Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the honourable Justice Verma, Dr. Agnihotri, Mr. Sonam Dagpo, Dr. Trikha, the distinguished members of the International Support Groups for Tibet, Friends, Ladies and Gentleman, may I say at the outset that I speak on my own behalf as a friend of Tibet and the Tibetan cause and not on behalf of any organization. I should also clarify that I was not at any point of time Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs. I did serve with the Ministry for 39 years. It is a great honour and privilege to be invited to speak before this august audience, representing the worldwide supporters of the noble and just Tibetan cause.
We live in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Whatever happens in any part of the world impacts upon and is of interest to people in other parts of world. Therefore people around the world are perfectly entitled to express their opinions and feelings about developments anywhere. Beyond being interested in Tibet’s extraordinarily rich cultural and religious heritage, they can be legitimately concerned about the valiant struggle of Tibet’s people to be treated with the dignity that they richly deserve. This opinion must not be brushed aside as uncalled for interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and all such attempts by China deserve to be resisted and rejected.
Your programme says that I will speak for 20 minutes. I am afraid I am going to keep you here somewhat longer. Buddhism is an extremely important segment of the religious and cultural patrimony of mankind, the role of the people of Tibet in the preservation, dissemination and enrichment of Buddhism through its distinctive and splendorous iconography has been extremely important. Tibet’s religious and cultural tradition has become an integral and valuable part of the heritage of mankind and the preservation of this heritage is the responsibility of the world at large. Beyond the aspects of religion and culture, very important though they are, is the enormously significant fact that Tibet is the source of most of the great Asian rivers, which constitute the life lines of the peoples of Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, apart from China, who together constitute almost half of the population of the world. This region is going to be the centre of global strategic activity as we move further into the 21st century.
For all these reasons what happens in Tibet and what is its future is of enormous legitimate interest and relevance to the entire world. In this context and at a gathering such as this, I believe it is in order to briefly recall basic facts about Tibet’s history, which frame the tragic predicament of the people of Tibet. China’s claim over Tibet is questionable historically and dubious legally. In his Strasbourg speech in 1988, the Dalai Lama had summarized tomes of scholarly research of eminent historians and presented the factual position remarkably succinctly and accurately. He had said and I quote “Our history dating back more than 2000 years has been one of independence. At no times since the founding of our nation in 127 B.C. have we Tibetans conceded our sovereignty to a foreign power. As with all nations Tibet experienced periods in which our neighbors Mongols, Manchus, Chinese, British and the Gorkhas of Nepal sought to establish influence over us. These eras have been brief and the Tibetan people have never accepted them as constituting a loss of national sovereignty. In fact there have been occasions when Tibetan rulers conquered vast areas of China and other neighboring states. This, however, does not mean that we Tibetans can lay claim to these territories”.
The fact is that Tibet reclaimed its independence as did Mongolia when the Chinese empire was overthrown and the Republic of China was established in 1911 and Tibet, thereafter, defeated several armed Chinese incursions during the next decades. Since China’s claims on Tibet are based on total falsehood and creative historiography even the well-indoctrinated Chinese cannot help but slip up every now and then. I will give an example in the course of his extremely nationalistic and patently arrogant presentation of China’s policy and viewpoints to Indian scholars in July 2007 Prof. Wang Gewei, Associate Professor of Fudan University, said and I quote, “This is Tibet,” he said, pointing to it in a map of China on the wall. “They always lived under a different system because there was a mountain barrier and the Chinese military could not go across those mountains. There was no need to enter this territory because China had enough land to feed the people in its own area, which was very rich. Today’s Mongolia was a part of the Tang Dynasty China but Tibet was still independent and was not a part of China. China was defeated by the Mongolians, the Mongolians were very good fighters and the Mongolian invasion in the 13th century enabled China’s territory to expand to Tibet”.
This is a Chinese representative talking about Tibet yet China demands that the Dalai Lama categorically state that Tibet was always a part of China. How can a monk who is vowed to telling the truth and only the truth accede to such a demand? Indeed, well-documented facts indicate clearly that even at the height of China’s influence in Tibet during the very limited periods of the Yuan and Ching dynasty, China never put in place any administrative apparatus to rule outer Tibet in particular and no comprehensive military presence to control it.
Essentially the Sino-Tibetan relationship was primarily and mainly a patron-priest relationship without any sovereignty related connotations. The concept of sovereignty was always alien to China. Had the world responded to Tibet’s desperate appeals following China’s invasion in October 1950 just when China was also becoming embroiled in the Korean war, within a few days, it is arguable that both Tibet and North Korea could have been saved, as there were simply no way that a country recovering from the ravages of a devastating civil war and the depredation of an exploitative and harsh Japanese occupation. A country ruled by a new regime yet to impose its authority and control over all of China could not have fought against the whole world on two fronts thousands of miles apart. To the eternal shame of the then leaders of the important countries, unfortunately this was not to be. An ancient nation was extinguished and Tibet was unceremoniously incorporated into China through the infamous 17- Point Agreement of May 23, 1951, which was forced upon a captive Tibetan delegation when even their seals were being forged by the Chinese. Since then China has failed to observe the terms of this imposed agreement, for that matter the provisions of its own constitution in so far these relate to the ethnic minorities, and the promised Tibetan autonomy remained an utterly empty phrase.
