Following is the full text of the interview of Lodi Gyari, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, taken before the Tibetan delegations visited China earlier this month for the sixth round talk with the Chinese leadership. At the time of the interview, the possibility for a sixth round of talk was still not known.
Talks with China in the critical stage, even if there are no differences, says special envoy Kasur Lodi Gyari Rinpoche: Interview
Brussels, 13 may 2007
By Ewa Kedzierska, for Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
Ewa Kedzierska: There were five rounds of talks, since 2002 up to 2006. On which level from the Chinese side? How was it evaluating?
Lodi Gyari Rinpoche: - The talks we have been holding with the Chinese government are with the United Front Work Department. This is the Party Organ that has dealt with Tibet since the very beginning, even when we signed the 17 Point Agreement in 1951. It is the authorised agency of the Chinese leadership dealing with the Tibetan issue. The head of the United Front has a Minister's rank, and quite often is also a member of the Politburo. So, not only since 2002 but even before, when I went to China in 1982 and 1984, we were always dealing with the United Front.
EK: Who namely were your Chinese interlocutors?
LGR: When I first went to China in 1982 we met with Mr. Ulan Fu, who is an ethnic Mongol, a member of the Politburo, as well as Mr. Xi Zhongxing, also a member of the Politburo. There were many other people with ministers' rank, such as Mr. Yang Jingren, Director of the Nationalities Affairs Commission.
In 2002 we were dealing with Mr. Wang Zhaoguo and then he got transferred and promoted to Politburo. Now he is a vice chair of National Peoples' Congress and then Madam Liu Yandong was appointed as a minister, so now my main counterpart is one of the most senior woman in the Chinese party. I have also been meeting with Mr. Zhu Weiqun, who is the Executive Vice-Minister of the United Front. They are both very capable interlocutors. I appreciate them. Of course they are also very tough negotiators. But we are satisfied with the people we are dealing with.
EK: Were these talks for the Chinese formal or informal? You are speaking about the ministerial level; however, there have been very few comments in the Chinese press and also attempts to reduce your role as an envoy, to that of a private visitor of the relatives in Tibet.
LGR: The talks are very formal despite whatever comments that may be appearing in the Chinese media. Our meetings are very business like, very professional and detailed. My counterparts have always provided the opportunity to my delegation to share views with them in very extensive manner and to convey our position. This is the most important and we are satisfied with the way they are doing.
EK: After the 5th round in China, in February 2006, the talks got hung up and the Chinese rhetoric became more aggressive, notably towards the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Would it not mean that the Chinese got afraid of your demands, most clearly formulated during the 5th round? Why are you saying that the negotiations have reached the critical stage?
LGR: I said our talks have reached the critical or very delicate stage, because since the 4th round we are discussing real, substantive points. We moved step further since only getting know each other. But our negotiations have not broken down. It is understandable, even if issues that we have raised are reasonable, legitimate and for the mutual benefit that it is not easy for the Chinese leadership to immediately respond.
Unfortunately they are trying to cover up this inability of their leaders not being able to take political decisions by making all kind of rhetorics: irresponsible and baseless allegations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama and against our position. It creates situations that can cause problems because everything is a chain reaction. Unlike the Chinese leaders, His Holiness the Dalai Lama must function within the democratic system that he has established in exile. We also live in a free world where people can freely react.
When the Chinese government comes out with all these very negative rhetoric and activities, it undermines the goodwill that we have tried to build for last many years.
It very much shakes the confidence of the Tibetans and also brings a tremendous pressure on the Tibetan leadership, because the Tibetan leadership is now responsible to the people, by whom it was elected. Even though the decisions are taken by the Dalai Lama, on the basis of his Middle Way approach, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the Chairman of the Cabinet, cannot ignore the public sentiment.
Personally I am not worried about the delay. This is a difficult issue, very serious issue, so it is quite understandable that in a communist system, which is centralised, it is difficult to take a decision. I must accept that. However, what is unfortunate is the totally irresponsible and unfounded, baseless propaganda against His Holiness. This strengthens the views of some people who were always, since the beginning, very sceptical of the Chinese Government's intentions. It comes as confirmation of that school of thought, which from the beginning was telling His Holiness: ‘Don't trust the Chinese. They do not want to negotiate. They are just engaging you to waste time?’
EK: What are the main viewpoints differences between the Tibetans and the Chinese?
