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Tethong’s words still ring true, five years later

avatarBy
Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010
3 Comments

“The cause of Tibet, truly much greater and more significant than our individual lives,
will surely outlive us all and be ultimately redeemed.”

Tethong Tenzin Namgyal, 2006

As the Kalon Tripa battle waged on, I decided to look up my digital world for the text of an interview with Kalon Tripa candidate Tethong Tenzin Namgyal-la that was published in 2006. On returning to this piece a second time, and nearly five years after, I’m amazed at the depth of his foresight and of how much his words did and still continue to ring true for the Tibetan issue.

Much has changed in modern Tibetan history since 2006, the most noteworthy of which being the 2008 Lhasa uprising. And one of the causes of this historic act of bravery by the intrepid people of Tibet is highlighted in a view that Tethong-la expressed during the interview — that China’s then (and continuing) Tibet policy “…is strictly about control over the Tibetans and the facilitation of greed and corruption under the guise of economic prosperity.” It’s interesting also to note how Tethong-la chose to link the resolution of the Tibetan issue with China’s relations with the Uighur people, especially when one recalls the Uighur unrest that broke out after the uprisings in Tibet Tethong-la, through most of that interview in early 2006, also brings to attention China’s growing and single-minded focus on building its own economic prosperity — the effects of which are now visible in a world marred with the global economic meltdown, with China among the few to appear unscathed.

The Kalon Tripa candidate’s thoughts on the “talks” between His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s envoys and the Chinese government officials — when taken into context with all that has happened since 2008 and the lack of concrete results these “talks” have yielded — rings doubly true and maybe, even prophetic.

But his answer to the last question on how he believed the next three decades would pan out is, I believe, especially relevant to our Tibetan world today, just as it will be in the years ahead. As Tethong-la himself states, and I cannot quote him enough, in the end, “The cause of Tibet, truly much greater and more significant than our individual lives, will surely outlive us and be ultimately redeemed.”

“It will be a period when we will be between Dalai Lamas, a critical time as oft repeated in our history. It will also be a time of tremendous changes in China, with possibilities of massive social, political and economic upheavals, and challenges on the environmental and health fronts that will have no easy solutions.

Of course, the Tibetan people will continue to exist, both on the Tibetan plateau and in the greater Diaspora. At a time in modern history when the very survival of communities and cultures have been challenged and some have faded away into the pages of history, the immediate future of Tibetan language, culture and identity remain somewhat promising and healthy.

Whether our identity is further enhanced in the form of a free and independent Tibetan nation once more, or whether the Tibetans as a people with a distinct cultural heritage remain of any significance far into the future, cannot be predicted. But, with all the changes that are inevitable, there will surely be many opportunities for us to strive towards our goals and dreams, if we can remain true to them.

When nothing good seems to be happening at any given moment, there is no need to despair or become desperate. If we truly believe in the cause of Tibet then we must strive to do our best, no matter that success may not come in our own lifetime. The cause of Tibet, truly much greater and more significant than our individual lives, will surely outlive us all and be ultimately redeemed.”

Below is the partial text from the 2006 interview:

* * *

Kasur Tenzin Namgyal Tethong needs no introduction. He is one of the most widely known Tibetans not only for his many years of service in the Tibetan government in exile, but also for the variety of roles he has played in so many different fields. He began working for the Tibetan government in exile from 1967 onwards and went on to serving various ministerial portfolios in the Tibetan government. From 1993 to 1995, he took over as the Chairman of the Kashag, the Cabinet of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Till date, he has officially represented His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-exile in many nations across the globe. He also worked all his life with Tibetan exiles as a teacher, journalist and grassroots activist – the proof of this in the fact that he was a founding member of the Sheja Magazine (Tibetan monthly magazine), Tibetan Youth Congress, International Campaign For Tibet, Tibet House and Tibet Fund.

