By Renato Palmi,
On the 7th October 1950, independent Tibet was invaded by the armies of the newly founded People’s Republic of China. Since then, the Chinese government has systematically colonised Tibet. While the rest of the world attempts to eradicate the residues of such foreign domination elsewhere, encouraging and assisting other struggles for independence or self-rule, China’s policies with regard to Tibet remain unquestioned. Hence, the PRC proceeds, with blatant disrespect for international law and seemingly with total impunity, to subjugate Tibetans.
World governments and international bodies continually call for negotiated solutions to internal and cross-national conflicts. How ironic that the single contemporary example of such a non-violent movement is the Dalai Lama's "Middle-Way" approach to finding a peaceful and amicable outcome for both Tibet and China - yet this approach is dismissed and ignored.
Why is it that what is most desirable in terms of freedom struggles is not being embraced and used as a "best-practice" model? Even the most mainstream rapportage still refers to Gandhi's "passive resistance", Martin Luther King Jnr's civil rights movement and Archbishop Desmond Tutu's unwavering quest for the abolition of apartheid as exemplars of saintly moral leadership towards justice. Yet, the might of the world's media and diplomatic resources retains focus solely on those who wage blood-soaked war on their opponents. How can this be viewed as ethically acceptable?
Governments, international bodies and civil society need to mobilise to take the Tibetan struggle to the next level. Political rhetoric, placidly conducted research and piecemeal philanthropic support must now translate to compelling action. As the exiled Dalai Lama has said: " … change only takes place through action." The growing global groundswell of social action against injustice must engage with the pleas of the voiceless Tibetan nation. The international Tibet movement must work ardently and cohesively to ensure that the issue of Tibet is foregrounded through news headlines, with the same intensity and strategic focus that the anti-apartheid movement applied less than 20 years ago.
Why should we care about Tibet? Morality aside, a utilitarian stance would make a clear case for a stable Tibet, with the stemming of Chinese military growth inside Tibet serving global interests and Asia in particular. The government of China has distinct aspirations for economic and political domination across Asia, and rulership of Tibet is central to this regional strategic plan.
The bona fides of the Tibetan struggle are unequivocal, despite what the PRC's strenuously marketed propaganda messaging proclaims. Tibet was never a part of China. It was a sovereign nation with its own language, unique religious, economic and political structures. Since the PRC's illegal occupation of Tibet, these features have been deliberately and cruelly eroded to the degree that Tibetans are now a minority in their own country. The UN itself has defined Tibet as an independent state in no fewer than four debates relating to China's occupation of Tibet. In 1960, the International Commission of Jurists determined that "acts of genocide had been committed in an attempt to destroy the Tibetans as a religious group…"
Sadly, our own government, which was founded on the ideal of a rights-based, free society, ignores, in all its multifaceted dealings with China, the issue of Tibet. Our political and media sectors devote effort and resources to other liberation struggles, some even far away from the continent of Africa. We continually hear and read from leading figures in these arenas about the atrocities being perpetrated in other parts of the world, and frequently, comparisons are drawn between historical genocidal events, yet China's hold on Tibet escapes critical analysis.
It would be fitting for South African luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane to give a voice to the Tibetans, both locally and abroad. Were they to speak out, the world would listen. The Tibetan government-in-exile and its leader, the Dalai Lama, regard South Africa's nascent democracy as a benchmark of what can be achieved through earnest negotiations wrought through international pressure on the apartheid regime. South Africa could offer a neutral locale for talks between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese government. There is every likelihood that South Africa would only gain international respect for such an initiative.
Such developments could only be facilitated through the concerted actions of the international Tibet movement. The movement for a free Tibet and the Tibetan government-in-exile must engage on a more dynamic footing with Africa and in particular South Africa. Whenever ordinary South African citizens are apprised of the plight of the Tibetans, the response is unanimous - that our leadership's silence in this regard is inexcusable.
The PRC has a reputation for ongoing strengthening and widening of political and economic ties with African states, especially with those represented at the United Nations, so as to leverage their influence during strategic deliberations facilitated by the UN. It is of interest to note that it was the African vote that ultimately secured China's seat in the United Nations.
The PRC government proceeds with its claim that their "liberation" of Tibet 53 years ago has and is of benefit to all Tibetans, but this can and should be refuted. The Chinese government's stance on Tibet is ambiguous. For example, PRC officials accuse the Dalai Lama of working to "divide the Motherland." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mr. Kong Quan said on 11th September 2003, "…. the Dalai Lama wants to separate Tibet from the rest of China, and he [Dalai Lama] is not purely a religious figure."
Mr. Quan went on to say that the Dalai Lama has " … long been engaged in splittist activities." Yet, as far back as 1988, the Dalai Lama was openly willing to accept the prospect of "genuine self-rule", short of full independence. This offer, which came to be known as the Strasbourg Proposal, accommodated China's claim of geographical sovereignty over Tibet. Despite this concession, PRC officials have continued to portray the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" dissident in order to drown out any hope of peaceful settlement to the issue of Tibet.
At the 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 24th September this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said that "… peace and development remain the overriding themes of the times and the shared aspirations of people of all races, colours and nationalities," and that " … no country has the right to impose its will on others." Because it contends that Tibet has always been part of China, the PRC persists in its view that its presence in Tibet is an internal matter in which no country has the right to interfere. On the basis of this logic, however, no country should intervene in any internal conflicts or disputes occurring around the world. How then can the PRC justify its own support of US President Bush's "war on terrorism" and even South Africa's own liberation struggle?
China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said in the same speech at the UN gathering that, "…. we should forsake all the old baggage of arrogance, estrangement and narrow-mindedness and let harmony, understanding and tolerance sing loudly as the undiminishing themes in this great chamber." To give credence to this statement, China should be compelled to take the step of forsaking its implacable stance on Tibet. If not, there is little hope of saving the Tibetan nation from extinction.
Founder Member of the Tibet Society of South Africa and an Independent Analyst - Tibet.
Renato Palmi can be contacted at email@example.com