Since Tibet’s incorporation into China, more than a million and a half Tibetans have died and thousands of monasteries destroyed. In the Dalai Lama’s words, “Tibet has endured the darkest period in its history”. Even as we speak Han migration in ever increasing number is underway and Tibetans are likely to become a minority in their own homeland as the Manchurians, the erstwhile rulers of China, have become already in theirs. Chinese repression continues unabated and Chinese control over every aspect of people’s life relentlessly increases.
Despite this historical and contemporary realities for more than a century, India, the foreign country most concerned with Tibet, has recognized and repeatedly reiterated formally that Tibet is a part of China and the China exercises sovereignty over it. This position has been adopted by the entire global community of nations. Not one single country supports the concept of an independent Tibet. Even though no country represents even the remotest threat to China’s control of Tibet, yet China has deployed massive conventional and strategic military assets in Tibet and created, in very difficult terrain, an enormous strategically-oriented state-of-the art logistic and transport infrastructure. In fact, Chinese activities and policies in Tibet are having profoundly adverse environmental effects. No country came to Tibet’s aid when China was very weak. Clearly today no country will risk its relationship with the most strongly growing economic and military power in the world, which, within the next few decades, will became a peer power of the United States.
Therefore the question arises why this phenomenal Chinese military built up in Tibet.
The wisdom and engaging personality of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the continuing commitment of the Tibetan Diaspora around the world to their homeland and their traditional value systems have ensured the rest of the world has become deeply interested in the realities of the life inside Tibet in their way of life and religious beliefs and practices even as they have become aware of the growing helplessness of the Tibetan people. His Holiness’ personal relations with the heads of the states in government and globally eminent personalities from different walks of life, his travels around the world, his interaction with the international media and with common people through lectures etc. have kept the Tibetan issue alive in the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. It is my humble view that all Tibetans and all supporters of the Tibetan cause must realize the significance of this fundamental truth, the role of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Even after 60 years of absolute rule over Tibet, China has not been able to make any favorable impact in the hearts and minds of Tibetans. The Dalai Lama continues to command their allegiance even 50 year after he was compelled to flee from Tibet. Therefore China remains paranoid about the Dalai Lama’s alleged splittist activities, about his statements regarding the situation in Tibet and its status and reacts strongly when he meets world leaders. The fact of the matter is that since the time His Holiness outlined the Strasbourg Proposal in 1988, he has increasingly spoken of genuine autonomy for Tibet within the PRC and its constitution as his goal. He has outlined his Middle-Way Approach which highlights that the Tibetans will work for their aspirations through nonviolence and dialogue with China.
In this context, I personally, as an individual and a friend of Tibet, welcome the fact that the decision of the recent special general meeting of Tibetans reaffirmed their faith and confidence in His Holiness’s leadership and endorsed the Middle- Way Approach. Given what has happened over the past 60 years, feeling of the deep resentment and mounting anger amongst Tibetans are inevitable and perfectly understandable. A significant segment of the younger generation of Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet are understandably frustrated with the lack of any result from the Dalai Lama’s approach over the years. They spoke out loudly and clearly at the recent Dharamsala meeting. However the stark realities of global geopolitics make it abundantly clear that all attempts at armed insurrection, or even active agitation, within Tibet against China’s rule are doomed to failure. China would perceive such activities a direct and intolerable challenge to its national security and sovereignty and vital national nterests and will not have the slightest compunction in crushing this with brutal force, irrespective of global reaction which, in any event, we all know from our own past experience would not go beyond the expressions of outrage and horror.
The Tibetans have suffered enough but any chance of improvement in their condition and terms of their aspiration in the future would then disappear forever. I would therefore appeal to the more activist Tibetans to ponder deeply over some of these uncomfortable realities.
So what is the way ahead?
Patience is of the essence. The world has seen many ruthless rulers and powerful empires but each, without exception, has withered away. India suffered centuries of great exploitation in the hands of many foreign rulers but ultimately the greatest empire the world has ever known, the British empire, was finally defeated after a nonviolent struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest apostle of non-violence the world has ever seen since Mahavir, the Buddha and Jesus Christ. And Gandhi’s approach was ridiculed by many Indian but none showed a better or ultimately a more effective path. Gandhi’s example was emulated by Nelson Mandela in South Africa and by Martin Luther King leading the civil rights movement in the US. Finally apartheid went and America had recently elected a man of colour as its next President. The Soviet Union disappeared not because of external and internal armed action but because its political system was rotten and ultimately it could not cope with the imperatives of the contemporary world. The new ruling dispensation and the free people of Russia have enthusiastically embraced their church again. The Chinese empire was also replaced by a republic and during imperial times many a dynasty was replaced by another. The present communist regime may well move to a more pluralistic and tolerant political system. We must hope that China will change over time as China’s people get even more integrated with the outside world, the pressures for such change may become irresistible. The hopes of the Tibetan people for freedom from authoritarian rule have to rest on this possibility and meanwhile hope must be kept alive.
In conclusion I firmly support His Holiness’s views and prescription that peaceful engagement is the only way forward. I hope and pray as millions do all over the world that the Tibetan cause will ultimately succeed. Finally, permit me to commend your very important supportive role, which must continue energetically to help build a powerful worldwide people’s campaign in favour of justice for the Tibetans.
Thank you for your attention.