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Dalai Lama preparing “conciliatory” declaration on Tibet

Sunday, Nov 1, 1998
No Comment

Originally published on World Tibet Network News.

Dear Editor:

A recent article from the South China Morning Post, entitled Dalai Lama preparing ‘conciliatory’ declaration on Tibet (Oct. 28, 1998), causes me some great concern. According to this article, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, plans to make a statement in the next few weeks addressing Jiang Zemin’s recent demands that before negotiations on Tibet can begin, His Holiness must publicly state that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and Taiwan is a province of China. A quote from His Holiness’ private secretary states that this statement would be “constructive and conciliatory.”

I do not know what His Holiness intends to say in his upcoming statement, but the description of that statement as “conciliatory” is what disturbs me. It is my sincere hope and desire that He not concede to China’s demands that Tibet be recognized as an inalienable part of China. Such a concession would be a serious setback in the Tibetan struggle for freedom and may actually extinguish all hopes for an independent Tibet, now or in the future. As for Taiwan, His Holiness is not in a position to comment on Taiwan’s political status because He is not Taiwanese, does not represent the Taiwanese, and cannot speak for them. This condition is an obvious attempt by China to develop a rift between His Holiness and Taiwan, and is totally irrelevant to the discussion of Tibet’s future.

According to a recent legal paper by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, Tibet was an independent country at the time of the Chinese invasion in 1950 with a government headed by the Dalai Lama, and the State of Tibet continues, despite the illegal occupation, through the existence and activities of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (“TGIE”). Tibet’s independence prior to 1950 is a historical fact, which cannot be changed by Communist propaganda. It is also a large part of the basis for the argument that Tibetans are entitled to self-determination. Though history cannot be altered, a concession by His Holiness that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, could be used by China as an argument that even His Holiness recognizes China’s claim of historical sovereignty over Tibet. Such a concession could strengthen China’s position on Tibet, especially when dealing with governmental leaders who are ignorant of Tibet’s history.

More importantly, by stating that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, His Holiness and the TGIE could be relinquishing all claims to asserting independence for Tibet, either presently or in the future. Future generations of Tibetans would be hard-pressed to seek independence if the TGIE officially recognizes Tibet as an inalienable part of China. It should not be for us to foreclose self-determination for future generations of Tibetans.

The word “inalienable” means an integral part of, or unable to be separated from, in this case, China. By being an inalienable part of China, even an autonomous Tibet would have no guarantee that it will always remain autonomous. If China were to grant Tibet “genuine autonomy,” China could cancel such an agreement for autonomy at any time, because Tibet’s status as an autonomous region would be a privilege, and not a legal right. A privilege can be taken away by the government for any reason and at any time, while a legal right cannot be deprived without proper due process of law. At least as an autonomous region that was historically independent, Tibet would have the right to secede, should that be the will of the Tibetan people, but an inalienable part of China would have no right of secession. Tibet, in effect, would legally and practically be no different from any other inalienable province of China. Any concession that Tibet is an inalienable part of China would be serious blow to the five-decade Tibetan struggle for freedom and morally debilitating to many Tibet supporters throughout the world.

His Holiness has stated that it is the overwhelming desire of the Tibetan people to regain their national independence. I believe this to be an accurate statement. If the Tibetan people are to have any hope of making this desire a reality someday, then a statement that Tibet is an inalienable part of China must not be made.


Wangchuk D. Shakabpa II
Arlington, VA

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