LGR: In one way, we think, there is no difference. We are not asking for independence, but for genuine autonomy. Actually, it is something that the Chinese Government has already accepted. China's Constitution already guaranties this. The only point is the question of its implementation. So there are no fundamental differences. On the other hand, the Chinese Government says that we are asking for:
1. Greater Tibet (this is their expression)*
2. Total change of the governmental system
3. Withdrawal of all Chinese military personnel
4. Withdrawal of all non-Tibetans from Tibetan areas.
First of all we are not saying that China cannot have any military presence in Tibet. The Dalai Lama pointed out that he is negotiating within the PRC and within the framework of the Constitution of the PRC. At the same time the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist monk, he is not in favour of military approach, guns and violence. As an individual he would be happy if there are no military, not only in Tibet, but in the whole world. This is his wish.
EK: So is this a wish and not a condition?
LGR: This is not a condition. The Kashag has even made a formal statement in this regard. Then, about Tibet becoming homogeneous; how can we say that we accept the Chinese Constitution but want Tibet to be homogeneous? Here the main point is that the Tibetans just cannot become the minority in our land. If the Chinese Government cannot accept this, then we really have the fundamental difference. Our position is nothing against any other nationality. We want to preserve our identity, speak our language, follow our culture tradition and it is logical, anyone will agree with this. Now, the Chinese officials themselves told me that the Tibetans are not the minority in Tibetan areas. They gave me facts, figures, and numbers showing how Tibetans are the majority. OK, fine. If that is the situation, then there is nothing to worry about. When we reach an agreement, if it is as the Chinese officials said, that 70 to 80% of the population in Tibet are Tibetans, then we have no problem. Why should they have to become so agitated about this issue? Why should they be picking some words from the statement of His Holiness when he is using the word of “reversing?” It is true that in the 1980s His Holiness said that the biggest threat for the Tibetan culture is the demographic transformation. He said that the Chinese Government must stop demographic transformation in Tibet and there have to be reversal of the existing situation. We think in some areas Tibetans have already become the minority.
EK: In the final talks will you accept these numbers given by the Chinese?
LGR: Oh yes. Of course, it has to be reflected on the ground.
EK: And if it is not?
LGR: It should if China is a responsible government. If they tell me that Tibetans are still the majority, I will accept it and negotiate on the basis of that. But of course at the time of implementation it has to be very accurate, as it is their own statement. They are very aggressively telling me: Mr. Gyari, you are making allegations against us, you accuse us of lying! So, I answered, “We are very happy to learn that there are only less than 20% non-Tibetans in Tibet, that is very good news. Of course, we thought that it was not a case, but please prove us wrong. Sometimes people don’t want to be proven to be wrong, but in this case I would be very happy to be wrong.” I say I hope I am wrong!
EK: What about the Greater Tibet?
LGR: First, it is the Chinese formulation. It is true that there have been many changes in the boundary of Tibet. In some case, the Communist government (that came into the power in 1949) inherited some of these. They are not responsible for division of everything. They are definitely responsible for some, but not for everything. It is all legacy of the past, of the history. But China itself became many divided nations (Manchuria, Macao, etc...). Yet, when the new China was established their dream or vision was to unify China. So we also must have the opportunity that all the Tibetan people should be under one single administration. This is not because of any desire to split China, or to declare independence. The reason is we want to have common policy to protect our cultural, linguistic and religious identity. The core of our demands is the protection of our identity.
It is a very genuine desire. It will contribute to the Chinese stability. If they don't do that, it will continue to be an issue not only of irritation, but of the deep wound, deep dissatisfaction of the Tibetan people which will definitely lead to instability.
EK: Is the single administration for the whole Tibetan territory the point you will not give up?
LGR: Our principle position is that the Tibetan people must have the opportunity to fully maintain their distinctive identity. We feel one of the essential factors that can contribute to this is the Tibetans having the opportunity to function under a single administration.
EK: What about two other points: the Chinese wanting His Holiness to recognise Tibet was always part of China and the issue of Taiwan?
LGR: As Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche (the Tibetan PM) said, we do not challenge the concept of one China. However, Taiwan is not our business. Tibet is our business. As far as Tibet is concerned, it is the responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his envoys to satisfy the Chinese leaders that we are committed to remain a part of China. I told my Chinese counterparts whatever assurance is necessary; we will be willing to provide it, in a way that they have no doubt in their mind. But if we talk about the history it can contribute to more harm. The fact is China’s reading of history and our reading of history is different.
