The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Tibetan Freedom Fight
Trine Brox Ph.D. Fellow, Tibetan Studies Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies University of Copenhagen
As the Tibetan exiles and their supporters commemorated the “Tibetan Uprising Day” on March 10, as every year since 1959, unusual news tickled out of Tibet: Hundreds of monks from the Drepung Monastery in the vicinity of Lhasa had marched downtown shouting slogans like “free Tibet” and “long live the Dalai Lama.” The monks had staged a peaceful demonstration demanding independence from China and the return of their exiled leader the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. It was 19 years since anyone had witnessed protests of this scale in Tibet. In 1989, the demonstrations were brutally suppressed and martial law was declared in Lhasa. Last week’s demonstrations were staged by monks, and although they where effectively stopped by the police, it had a contagious effect. Lhasa experienced a series of peaceful demonstrations the following days. By the fifth day, lay people had joined in the protests, and their anger and frustration transformed peaceful demonstrations into riots. Moreover, footage and reports released by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, an NGO with reporters inside Tibet monitoring the situation, showed that the protests had spread to the eastern parts of Tibet as well.
At the time of writing—ten days after the initial protests broke out in Lhasa—there is no news about what is currently happening inside Tibet. The silence is disturbing. Lacking first hand reports, the Media has turned to the Dalai Lama. Now the headlines are questioning the role of the Dalai Lama and his leadership within and outside the Tibetan borders.
On the one hand headlines in the vein of “Wen Jiabao accuses Dalai Lama of organising riots” (Reuters, 18.03.08) tell us that China’s Premier blames the Dalai Lama of instigating the troubles, charging the exiled leader with the steering of his Tibetan marionettes. On the other hand, with headlines such as “Young Tibetans reject Dalai Lama’s lead” (CNN, 18.03.08) or “Younger generation rejects non-violent tradition” (The Guardian, 18.03.08) the press reports that there is a new generation of Tibetans who abrogates the Dalai Lama’s leadership and policies. Headlines such as these beg the questions on the extent of the Dalai Lama’s authority.
The Dalai Lama, holding the traditionally highest political and religious authority among Tibetans, may indeed exert enormous influence. Until now, however, he has used his enormous prestige strictly to bind the impatient to his creed of non-violence. Nonetheless, attempts become visible among the exiles to distinguish between the Dalai Lama as a religious leader and the Dalai Lama as a political leader of the freedom struggle. In that way some Tibetans try to advance alternative political strategies—or even oppose the policies of the Dalai Lama directly—while concurrently maintaining him as their religious leader and national progenitor.
The authority of the Dalai Lama The Fourteenth Dalai Lama is the foremost religious and political authority in the Tibetan society and has become the epitome of the Tibetan nation. He is Yizhin Norbu—”the wish-fulfilling jewel.” He is not a god, but he is worshipped as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avaloketisvara. Tibetans listen to him as a source for both spiritual advice and worldly guidance. Moreover, when he speaks in public, his words serve as political guidelines for the Tibetan people’s freedom movement. In the eyes of the majority of Tibetan exiles, the Dalai Lama has been, and still is, the undisputed political leader of Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s special authority means that the majority of the Tibetans are deeply devoted to him. During many talks that I have had, every time the Dalai Lama’s name was mentioned, Tibetans humbly lowered their heads with hands collected in front of them as in prayer and worship. It is also evident that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama enjoys enormous popular support in Tibet. When he spoke against wearing fur in a speech in Amaravati, India, in 2006, Tibetans inside Tibet demonstrated their loyalty to the Dalai Lama by throwing their fur lined coats on bonfires.
Thus, when the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao accuses the Dalai Lama of orchestrating riots in Tibet, he is painfully aware that the Dalai Lama after forty-nine years in exile still has authority among the Tibetans. Nevertheless, nothing indicates that the Dalai Lama used this authority to incite riots. On the contrary, the Dalai Lama is against such riots.
The violence and vandalism carried out by mainly lay Tibetans in the wake of peaceful marches led by monks, are expressions of anger and frustration going against the clear and well-known guidelines outlined by the Dalai Lama. He has repeatedly spoken against a violent freedom struggle. Instead he has sought compromises with the Chinese government through his so-called middle way approach. With this policy, the Dalai Lama has been calling for negotiation and cooperation between the Tibetans and the Chinese to find a solution for what he calls “meaningful autonomy” in Tibet—not independence. Acts of violence, whether against others or oneself, are acts defying the stand of the Dalai Lama. That Tibetans now appear to disobey the Dalai Lama—their wish-fulfilling jewel—during acts of violence reveals the level of their frustration.
