By Bi Yantao
Prof. S. Rinpoche is the Kalon Tripa (Chairman of the Cabinet)of Tibetan Government-in-exile and Prof. Bi Yantao is the Director of Center for Communication Studies, Hainan University, P.R. China.
Prof. Bi Yantao: Greetings! I am very happy for having this opportunity to ask on issues which are closely followed by the people inside China.
When looking at the Tibet issue, I pay special attention to the term "Greater Tibet". I have repeatedly read the text of your statement on 'Greater Tibet' (including the English version). You said, "Tibet is Tibet. There is no greater or smaller Tibet". However, the fact of the matter is, during the dialogue process between the Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Beijing, the issue of one autonomous administration for all the Tibetan people has been raised. Obviously, it seeks to unify Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai Provinces into the present day Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Given the size of administration, it is indeed a 'Greater Tibet'. Therefore, on account of that, the 'Greater Tibet' which Beijing asserts is not wrong because the reference was made from the present status of Tibet. You have, on one hand opposed the usage of word 'Greater' as in 'Greater Tibet', while on the other hand, maintained that 'size should not matter whether big or small'. Are not these two statements contradictory?
Kalon Tripa Prof. S. Rinpoche: Before answering your questions, we would like to stress two important points which are the root cause of difference in perceptions between Dharamsala and Beijing. The first is lack of trust and confidence in the mindset of Beijing's leadership as illustrated by the popular Tibetan saying, "Tibetans are ruined by hope, and Chinese are ruined by suspicion." Beijing views everything with suspicion and always fear that to consider anything which is proposed by Dharamsala will bring consequences of disaster or loss of face. Therefore, they always project every petty issue as a potential threat of separation.
With such mindset, Dharamsala could not convince Beijing, no matter how sincerely the Tibetan side puts its faith in the People's Republic of China's (PRC) leadership, or, no matter how rational and reasonable the request is.
The second is lack of political will in the PRC's leadership to find a solution to the Tibet problem. The leadership always suffers from immeasurable fear that if they do anything with Tibet issue, it might bring more problems or may lead to the loss of Tibet. It is for this reason that we are not able to communicate with each other from a right perspective and in a positive manner.
National integrity cannot be maintained without mutual trust. We are afraid that if the present PRC leadership's approach to minorities in general and Tibetans in particular remain unchanged, it might lead to separation or annihilation of the minority nationalities. Either of these ends will not be in the interest of anyone. If both sides are able to view each other with trust and self-confidence, this problem can be resolved quickly and amicably. Both sides will be in a win-win situation.
Another, small but important point is the nature of language. In Chinese and Tibetan languages, there is no difference in expression of "Great" and "Greater". In the English language there are two different words. Thus "Great Tibet" may be understood as honorific word but when we use the word "Greater Tibet" it may create more confusion. This expression might encompass the national boundaries and may include the cultural and language domain. Therefore, in this reference we better use "Great Tibet" in English instead of "Greater Tibet".
Now coming to your question, what I mean by saying - Tibet is Tibet - is that there is no smaller or bigger Tibet in the context of the constitutional provisions of national regional autonomy for the minority. The Tibetans are one minority nationality among the 55 minority nationalities of the PRC. One minority nationality must not be divided into "small, great or greater". Of course, if all these autonomous areas are administered by one administration, then the area of administration of the autonomous region will definitely be enlarged compared to the present areas which are administered by several autonomous administrations. But it does not mean that the Tibet or Tibetans are becoming bigger or greater. So therefore, there is no contradiction in my statement.
Our basic concern is how the PRC presents this issue to the world. As a matter of fact, Tibetans are asking for one administration for all the Tibetan autonomous areas. But the tone of language in saying that Tibetans are demanding the "Great Tibet or Greater Tibet" sounds as if we are seeking separation or re-demarcation of Tibetan areas. This sentence appears to us as being formulated intentionally to mislead people.
Prof. Bi: The Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has raised the need of 'One administration' for the whole of Tibetan areas. However, others find this very intricate and complicating. Perhaps, the Dalai Lama's side did not feel it necessary to condense the expression "One administration" by some other word which is more comprehensible and rich. Beijing's assertion of 'Greater Tibet' is similar to giving a name to the concept of 'One administration'. This is true according to economics of language. If in case the Tibetan government in exile (TGiE) has used a definite term from the very beginning, then there is no reason for the PRC to pronounce it differently. Therefore, does the TGiE feel the need and importance to have a specific term? How does it plan to respond to this in future?
