[About this blog] Inspired by local soccer player Mike Lim during my rookie reporter days at Singapore Polytechnic, I set up this blog in August 2002. I feel that blogging is a novel platform to document interesting facets of my life and my thoughts on certain issues. [Email blogger] ephraim@singnet.com.sg

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

[Between China and India: Is Tibet the Wedge or Link?]
Reconciling faith with the forces of globalization remains the challenge

SINGAPORE: The encounter of China and India in this century will change the world. For thousands of years, the two civilizations were separated by the high mountains of Tibet. Except for a brief war in 1962, there were no major conflicts between them.

Together, they make up more than a third of the world's population and will supply much of the talent for global development in this century. The concentration of Chinese and Indian talent in Silicon Valley foreshadows what is coming. How China and India relate to each other in the coming decades will affect everyone.

Tibet is changing from being a barrier to a region linking China and India together. Today, there are good roads connecting Tibet to Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan. Three years ago, an amazing thousand-kilometer railroad from Golmud in Qinghai to Lhasa in Tibet was opened. Eighty percent of it is over 4000 meters in altitude; 50 percent on permafrost. When first proposed, many foreign engineers said that it could not be built.

Economically, there is much to be gained by improving road and rail links between Tibet and South Asia. Indeed, the Chinese have suggested that Lhasa and Calcutta be linked by rail. The Indian Government is understandably apprehensive about moving too quickly. Scars of the 1962 War are still raw in India. When the Indian Army moved to liberate Bangladesh in December 1971, an important factor it considered was the winter snow preventing the Chinese Army from interfering through the mountain passes. Thus, the reopening of the 4400 meter-high Nathu La Pass in July 2006 was politically significant. As part of it, China recognized India's ownership of Sikkim. Hundreds of kilometers of fiber optic cables have been laid in the past year from Yadong in Tibet to Siliguri in West Bengal with an initial capacity of 20 gigabytes per second.

Trade between China and India has grown rapidly in the last ten years. China has already become India's biggest trading partner. And this is only the beginning. Common economic interests are driving the two countries into closer political cooperation both bilaterally and internationally.

Tibet is both an opportunity and an issue. The economic opportunity is obvious, but rapid development has brought about great stress to the Tibetan way of life. This complicates bilateral relations between China and India.

Over long years, Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism evolved in response to the challenges of extreme physical conditions at high altitudes, developing in the process a deep spirituality. However, old Tibet should not be romanticized. It was not Shangri-La. The political economy was based on the feudal domination of monasteries over rural serfs. In 1951, Mao Zedong's Government negotiated the 'peaceful liberation' of Tibet with the local Tibetan Government, guaranteeing that Beijing would not force changes to the feudal political economy of Tibet. But the Chinese revolution had its own internal dynamic. By the mid-1950s, land reforms had begun in Tibetan-inhabited areas outside Tibet. Monastic lands were seized and redistributed to peasants. These contributed to the Tibetan rebellion of 1959. While the Dalai Lama fled to India, the Panchen Lama remained in China and worked within the system, but not always effectively. In 1962, he sent a letter to Beijing expressing Tibetan grievances. During the Cultural Revolution, Tibetan youths, following Chinese youths in other parts of the country, engaged in an orgy of destruction. Since then, as in the rest of China, monasteries and temples have been restored or rebuilt, often to a state better than what they were before, although some precious artifacts were lost forever. Without land and serfs, these places can only be sustained with the patronage of the Chinese state.

The marriage of Tang Princess Wencheng to Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century began a complex relationship between Tibet and Imperial China which ebbed and flowed with the rise and fall of Chinese dynasties. Mongol princes during the late Ming and early Qing Dynasty intervened on behalf of the Yellow Hat Gelugpa (the order of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama), making it the dominant sect in Tibet.

Because religious and political leadership was fused from the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, the appointment of high lamas often required the approval of the Emperor. This was certainly so during the Qing Dynasty. It was a practice carried into Republican and Communist China. Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Government approved the appointment of the 14th (present) Dalai Lama in 1940 and the 10th Panchen Lama in 1949. At the Forbidden City in Beijing today, the old buildings still carry inscriptions in the four main languages of the Qing Dynasty - Han, Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan.

In the last 50 years, China devoted huge resources to the development of Tibet because of its strategic importance. Economic growth has been in the double digits in the last fifteen years. Social indicators like average life spans have shown remarkable improvement. But, relative to Han Chinese, Tibetans lag behind especially in economic performance. This should not be surprising because an entrenched way of life cannot change quickly within a few decades. As in Singapore, the tensions which naturally arise when different ethnic and religious groups living side by side respond at different speeds to globalization cannot be wished away; they simply have to be recognized and managed.

