By Phuntsog Wangyal
Let me begin with a note from our traditional cultural background in which I was brought up in the early 1950s. We were all taught to respect and obey our lamas, leaders, teachers, and our parents. We don’t argue with them, let alone disagree with their opinions. Thus, we don’t talk with them on an equal footing. The context of communication changes in such a situation. Direct or straight communication with them is less likely. We become more implicit or indirect in our communication. This is clear, even today from the fact that ordinary Tibetans find it difficult to openly disagree with decisions made from above even when such decisions are presented as an opinion and not as a rule.
Soon after we were exiled in India, the Tibetan administration (then The Tibetan Government-in Exile) andthe people both had independence as their aspiration, and openly declared this. The change from wanting independence to accepting autonomy in the 1980s was “the greatest setback in Tibet’s history” as I wrote at that time. The Tibetan administration had then become just “a Tibetan Organisation”, not The Tibetan government any more in the eyes of the world. Our people and their supporters began to lose their focus and the Chinese government took this as weakness on the part of the Tibetans for their advantage. This was their “magic power” as they call the works of the United Fronts Work Department that won the Chinese Communist Party a victory from the Nationalist Kuomingtang Party in 1949 and kept the Chinese people under strict brutal control ever since.
With the same magic power, the Communist Party cultivated their support internationally by winning over people like former US president Jimmy Carter to support their ultimate objective. In the case of Tibet, this meantbringing Tibet back into the family of the Great Motherland. Our hopes of president Carter having influence over the Chinese leaders in our favour came to nothing.
With great enthusiasm ordinary Tibetans continue to demonstrate with slogans like “Free Tibet”. But their demands seemed to gradually become simply a human rights issue rather than seeking Tibet’s freedom from China, without which Tibetans will never be able to live in peace with their own culture.
I fully and totally agree with John Billington’s statement that Tibetans have never in history or for that matter in the last seventy years been treated equal to the Chinese. Recent history has proved that trusting the Chinese government or hoping they would change did not bring any tangible result for Tibet. They have certainly won or are winning their game of creating disunity amongst the Tibetan communities and destroying or minimising the Tibetan people’s will to assert their right to determine their own future.
The challenge we face is enormous, but giving up our dream is not the option. I clearly remember His Holiness telling our people in Tibet in the 60s never to give up but “to keep up their spirit and resolve to regain their independence”. During the Tibetan Fact Finding Delegation (which included myself as a member) to Tibet in 1980 and during all my numerous visits to Tibet and China from 1980 to 2019, I was fully convinced that Tibetans did take His Holiness’s advice to their hearts and continue to demand freedom from China, independence from China to determine their future. The Tibetans in Tibet don’t trust the Communist Party and any of us living in the free world believing they will change are being misled by the Magic Powers of the Chinese Communist Party.
A large majority of countries in the free world today have begun to realize that the current Chinese regime is a great threat to the free world, oppressive and brutal to their own people and disgraceful and humiliating to the compassionate Dalai Lama and innocent Tibetan people. In this changed geopolitical situation and His Holiness having handed over political power to the elected representatives of the people, the Tibetan leadership’s joining other people in condemning communism and defending democracy is not enough. The Tibetan leadership has to move forward with a long term strategy and clearly tell the world that we want freedom from China and once again to revive the appeal His Holiness the Dalai Lama made in the 60s “to help to restore the independence of Tibet”. The Tibetan leadership and people must speak with one voice and demand freedom from China. The time is right and Tibetans must take the first step, make others understand what we want and need, and then together we can all move forward.
To my fellow Tibetans, I repeat what John has quoted, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. “For evil to prosper it is only necessary that good men do nothing”
(Views expressed are his own)
The author is a former representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London, a former member of the Tibetan Parliament in Dharamshala and a former chairman of the Tibet Foundation, UK.