Kalon Tripa: The constitution provides that "Regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of minority nationalities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established to exercise the power of autonomy". In accordance with this provision Tibetans live in a concentrated community in a particular geographical area which is not scattered over different parts of the PRC, nor are these areas separated or divided by non-Tibetan areas.
Therefore, one organ of self-government is sufficient for all the Tibetans and that is the essence of the constitution too. We do not find any other word more suitable than "one administration or self-government" to define our aspiration. We also don't believe that if we substitute this word by any other expression it will be acceptable to the PRC authority. If anyone can suggest more appropriate expression, we would welcome.
The basic objective for seeking one administration is not for political or economic interests. It is only for preservation and promotion of the unique Tibetan language, culture, spiritual heritage and traditions. One administration can easily execute uniform policy of education and culture, etc.
Prof. Bi: You have said, "Moreover, we are not seeking additional areas to be included in the Tibetan autonomous areas. It is only to make alterations in the administration. Instead of having several autonomous administrations, one autonomous administration should be established. It neither affects China's borders with other countries nor its domestic boundaries between autonomous areas and non-autonomous areas, nor..." In my view, this explanation, has created more confusion. Whether TGiE's request to unify all Tibetan areas under one administration implies redrawing of the boundaries of the provinces and autonomous region? If not, then how do you propose to implement one administration to all Tibetan areas?
Kalon Tripa: At present, autonomous areas in various provinces are already having well defined boundaries. There is no need to change these boundaries. What is going to be changed is the administration. Those with several self-governments will be substituted by one self-government and that self-government will be directly controlled by the central government instead of by several provincial governments.
One may argue that the administrative areas of those provinces will become smaller if autonomous areas within their province are governed by one self-government. Yes, this may be true but if the provisions of national regional autonomy are implemented in all sincerity then the provinces do not have much role to play in the autonomous areas. Therefore, the incorporation of autonomous areas outside the provinces or remaining within the provinces will not make much difference to the concerned provinces.
Prof. Bi: It is true that there is precedence of boundary re-adjustments in the PRC. If the 'Greater Tibet', which the Dalai Lama's side seeks, is to be constituted, it is going to be the biggest re-drawing of the boundaries between provinces and autonomous regions since the inception of the PRC. This will, therefore, certainly mean redistribution of benefits, and it invariably relates to the issue which does not go well with the sentiment of the people. However, everyone knows that to maintain status quo is less expensive than to change it. Therefore, if the boundaries of the provinces and autonomous region are to be re-adjusted, there must be strong and compelling reasons to do so. I personally think that the central government would not take the political risks of such magnitude and the TGiE alone is not powerful enough to advance the re-drawing of the boundaries. How does the Dalai Lama's side think and speculate on this matter?
Kalon Tripa: As mentioned in response to question no 3, we do not perceive that the change of administration does not necessitate the redrawing of boundaries. As a matter of fact, boundaries between provinces or autonomous regions may not have much importance as all of them will remain as an integral part of the country.
Nevertheless, changing boundaries between autonomous areas to non-autonomous areas may have some importance for the provinces and autonomous regions but we have never asked for inclusion of any non-autonomous areas into the Tibetan autonomous region.
Our recommendation is to integrate into one administration those Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties which are already defined and recognised as autonomous areas.
Prof. Bi: You mentioned Beijing's approach of "dividing concentrated areas of minority nationals" is unconstitutional. However, the constitution explicitly states that "Regional autonomy is practised in areas where people of minority nationalities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established to exercise the power of autonomy”. It does not specifically mention about establishing one autonomous organ for each minority nationality. Article 2 of the National Regional Autonomy Law further adopts that national autonomous areas shall be classified into autonomous regions, prefectures and counties. Therefore, the present approach of the central government is in accordance with both the constitution and autonomy law. I think your understanding of the constitution and autonomy law is different from anyone else. How do you intend to settle this difference?
Kalon Tripa: The basic concept of national regional autonomy aims to preserve and promote the unique identities of the minority nationalities. To achieve this objective there is need to maintain administrative unity within same nationality, unless this unity is impossible due to geographical conditions. Apart from that, article 4 of the constitution says, "Any act which undermines the unity of the nationality or instigates division is prohibited".
