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.|