EK: Is your view on the history also fundamental and non-negotiable?
LGR: There is no need to negotiate this, this is our point. What they want is Tibet not to break from China in the future. If they want to talk about history, it will bring more confusion. I told them, “Don’t look back, because looking back is not really pleasant. Then very bad memories can come up.” Even as an individual, if I look back, then I become very upset. My father did not commit any crime, but he could not go back to Tibet and died in exile. He had no crime except being a Tibetan, having love for his people and his religion. I couldn’t even cremate him. At least nine members of my close family died under very tragic circumstances. When I look back, all these things come to my mind. So I said: “Please, don’t look back, because it is very painful, for all the Tibetan people. But we have courage to look forward because of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with hope and with commitment to remain part of PRC.” So I hope they will understand.
EK: Phuntsok Wangyal, in his letter to Hu Jintao, criticised some members of the Tibetan leadership for making business on opposing the Dalai Lama. You said there are different positions among the Tibetan seniors. Can you develop this?
LGR: Phuntsok Wangyal is a very pure Marxist; I think he is more Marxist than many members of the Central Committee today. But he also loves Tibet and is very proud to be a Tibetan. He absolutely feels that Tibetan people should be given the right of the genuine autonomy under the single administration. This view is shared by 90% of the Tibetan leaders. No doubt, no hesitation. I said to the Chinese at their face: - Don’t feel upset, maybe I am Buddhist and not communist, yet I know the feeling of the Tibetan communist party members more than you.
Why? Because I am Tibetan and they are Tibetans. I can read their hearts. And they opened the heart to us.
EK: Did you have an opportunity to speak to the Tibetans out of the Chinese presence?
LGR: No, I always talk to them in the presence of the Chinese, because I don’t want to make the Chinese suspicious. There were sometimes 15 to 20 Tibetan leaders and 4 to 5 Chinese officials from Beijing. I report to them on the reasons for my being there. I tell them: “I am here to speak for all of you and not only for the minority of the Tibetans living outside. If the Dalai Lama succeeds, you will become empowered, not me.”
EK: Did you inform them that once it signs the agreement, the Tibetan government in Exile, will dissolve itself and its members will not occupy any key position in Tibet?
LGR: Oh, yes. I told Ragdi and Legchok and other seniors in Lhasa: “I heard, some of you believe, that if the Dalai Lama comes back, we will bring the government from exile and make all of you to lose your job.” They were silent. It is absolutely baseless. We don’t even have a dream like that. In fact the Dalai Lama said it in public and I repeated it to the Party leaders in Beijing that we will dissolve the Dharamsala government when we reach agreement. The only government will be that of Lhasa, and ran by the people like those leaders currently in Tibet. Yes, some of us may want to come back, but whether they will get a job in a new government will be decided on individual basis, depending on qualifications, desires and skills and in the new system that you will decide, should he or she be given opportunity or not.
EK: You have said that 90% of the Tibetan senior leaders want one single Tibetan administration, but how many of them would support His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
LGR: 99% or even more.
EK: Did they directly tell or make it clear to you?
LGR: I tell them all the time, also in front of the Chinese senior officials: - You know, I asked the Central government to stop calling His Holiness the Dalai Lama splittist. Whoever is calling the Dalai Lama a splittist is the splittist himself, because by calling the Dalai Lama splittist the Chinese leaders are splitting the hearts of the Tibetan people, including your own heart!
- I know (I continued) you are communists, maybe you don't believe in the religion, but you are all proud that you have a Tibetan man, whose name is Tenzin Gyatso, the XIV Dalai Lama. When some Chinese government officials are calling him with bad names, you, as Tibetans, you feel very humiliated. Isn’t it so? Yes, I know.
EK: But sometimes also the Tibetans criticize His Holiness.
LGR: Oh yes, and just after such officials have spoken out, their relatives telephone us: Please, ask for His Holiness forgiveness. His Holiness always says when Tibetans from Tibet come to see him: Go back, you can criticize me, denounce me if the Chinese officials ask you to. I give you my permission.
Sometimes some Tibetans from Tibet ask me: Please tell the Dalai Lama that he should not say that he forgives those who criticize him. He should not forgive because the majority of the Tibetans would not agree to denounce him. Some Tibetans are weak; they want to take full advantage, so they criticize the Dalai Lama and thereafter justify themselves saying the Dalai Lama himself told me that I can criticize him.
