Burma’s regime has decided to work with Aung San Suu Kyi. China must learn lessons from here and cultivate the Dalai Lama as an ally.
The Chinese were upset again. They had threatened to leave their Olympics training camp in Leeds if the Dalai Lama addressd the Yorkshire International Business Convention, where the Tibetan leader had been invited to speak on Business Ethics.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing did not like it at all: “We hope the British side stops making mistakes again and again, which undermine China’s interests. China-UK relations have been affected by the recent meeting between the British leader and the Dalai Lama. The responsibility lies with the British side.” He was referring to the unofficial encounter between British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.
The spokesman angrily added: “The Chinese delegation is making preparations for the 2012 Olympics. I think politics and sport should be separated.”
It seems rather childish. What is wrong with ethics? In fact, the Chinese athletes should attend the Dalai Lama’s talk; it may help them.
Mr Mike Firth, the event’s organiser declared that he had been amused by the suggestion of cancelling the Dalai Lama’s talk; he thought it was ridiculous. “Here we have an unelected communist state coming and dictating to local politicians. What we pride ourselves on in this country is freedom of speech. Clearly, they don’t.”
At the same time, the Burmese leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi (also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate) has undertaken her first foreign trip after 24 years in seclusion (most of the time under house arrest in Burma). Her main objectives were to collect her Nobel Peace Medal as well as to call for renewed foreign investment in Burma.
It is interesting to compare the two examples. While the Burmese civilian-military regime agreed to let Ms Suu Kyi leave for her European tour, the Chinese Government continues to insult the Tibetan leader.
One remembers that in 2008, Mr Zhang Qingli, then party chief in Tibet had exacerbated the resentment of the Tibetan population by calling the Dalai Lama “a wolf in monk’s clothes, a devil with a human face” and declaring that “those who do not love the motherland are not qualified to be human beings”.
More recently, China Tibet Online, a state-run Chinese website, launched another vicious attack on the Dalai Lama, accusing him of Nazi racial policies and of inciting Tibetans to immolate themselves. The Dalai Lama had explained that the current protests in Tibet were due to the Chinese repressive policies. This greatly angered the Beijing authorities. The website accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the self-immolations and called him a “tricky liar skilled in double-dealing who wants to build a Berlin Wall of ethnic segregation and confrontation.” The commentary added: “The remarks of the Dalai Lama remind us of the uncontrolled and cruel Nazi during the second World War... How similar it is to the Holocaust committed by Hitler on the Jewish!”
Why? Beijing had not appreciated that the Dalai Lama had pleaded for a ‘genuine’ autonomy for Tibet. And it goes on!
Last month, the visit to UK of Mr Wu Bangguo, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, ranked number two in the Chinese state (after President Hu Jintao) was cancelled after it was confirmed that Mr Cameron, would meet the Tibetan leader. Mr Fabian Hamilton, the Leeds North East MP and Chairman of the Parliamentary Group for Tibet, called this ‘bully-boy tactics’.
The antagonism vis-à-vis the Tibetan leader takes absurd proportions.
In another incident, Xinhua, the Chinese official agency affirmed that the Jogye Order, a Buddhist sect from the Republic of Korea, has broken its promise and interfered with China’s internal affairs during a recent Buddhist conference. Why?
The Jogye Order was organising a Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and invited Mr Samdhong Rinpoche, the former Tibetan Prime Minister and respected Buddhist scholar, to speak. Beijing said that this “contradicted the basic Buddhist commandments of refraining from lying, tricking others and slandering.”
Xinhua said that the Korean Buddhist sect “ruined the harmonious atmosphere of Buddhism and seriously harmed the traditional Sino-Korean friendship.” In other words, Tibetans are not allowed to speak about Buddhism.
On its part, the Burmese regime has relaxed its totalitarian rule and decided to ‘work’ with Ms Suu Kyi, allowing her to travel abroad and to be an ambassador of Burma. In Geneva, the first stage of her tour, she addressed the International Labour Organisation about eradicating forced labour in Burma. The Telegraphwrote: “The visit marks a new milestone in the political changes that have swept Burma since decades of military rule were curtailed last year, bringing to power a new quasi-civilian Government. Switzerland is the first stop on the more than two-week tour taking her to Norway, Britain, France and Ireland and which will include a speech in Oslo for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.”
In her Nobel acceptance speech in Oslo, Ms Suu Kyi gently mentioned the unsolved issues: “I am standing here because I was once a prisoner of conscience. As you look at me and listen to me, please remember the often repeated truth that one prisoner of conscience is one too many. Those who have not yet been freed, those who have not yet been given access to the benefits of justice in my country number much more than one.” But during her stay in Europe, she will also work hard to remove the last sanctions against her country and try to attract new investments.
Between the military rulers and her, there is an implicit understanding; she is allowed to speak her mind, but at the same time, she pleads the cause of Burma. The question which should be asked: Who will come out greater after the European tour of Burma’s Iron Lady?
It will clearly be ‘Burma’, and in particular the present rulers who have had the courage to ‘open’ up the country’s totalitarian system and allow Ms Suu Kyi to stand for elections (and now go abroad as an unofficial ambassador). The ‘bully’ Generals have understood that if they can use the former dissident’s formidable reputation and her highly respected ethics, it will be a win-win solution for the country.
Can the leadership in Beijing understand this? Why can they not use the Dalai Lama as an ally and an ambassador, instead of making him an enemy or a demon?
One can dream of the sea of changes this could bring in China and Tibet (and consequently in India). The consequences could be many. One, from a ‘bully boy’, China would become a ‘normal’ state, respectable and even respected. This would completely change the image of China. ‘Image’ has always been important in the Chinese psyche.
Then, it could progressively dissipate the Tibetan populations’ resentment and put a stop to the series of self-immolations and constant unrest. In the long run, Tibet could be a model for other restive Provinces of China.
The Dalai Lama could further help by giving spiritual guidance to millions of young Chinese lost in the ‘money-is-glorious’ syndrome instituted by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. It has brought some material well-being to the Chinese people, but in the process many have lost their deeper traditional values.
It will be for the next generation of leaders led by Vice-President Xi Jinping to decide which image they want to project, a ‘normal’ and respected China or a ‘bully’ and reviled one. The Burmese model should inspire them.
NOTE--- Claude Arpi is a historian, political commentator and author of three books: 1) India and Her Neighbourhood, 2) Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement: The Sacrifice of Tibet, and 3) The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat Small Insects.
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