Education is clearly the key to the future. Pole-vaulting a medieval society to the 21st century is however never easy. At the Norbulinka Palace, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, devotees still prostrate themselves before objects once used by him like his bed and sofa.

The 14th Dalai Lama is now 74 years old. In a recent TV interview, he said that he was born to accomplish certain tasks, and as those tasks were not completed, it was 'logical’ that he would be reincarnated outside China. Many believe that 'outside China' means Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh where the 6th Dalai Lama came from, a Tibetan area controlled by India but claimed by China. This would greatly complicate the border demarcation between China and India. Beijing, of course, insists on the old rule that the appointment of high lamas must have its approval.

The 11th Panchen Lama is coming of age. When chosen as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, Beijing gave its approval but not the Dalai Lama. Six months ago, at the Second World Buddhist Forum in Wuxi, he surprised many people by giving his speech in English.

It may seem strange that the reincarnation of high lamas should be a subject of such intense interest today. That perhaps is a reflection of the past in the present and the importance of the China-India relationship. Looking ahead, however, Buddhism in Tibet will have to adjust to change as it has in other parts of Asia where it is enjoying a huge revival in many countries. Tibet is part of a much larger Asian drama that is changing the world.

George Yeo is the foreign minister of Singapore. He visited Tibet in August this year, the first foreign minister to do so after the March 14 riots last year.

The article first appeared in the YaleGlobal on 8 September 2009

Do read my posts on Beyond SG and link up on Facebook if you have an account


Blogger Matthew Tan said...

What the Dalai Lama said in 1997.

Chinese peoples all over the world: Note what the Dalai Lama said in 1997 below, and do not be fooled by his sweet (and bitter and soul) talks.

Dalai Lama said: “People must talk about independence…we need to think of our methods to struggle for independence.”

(Blog writer) Buxi: “If many Chinese are still skeptical about cooperating with the Dalai Lama, it’s not because we’re unaware he claims to have rejected independence; it’s because we question whether he really means what he says.”

(This is a pro-Dalai Lama website. Year was 1997, ten years after his “Five-Point Proposal” and “Middle-Way Approach” were solemnly declared in U.S. Congress).


Marchers’ Private Audience with His Holiness The Dalai

…[The Dalai Lama] added that many people, Tibetans and friends of Tibet, think that the middle path is not right. Instead, Tibetans need to struggle for independence and talk about independence. For this reason, His Holiness explained the need for Tibetans to discuss what they want and to make a decision. “People must talk about independence,” He said. “That is good. We have the right to ask for independence, but we need to think of our methods to struggle for independence. Only prayers will not get independence, and only slogans will not get independence.” His Holiness stressed that Tibetans must carefully and systematically construct and implement a method to pursue independence.

According to Barry Sautman, the above statements have never been denied by the Dalai Lama Office in Dharamsalem.


Also, remember that the Dalai Lama every year on 10 March commemorates and glorifies the violent 1959 Uprising Demanding Independence; take a look at the photo here, showing the poster in his office with big letterings "TIBET ONE PEOPLE ONE NATION"

Tibet the "one nation" for the Dalai Lama is only for "one people", and this Tibet we all know is bigger than the Tibet Autononomous Region.


Thursday, September 10, 2009 4:52:00 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matthew Tan, the Dalai Lama certainly may have said that, but if you read it accurately, he is not saying his goal is Tibetan independence. He is only honoring the democratic rights of people to have a political position. He has in fact told the Tibetan Youth Congress to its face that he and it are at different ends in terms of political position. He wants a solution under P.R. China while TYC wants independence. He has said it is not enough to want independence but that people should be realistic in how they can achieve it.

I think the Dalai Lama has been consistent and sincere. Only those who have a preconceived notion will pick quotes out of context to prove their point. You should read his full statements so that the Chinese people are not fooled.

Thursday, September 10, 2009 9:50:00 pm

Blogger Matthew Tan said...

Anonymous confirms Dalai Lama's true hidden intention.

"He has said it is not enough to want independence but that people should be realistic in how they can achieve it."


Friday, September 11, 2009 5:40:00 am

Blogger Matthew Tan said...

Year of the Yak
By Barry Sautman

…After officially abandoning the Strasbourg Proposal in 1990, the Dalai Lama refused to say whether he was reverting to support for independence.76 The exile parliament, however, endorsed “complete independence” as the official goal in 1992.77

Many of the Dalai Lama’s subsequent statements indicate that he has not wholly abandoned a pro-independence stance...