It is stated in the autonomy law that national autonomous areas shall be classified into autonomous regions, prefectures and counties. But it should be determined by the size and population of a particular minority nationality, in accordance with their areas of habitation, in establishing an autonomous region just as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. There is no reason or need to deliberately divide a particular nationality by establishing many autonomous prefectures and counties.
Dividing the Tibetan nationality despite the fact that they have lived together for centuries in one contiguous area is considered as a violation of the spirit of the constitution. This is the imperialist policy of "divide and rule". If a minority nationality cannot integrate within itself, then it will become more difficult to integrate with the PRC. Emotional integrity is the sustainable cause for national integration.
Prof. Bi: If one autonomous administration is being implemented for Tibet, it implies that other minority nationalities can also claim the same. This means total upheaval of China's minority nationality policy and a major shift in central government's approach towards regional governments. At present, Han nationals whether residing in provinces, autonomous regions or municipalities directly under the central government, are all governed directly by their respective governments like the Tibetans. Both Han and Tibetan nationals are equal in this regard. If Tibetans were administered separately under one administration and the Hans under several administrations, as usual, doesn't it mean inequality among nationalities? How do you look at this issue?
Kalon Tripa: Perfect equality among nationalities is the fundamental principle of Marxism and I hope even today this principle is being respected by the PRC. In order to maintain this equality and prevent the majority's domination or chauvinism, the concept of national regional autonomy is envisaged. Therefore, the opportunity of self-rule for all the minorities is necessary.
The question regarding one administration or several administrations should be determined in accordance with their areas of habitation. Minority nationalities like Mongolians and Tibetans, who inhabit one contiguous region, can be governed by one administration and those minorities who do not inhabit one region may be governed by several administrations. These arrangements will not be in any way contrary to the principle of equality. On the other hand, it will grant equality to all the nationalities, regardless of their size or population.
Prof. Bi: The "Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People", submitted to Beijing by the Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, raises the issue of public security in the Tibetan areas. In your presentation on 'Greater Tibet' in New Delhi, you have mentioned that establishment of one administration for all the Tibetan areas will help to contain local nationalism and ensure unity and stability of the PRC. In my opinion, there are several perspectives or standpoints on this. It is possible that the central government may thoroughly evaluate the effect of establishing an administration of the 'Greater Tibet'. Under such circumstances, crucial point will be how far the central government is going to trust the administration of the 'Greater Tibet'. In my opinion, it is very hard to believe, at present, that the central government will agree that one administration will contain local nationalism and enhance unity and stability in China. How do you think to break this entrenched ice?
Kalon Tripa: This question is difficult to answer because it does not relate to facts and principles. But it is related with the mindset and attitude of the present leadership.
Logically speaking, if they wish to achieve stability through emotional integrity and mutual trust, one administration will definitely enhance the possibility of unity. Even if they believe in using force in order to maintain unity and stability, it will be much easier to use force if there is one centralised administration.
Nevertheless, we do not have any handy methods to break the ice. However, whether we are able to break the ice or not, we shall have to put forward our aspirations and ideas clearly and sincerely without any ambiguity. There is no any other way.
Prof. Bi: I think 'Greater Tibet' is the biggest obstacle for people inside China to understand the issue of Tibet. Apart from that, other concerns of the TGiE such as religious freedom, economic development, promotion of education, protection of the Tibetan culture, etc. are understandable and I believe people inside China will also extend their support. However, it appears that the 'unification of all Tibetan areas' is the biggest difference between Beijing and the TGiE at present. If the dialogue process does not move forward, will the TGiE change its position on 'One administration for all Tibetan areas' in the future? Will the Dalai Lama's side change its strategy of the dialogue process?
Kalon Tripa: This question cannot be entertained at this moment because there are no alternative suggestions that are forthcoming.
From our side, we consider the request for one administration for all the Tibetan nationality as reasonable and constitutional, apart from being the legitimate right of the Tibetan people. There will be no problem in implementing it if there is political will in the PRC leadership. As we have mentioned before the objective of our request is for the preservation of Tibetan language, culture and spiritual heritage.
If there is more logical and convincing alternative suggestions comingforth, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is always very open to any idea which is based on truth and reason.
(The Chinese translation of this interview has been published in Beijing Spring, February Edition 2010）