Currently, he serves as Chairperson of the Committee of 100 for Tibet and President of the Dalai Lama Foundation, besides being involved in many Tibet related activities ranging from the Self-Determination initiative within the Tibetan exile community to international projects such as The Missing Peace, The Dalai Lama Portrait Project, etc. He is also a visiting scholar at Stanford University where he teaches courses on Tibet in the History Dept. and the Continuing Studies Program, and is Director of ARC (Asian Religions & Cultures Initiative) /Tibet at Stanford.

In this exclusive interview, Kasur Tenzin Namgyal Tethong gives you his perspective of the different aspects of the 47 years of struggle for Tibetans. He also tells Tibetan World’s Tenzin Pema Chashar, what he thinks of China’s stance towards the Tibetan issue, of the 47 years of life in exile and under Chinese rule for Tibetans, and of what Tibetans could expect in the next three decades.

TW: What are your views on the socio-political changes taking place in Chinese occupied Tibet, in the period following the Cultural Revolution?

TT: After 1959, the Chinese introduced major changes in the Tibetan society and polity, and following the Cultural Revolution the focus has been primarily economic. However, it is clear from careful study of these policies and the impact they are having on the Tibetan people, that these policies are basically ‘colonial’ in nature and their intentions for the Tibetan people are far from sincere.

At least up until the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leaders could boast of ideas of modernisation, progress, democracy, and socialism for the Tibetans. These days it is strictly about control over the Tibetans and the facilitation of greed and corruption under the guise of economic prosperity. And it is important to note that this corrupted and convoluted policy, even if it has some real economic benefit, applies only to a very small segment of the Tibetan people, those in the good books of the Chinese or working for them and a small percentage in the urban areas, who are limited to a handful of Tibetan ‘cities’.

TW: The Chinese government’s stance towards their ‘Tibet problem’ has varied from personal interest, to Mao’s indifference and martial oppression, to Deng’s lenience in ‘87 and back to oppression and human rights violations. How do you view the current Chinese administration’s stance towards the ‘Tibet problem’?

TT: As I alluded to above, during the early years of the People’s Republic many Chinese leaders seemed genuinely infused with a great mission for mankind, not just the Tibetans, and believed that they were creating a new and better world order. Mao and his colleagues were part of that generation, but the one big mistake they made was to assume that they knew what was best for the Tibetans, as a result of which, they never bothered to listen to the Tibetans.

As for Deng Xiapong, he was essentially trying to save a state and society that was on the verge of collapse. His preoccupation was simply to restore order and to take China out of a deep stagnation, which had befallen it, and he succeeded in doing that. His colleague, however, Hu Yaobang, the Party Secretary, was quite keen to correct the mistakes made in Tibet. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to carry out some of the drastic changes and new policies he was trying to implement in Tibet. Yes, ‘if’ only Hu Yaobang had lived longer.

I do not see any indication that the current leaders are concerned with Tibet in a meaningful way and there is little evidence for us to feel optimistic. Clearly, they are fully occupied with their own problems, which are many and of massive scale, too many and too complex to mention here.

Of course, Hu Jintao was once Party Secretary of Tibet before he moved to the top levels of leadership, but he spent most of his tenure in Beijing, not Lhasa. And while he has ‘experience’ with Tibet his first response to any signs of Tibetan discontent, during the period of Tibetan demonstrations in Lhasa, was to immediately impose martial law. His primary concern now may be to simply survive and remain unchallenged, on top, as is the legacy of modern Chinese politics and power.

TW: Five rounds of negotiations between the Chinese representatives and the Tibetan delegation have taken place so far since 2002. Give us a sense of the result of these talks considering how they (the results) are not so apparent to ordinary Tibetans.

TT: It is difficult to have a real sense of what is going on because nothing of substance or much of the details of this delegation diplomacy has been made public. But it is very disconcerting that each time our delegation visits China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry or some government spokesman, always refers to them as overseas Tibetans returning for personal family visits.

And it is often followed by remarks by other Chinese diplomats and spokesmen, including Tibetans in their government, who repeatedly state that real discussions can take place only after the Dalai Lama has abandoned his hidden agenda for Tibetan independence, despite the countless statements to the contrary by His Holiness.

