of tolerance and compromise. The democracy is basically a free market of diversified opinions. The opinion wins at last because it gets most agreements in a due process. This is the exact point where Dr. Dibyesh criticized as unhealthy development in TIE politics. It is not about Middle-way vs. Rangzen, it is about how the young democracy can maintain the diversity of opinions, gain from such diversity and move forward for best benefit of Tibetan people. Whatever your opinions are and your choices are, you are as bravo as khu nu ri rgyud.