So, I have passed on to His Holiness this direct message from many Tibetans and I think they are right. Majority of them say that even if he tells us to criticize him, they will never criticize him!
EK: Do you mean that the majority of those Tibetans who were part of the regime, the party members, did it by conviction that this was the way they could help Tibet? Were there only few weak ones, who collaborated for their own advantage?
LGR: There are four different categories. There are the idealists, like Phuntsok Wangyal, who joined the Communist Party by conviction, when it was underground, and because they were not happy with the past Tibetan system. They wanted to change the system and the only political systems within their reach were the Kuomintang, the nationalists of China, and the Communists. And, at that time, definitely Communism was much more pure because the Kuomintang was becoming corrupt. First, they established Tibetan Communist Party. Only thereafter they joined and got absorbed in the Chinese Communist Party.
Then, there is the second category that includes people who were recruited or even sent by the Tibetan government to be educated in Chinese schools. It started in the mid 1950s. They became fascinated with modernity. People like Mao Zedong were giving good examples, and China at that time was still behaving OK. So they became enthusiastic. They also believed in a big nation where everybody is equal. There were not too many of them in this category and quite OK educated.
The third category and the majority of the present people joined during the Cultural Revolution. Rather it was like a big flow, red guards, revolutionary revolts, United Front, all of this. Everyone was expected to join. These people were not well educated, with no skills, only holding Mao’s Red Book. They took over, not only in Tibet, but also in China. So now they are in their late 50s and 60s. They lack deep Tibetan cultural background. They have a guilt complex because they are aware that they took part in destruction of their own culture. So, some of them are worried. They are afraid of change, of not only losing power, but also of being punished, maybe tortured or imprisoned. Because this is the way they got in power, and also the only thing they know. But His Holiness’ point is: It was an unfortunate, national, historical upheaval in which thousands of people got involved from both sides. We just cannot be vindictive, we just forgive. Even then some Tibetans inside Tibet feel strongly about these individuals. They tell me, why do you say there will be no punishment? These people have destroyed our culture.)
EK: Did you inform them the Dalai Lama forgives?
LGR: Oh, yes, they know about it. Then, there is the fourth category, the new generation of the Communist Party, who were too young to do something wrong during the Cultural Revolution (they were 10 or 11 years old). They are quite well educated and have neither the baggage of guilt, nor the victim mentality. They are now in their 30s and coming slowly to the leadership. Unlike the Cultural Revolution’s generation of Tibetans, they have no feeling of being inferiority than the Chinese. So I am quite optimistic about them.
EK: Last discovering of huge mineral resources in Tibet: of iron, copper, zinc, etc, makes Tibet the richest region in China. Won't it have the negative impact on the process of negotiations? Is it not that: more reserves less concessions?
LGR: Tibet is such a unique ecosystem in the world. The Chinese leaders should be wise, and not only to think about Tibet. They must not indiscriminately cause major export from the Tibetan plateau. Even if they do make quick advantage, but in the long run it will be devastating for China too. Yet, my worry is whether the Chinese leaders themselves understand it. Unfortunately in China, there is no political liberalisation, but only the economical one. It will be the economic forces, which maybe they cannot themselves check, and that can become the instrument of exploitation of natural resources.
I hope the members of the Central Committee will say: be careful with Tibet. One: it is politically sensitive, but most importantly destruction of the Tibetan environment can be devastating for China’s future. But there are people in Shanghai or Hong Kong who want to make a big profit in collaboration with some foreign companies. They may corrupt some Chinese government officials to get concession for mining, etc. This is the danger. This is why the political and the economic liberalisations must go together, because with the political liberalisation you have the freedom of press and other political system of control. That is not there. In the absence of this some selfish people collaborating with local or even central politicians can do things that the government itself will not like.
EK: Rinpoche, do you have any sign from your Chinese counterparts that the sixth round of talk is forthcoming?
LGR: On March 10 this year His Holiness said that his envoys are ready to go any time and any where. So I will repeat this here: we are ready to go anytime. I hope we will have next round without too much delay. But as I said we are in a critical stage of negotiation so it is going to be difficult and we must be prepared for lot of patience.
But at the end, I really do believe that mutually beneficial outcome is very much possible.
EK: Thank you Rinpoche
* It related to all territories where the Tibetans are living, Kham and Amdo included and not only TAR