The Chinese are only confirming our worst suspicions – that they are carrying out this ‘delegation diplomacy’ simply to use up time because they know His Holiness is getting older each year and because they can silence the United States and Europe by appearing as though they are ‘talking’ to the Dalai Lama’s representatives. And furthermore, they are succeeding in diluting the hopes and resolve of the Tibetan people and creating dissent and confusion among those who support us.

TW: Many are of the view that the Chinese government is following a wait and watch approach with the present Dalai Lama and the present govt-in-exile. What are the advantages the Chinese government could have in resolving the Tibet issue with the present Dalai Lama rather than wait for a power vacuum projected to occur in his absence?

TT: I think it is reasonable to assume that there are many in the Chinese government who would like to simply let time take care of the Tibetan problem, believing that once His Holiness is no longer with us the issue will gradually fade away. Furthermore, from their deliberate silence on many matters to the occasional release of a prisoner or two before a major visit of a Chinese leader to the west or of a western leader to China, they are tactically succeeding in not drawing attention to Tibet.

Of course, if the Chinese had real courage, confidence and an openness in dealing with the Tibetan issue, they could easily begin negotiations with His Holiness immediately and the rewards would be considerable.

First of all, it would be a tremendous public relations boost for the image of China, especially for the Chinese leadership, one which is self-appointed, and lacks any real public validation. And of course, it would give the People’s Republic the much-needed sense of legitimacy. Since the invasion of Tibet and the subsequent exodus of His Holiness and the Tibetan people, China’s presence in Tibet remains challenged, both morally and legally.

There are also those who believe that a resolution to the Tibetan issue will help China in their difficult relations with the Uighur people, not to mention the millions of Mongolians within the PRC and the Mongolians in Mongolia and in the Russian republics. Indirectly, many also believe that any success with the Tibetan people will provide further confidence and success in their dealing with Taiwan.

TW: Finally, tell us how do you personally feel, the next three decades will be in Tibet ‘s exile history, taking into account the likelihood that this might be the period after the Dalai Lama.

TT: No doubt, the next three decades will be of great importance. It will be a period when we will be between Dalai Lamas, a critical time as oft repeated in our history. It will also be a time of tremendous changes in China, with possibilities of massive social, political and economic upheavals, and challenges on the environmental and health fronts that will have no easy solutions.

Of course, the Tibetan people will continue to exist, both on the Tibetan plateau and in the greater Diaspora. At a time in modern history when the very survival of communities and cultures have been challenged and some have faded away into the pages of history, the immediate future of Tibetan language, culture and identity remain somewhat promising and healthy.

Whether our identity is further enhanced in the form of a free and independent Tibetan nation once more, or whether the Tibetans as a people with a distinct cultural heritage remain of any significance far into the future, cannot be predicted. But, with all the changes that are inevitable, there will surely be many opportunities for us to strive towards our goals and dreams, if we can remain true to them.

When nothing good seems to be happening at any given moment, there is no need to despair or become desperate. If we truly believe in the cause of Tibet then we must strive to do our best, no matter that success may not come in our own lifetime. The cause of Tibet, truly much greater and more significant than our individual lives, will surely outlive us all and be ultimately redeemed.

* * *
Originally published on tenzinpema’s posterous.

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3 Comments »

  • avatar Tenpa Gashi says:

    At least as far as dealing with China, I am glad he is not fooled. Whether he will implement or review the middleway policy remains to be seen if he is elected PM. After talking with him, his call for review of Middleway is born of genuine concern with the progress so far. But first, we have to get him there.

  • avatar Mila Rangzen says:

    if he pushes for mw review n independence strong enough he may not survive long as silon but his not surviving in itself could possibly trigger never seen before radicalism in isolated expressions. the beauty in this is it could over time relocate GODS in political plane to a purely spiritual one. the frustration and adjustment issue that ensues will in the long run produce independent thinking tibs that tibet lacks down the centuries.

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