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Remember Tibet?

Samdhong Rinpoche, the Tibetan prime minister, discusses freedom, resistance, and China. Interview by Matt Schwartz.

The efforts of Tibet's government-in-exile-led by Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche and Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama-will be remembered as a persistent thorn in the side of Communist China. When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, after eight years of harsh Chinese occupation and a failed uprising, there wasn't much to distinguish his people from the countless other ethnic groups whose national aspirations have been steamrolled into oblivion. But today, the Free Tibet movement is a visible cause célèbre-and has been for a decade. Having won a Nobel Peace Prize and a Congressional Gold Medal-the highest civilian honor in the United States-the Dalai Lama is one of the West's most beloved (and bestselling) spiritual advisers.This is little comfort to the 6 million Tibetan Buddhists still living under the repressive regime of the People's Republic of China. Since taking control of Tibet in 1951, the PRC has killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetan Buddhists (in a conservative estimate), destroyed thousands of temples and monasteries, and continued to punish open support of the Dalai Lama with imprisonment and torture. Each year, thousands more Tibetans join their fellow exiles in Dharamsala, a town in the hills of northern India where the Tibetan government-in-exile provides education, social services, and a home for its more than 20,000 refugees.After decades of working alongside the Dalai Lama, Rinpoche, a 69-year-old scholar and monk, was elected prime minister of the Kashag (the Tibetan parliament) in 2001. He has helped parlay the international community's sympathy into active negotiations with China for a partially autonomous Tibet. Faced with the possibility that the PRC is only humoring Tibetan demands while waiting for the Dalai Lama to die, Rinpoche has also laid the groundwork for a permanent government in exile, where future Dalai Lamas would be ceremonial monarchs and political power would reside with elected officials. In our conversation a few months before the Beijing Olympics, Rinpoche discussed how he keeps the idea of Tibetan independence alive in a China-friendly world: compromise, nonviolence, and above all, patience.GOOD: How would you describe the current relationship between Tibet and China?SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: It's neither a good relationship nor a bad relationship. Since 2002 there have been six rounds of dialog between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his PRC counterparts. But there has not been much breakthrough on the substantial issues. On the contrary, repressive measures inside Tibet have very much increased since 2006. There is great angst, great tension inside Tibet. The PRC has been cutting down on the freedom of speech and the freedom of movement. All religions must be in complement with the Communist Party line. The campaign against His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] has increased as well. They say that he is trying to break the motherland, that he's a separatist and split-ist. People are not happy inside of Tibet.What is the status of the talks between you and the PRC?The seventh was supposed to happen in December and January, but it hasn't happened yet. We await their call.What do you and the PRC disagree on?First is the perception of history. The PRC asks us to accept that Tibet has historically been a part of China, since before 1951. That is not true. History is history; what happened, happened. The other major disagreement is autonomy for all the 6 million Tibetans. The so-called Tibet autonomous region contains less than one-third of the Tibetan population, and it divides them into 11 districts. We ask for unification of the entire Tibetan people within one autonomous agency. That is not agreeable [for the PRC]. If these two disagreements could be resolved, the others could reach a compromise.Do you feel frustrated?No. This is a national issue. For an individual's life, 50 years is a long time. But for a life of nation, 50 years is not. So we are not frustrated. We continue to make our effort.Have you considered the possibility that you may not live to see an autonomous Tibet?It is not important. If it is not achieved in our life, the next generation will carry on the struggle. Maybe for a hundred years, two hundred years, whatever it may take. The people will achieve autonomy sooner or later, because China is changing very rapidly and China cannot remain as it is today.\n\n\n
"China is not modern. Modernization means democratization. It means respect for human rights and an open society with individual rights. None of these are available in China.
Is the modernization of China helping your cause?China is not modern. Modernization means democratization. It means respect for human rights and an open society with individual rights. None of these are available in China. They have only the market, the consumeristic economic system. Apart from that, it is all in the Middle Ages.What about those economic changes-how will they help the Tibetans?Uneven economic growth means many people become very rich and lots of people become poor. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has increased very rapidly. With economic growth like this, democratization will follow naturally. Slowly they have to open up. As the people become more exposed to the free world, the democracy movement inside China will grow.What is the significance of the Beijing Olympics for China and Tibet?We wish that these games be successfully conducted. At the same time, we wish that a large number of free countries will participate in these games, and that that will have some kind of positive effect on the Chinese government for more transparency and more individual freedom. If these games could bring these changes, then I think they are a boon. Apart from that, there are many pro-Tibet groups and individuals who think this is an opportunity to pressure China. We do not agree with that. We are looking more to the post-Olympic era.But might there be ways to make your cause visible during the Olympics?The Olympic Games are a playful occasion. To disturb them is not a good gesture. All the international parties are willingly gathered there. If they have any resentment about the Chinese human-rights situation, or China having no rule of law, then these free countries should not participate. It is their choice. I was very much surprised to hear recently that the Olympic committees of some European nations have instructed their players not to wear any slogans on their shirts during the games.Some of the athletes wore shirts that said "Free Tibet."Yes. I understand they were told that "Free Tibet" should not be there. That is okay. But to prohibit any kind of slogan, any kind of quotation? I don't know why the Western nations are so eager to appease China. It is very strange.What do you think their reasoning is?The multinational companies find it easier to do business in China than in any free country. If you look at the workers of India and China, there is not much difference. But people are not willing to invest in India because it has rule of law, it has free trade, it has a free judiciary; there are a lot of labor unions. In China there is no rule of law, no free trade, no judiciary. If these companies bribe one party member and one military commander, they can work their laborers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is why all the production in China is so cheap compared to every other country. It is the exploitation of labor and natural raw materials. So capital investors are very happy with the China situation, and they try to protect it.The Dalai Lama has suggested that if he is reincarnated at all, he will not be born inside China.Yes. His Holiness very much hopes that during his lifetime the Tibet issue may be resolved. Then he would be able to go back to Tibet as a religious leader and his next reincarnation could be chosen in accordance with traditional religious practices. But in case he should die in exile … the Dalai Lama has made clear that if he dies outside of Tibet then he will not be reborn in an occupied area. He will be reborn in a free country, outside of Tibet. It is the responsibility of the Tibetans in exile to find the next reincarnation. China will interfere with this but we are not afraid. We will make a foolproof plan to find the next Dalai Lama. We are, at this moment, seriously deliberating on this issue.As you negotiate with the PRC, do the pragmatic necessities of diplomacy ever come into conflict with your religious views?No, because we do not adopt any so-called strategy. We are having dialogue with the PRC without any diplomacy. We say what we think in very straightforward language. There's no compromise.Looking back on Tibet's history, it seems younger generations might believe that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. How do you convince them not to use force?There is a kind of seed of nonviolence in the blood of the Tibetan people. In our education system, nonviolence is interwoven with all other subjects. Therefore we think the younger generation will not resort to violence in the foreseeable future. In the 21st century there is no place for violence. Only nonviolence is the solution to any problem, even if you look at it pragmatically, without any spirituality. If violence is chosen as the method, then no problem is ever solved, because there is no end. We need dialogue, or the entire world will be destroyed.

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