In the late 1990s, the Dalai Lama, while speaking often of attaining “genuine autonomy,” has shown a continued identification with the cause of independence. He has, for example, stated that “we Tibetans have every right to independence”80 and “independence is our historic right.”81 These statements might be interpreted as mere assertions that, although Tibetan independence has been usurped, the exiles are willing under the proper conditions to waive their right to re-establish it. Other actions, however, belie this interpretation.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as telling a Barcelonia audience that “he would be willing to renounce in the short term the cause of Tibetan independence, if Beijing would guarantee the establishment of an autonomous Tibetan government.”82 This approach recalls the frank statement made by the Dalai Lama’s younger brother (and longtime exile leader) Tenzin Chogyal to a French reporter “Let us first of all achieve autonomy. Then we can throw out the Chinese!”83 Not surprisingly, P.R.C. spokesmen concluded that “the high degree of autonomy advocated by the Dalai Lama is in essence a two-step strategy for Tibet independence.84

The Dalai Lama, moreover, expresses solidarity with pro-independence exile activists and their supporters. In May 1997, he received particiapants on a “March for Tibet’s Independence” in Fishkill, New York. The March from Toronto to New York City was sponsored by the International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM), an organization led by two Indiana University professors, one of whom is Thubten Jigme Norbu, the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother. 85 An internationally publicized ITIM report quotes the Dalai Lama as telling the marchers:

“People must talk about independence. That is good. We have the right to ask for independence, but we need to think of our methods to struggle for independence, and only slogans will not get independence. “

The marchers’ report added that “His Holiness stressed that Tibetans must carefully and systematically construct and implement a method to pursue independence.”86 No objection to this report was offered by the exile administration.

In April 1998, the Dalai Lama visited six Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) hunger strikers in New Delhi. The TYC seeks “complete independence”.

[page 194 is not accessible on Google Books at the time of typing this passage]

…Thus, they have no incentive to discourage pro-independence activism among their American supporters by pointing out the nonviability of that option. In fact, the Dalai Lama’s representatives are convinced that international support would diminish were the Dalai Lama explicity to renounce independence. 94 They often praise and encourage members of Congress who are plus royaliste que le roi in insisting that China grant Tibet independence. Moreover, there is some evidence that the Dalai Lama’s representatives themselves are pro-independence. 95

Friday, September 11, 2009 5:50:00 am

Blogger Matthew Tan said...

the poster in his office with big letterings "TIBET ONE PEOPLE ONE NATION"

Tibet the "one nation" for the Dalai Lama is only for "one people", and this Tibet we all know is bigger than the Tibet Autononomous Region.

fixing the broken link
add http:// to


Friday, September 11, 2009 5:52:00 am

Blogger Matthew Tan said...


Step 1. Democracy
Step 2. Genuine Autonomy
Step 3. Referendum or Uprising


Step 1. Genuine Autonomy
Step 2. Democracy
Step 3. Referendum or Uprising

If the Dalai Lama has his way, there will be war one day on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which may involve India. This is surely to be followed by ethnic cleansing. This is a very dangerous game.

The Dalai Lama said he wants to work within the framework of the PRC Constitution. The Constitution says that all autonomous regions are INALIENABLE parts of China. THE DALAI LAMA STILL REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT TIBET IS AN INALIENABLE PART OF CHINA. INALIENABLE.

The Constitution also insists on the “united leadership” of the Communist Party of China for all-China. The Dalai Lama is seeking to undermine the leadership of the CCP, even seeking “irrevocable” powers of local legislation on all areas of governance (except defence and foreign relations). He is therefore really seeking independence.

Therefore, the often-repeated mentioning that he is only seeking for “cultural autonomy” is a lie to fool the international community.

Tibet has moved on very well without the Dalai Lama. He has been quite IRRELEVANT for the past 50 years. And he will be TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. All new Dalai Lamas will definitely be MADE-In-CHINA.

The Dalai Lama still has a chance to go back to Tibet and serve his people. He must TOTALLY RENOUCE INDEPENDENCE and ACKNOWLEDGE THAT TIBET IS AN INALIENABLE PART OF CHINA.

Friday, September 11, 2009 6:14:00 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Tibetan saying, "A person suffering jaundice sees everything yellow." My friend Matthew is in the same situation.

No one can deny the past history of Tibet. Even Mr. George Yeo talks about the complicated history of Tibet.

Yes, the Dalai Lama has said people should be realistic, pragmatic and think of win-win situation. That is what he is striving for Tibet. He is clear on what sort of future he wants for Tibet and that is genuine self-government under the PRC.

Friday, September 11, 2009 6:59:00 am


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