In 2015, the mantra remains the same for Tibetans just as it has since March 1959: democratisation & discrimination continue to be mythical ideals. Empowering Tibetan’s will require a visceral approach to freedom by the International Community in order to mitigate against the harsh conditions that victimise Tibetans on a daily basis. Approximately 142 people have self-immolated since February 27,2009. The issues affecting Tibetans include: degradation of religious symbols, inability to express one’s adherence to Buddhism in an overt manner (monks and nuns will continue to wear monastic robes), the cordoning off of the Tibetan population by the incursion of Han Chinese for purposes of labour, and the continual “modernizing” of the delicate Tibetan landscape (see the Qinghai-Tibet railway.) As the sludge of nuclear waste, and the consequences of building large dams to produce hydro-electric power incur damage to the environment that includes deforestation, and the disruption of the flow of rivers, as well as other organic water systems. Therefore, because of an aggressive infrastructure program orchestrated by the erudite CCP to bolster growth throughout the Tibetan Plateau, a quid pro quo is inevitable. On the one hand, this expansion will provide jobs for Han migrants and, hopefully, assimilate Han and ethnic Tibetan’s into a closer relationship with the central government and, of course, themselves.1 Consequently, the opportunity cost to the environment is beginning to mount. According to Denise Thompson, a researcher for Dharamsala based non-profit NGO – LHA Charitable Trust- “Tibet now has 14 percent more lakes than it did in 1970, and more than 80 percent of existing lakes have expanded, flooding surrounding pastures and rural communities. Ironically, because this flooding is uneven and unpredictable many pre-existing lakes have dried up completely and several large wetland areas have become deserts.”2
For Tibetan’s loyal to the Dalai Lama, the situation remains difficult, as displaying a photo of His Holiness will result in repercussions from Chinese authorities, who have labelled him a separatist “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” There is an opportunity for Beijing to reach out to Buddhist’s in general, and within its own borders to preserve this historical way of life, while promoting religious freedom. Of course, Chinese officials will have to accept Islam and those same officials will contend that Xinjiang Province presents many difficulties with its Islamic adherents and notions of separatism. The key difference between Xinjiang and Tibet is that Tibet was an autonomous region up to the 1949 occupation. Chinese authorities perceive Xinjiang and Tibet as unsophisticated in their infrastructure and ideology, and, most importantly a part of China proper.
Protracted negotiations between the TGIE (Tibetan Government In Exile” and the CCP have little hope for a “power-sharing” arrangement at best, while a successor to the Dalai Lama seems muted as Beijing has made unstated claims that they will appoint their own Dalai Lama when the current one passes away. The concern should be very real as the original Panchen Lama(Gedhun Choekyi Nyima) has been missing since May 17,1995. Beijing appointed his successor (Gyaincain Norbu) on December 8, 1995.3 The Dalai Lama acknowledged in a December 16, 2014 BBC article that China’s exuberance to modernize may well mean the demise of the position of Dalai Lama, that has existed since 1391; at least, the notable incarnations of Dalai Lama’s. His Holiness explained to the BBC “”There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama.”4
It is very difficult for Sikyong Lobsang Sangay to garner any credibility as Head of the Tibetan Government in Exile when the International Community deems Tibet part of China, and are enthralled with inexpensive Chinese goods to grow their economy. As China’s economy stagnates slightly, they can be reminded of the Swiss currency that is being devalued starting in January 2015; a devalued renminbi might pave the way for Tibetans to become more active managing the government apparatus. This could be the penultimate quid pro quo , or,at least an obvious sign of democratic reform leading to a more prosperous and spiritual future. Robert Barnett, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University stated ““The people pushing these policies can’t really see the ‘smaller’ issues of preserving culture and the environment, it is like using a bulldozer to herd mice.”
How can we help Tibetans. Of course, making a donation will help, though, being careful as a consumer can be an effective device if we minimise our purchase of Chinese made products and write our Head of State or Department of Foreign Affairs.
United States: http://www.state.gov/contact/
Great Britain: https://email.number10.gov.uk
India: http://pmindia.gov.in/en/interact-with-honble-pm/ (registration necessary)
1)”Tibet:Taming the west, The Communist Party deepens Tibet’s integration with the rest of the country.”The Economist. 21 June, 2014. 18 December 2014.
2)Thompson, Denise. “Global Warming – Tibet’s problems are the World’s problems too.” Tibet Nature Conservation Network. 18 November 2014. 18 December 2014. <http://www.tibetnature.net/en/global-warming-tibets-problems-worlds-problems/>.
3)Tibetan Buddhism’s second highest lama, below the Dalai Lama.
4)”Dalai Lama concedes he may be the last.” BBC News China. 16 December 2014. 18 December 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30510018>.