A new generation freedom fighters? The older generation generally obeys the Dalai Lama as a religious and political leader. Among the young Tibetans, however, there is more polyvocality: they express alternative political stands and at times are outright ‘disobedient.’ To prevent misunderstanding: Young Tibetans are not a homogeneous group speaking with a single voice. Although they do fight together under the banner of “Free Tibet,” some interpret this as “complete independence” while others follow the “meaningful autonomy” line of the Dalai Lama. Yet this is not tantamount to a generational divide, but rather a disagreement across generations. As for the methods to “free Tibet,” an overwhelming majority seem to support the Dalai Lama’s creed of non-violence, but the definition of non-violence varies: some believe that violence against oneself is not really violence. Therefore we have seen attempts of self-immolation as witnessed in Mumbai when twenty-four year old Lhagpa Tsering set him self on fire as a protest during the Chinese President Hu Jintao’s India visit on November 23, 2006. (This form of protest has also a long tradition, especially in East Asian Buddhism, visible, for example, during the Vietnam War.) Another example is the current hunger strikes of the hundred Tibetan exiles who were jailed in northern India on the fourth day of their march to Tibet that started on March 10. Such acts are ‘disobedient’ political acts by Tibetan exiles who concurrently venerate the Dalai Lama as their leader and as a father of the Tibetan nation. One activist, Thupten Tsering, once told me that Tibetans like himself, who fight for independence, have not denounced the Dalai Lama in any way. In fact, all Tibetans that I have interviewed made this same point. Thupten Tsering explains how it is possible to have deep religious faith in the Dalai Lama and see him as the highest authority while simultaneously disagreeing or opposing his political guidelines:
We respect him. He is a great teacher. I regard him as my father. I look at him like my parent and even with parents we have trouble sometimes, right? We don’t agree at some point. Then we make up. So I look at His Holiness that way. Sometimes I get upset, angry at him, but at the end of the day, he’s like my dad, you know.
The Dalai Lama is “His Holiness” also for those who have an alternative political stand. While the Dalai Lama as an exalted authority is a uniting force for the pan-Tibetan freedom struggle,
he is not able to unite all Tibetans under one single policy. As a political figure, he is like the parent that you respect and, at times, disagree with.
When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama began to focus on human rights and the protection of Tibetan culture, religion, and ecology, his move to replace “independence” with “meaningful autonomy” was partly a diplomatic gesture to show Beijing that he was willing to negotiate. The Dalai Lama claims that he is being “realistic.” Many bewildered Tibetans saw this as abandoning the Tibetan cause and taking a step backwards. Hence, while the Dalai Lama officially changed his stand from independence to autonomy, not everybody followed him: for example the most influent exile-Tibetan organisation, the Tibetan Youth Congress, but also parts of the older generation, some of whom had once taken part in the 1959 uprising in Lhasa and had even joined the Tibetan guerrilla to defend their faith and the Dalai Lama. Yet when the Tibetans inside Tibet today are shouting slogans and waving their national flag calling for freedom or independence, it is not because they are against the Dalai Lama’s leadership. On the contrary, they most certainly want him to return as their leader.
For those who still fight for independence, the dilemma they are facing is that while they remain loyal to the Dalai Lama’s exalted religious position, they do not always agree with him as a political strategist. As a result of this personal dilemma, they have begun to distinguish between the political and the religious aspects of the Dalai Lama’s authority. This is not so much a symptom of a split neither between generations, between the clergy and the lay people, nor between the exiles and those left behind in Tibet. Whether freedom is defined as independence or meaningful autonomy, when it comes to freedom struggle, as we saw on March 10, the Tibetans unite behind the image of the Dalai Lama and under the banner of “free Tibet.” The Tibetan-Chinese Dilemma “Dalai Lama Threatens to Resign” (New York Times, 19.03.08) was the latest headline phrased by the media as a warning from the Dalai Lama to the Tibetans that he will withdraw from his position if they do not abstain from using violence. His warning must be seen in line with the aforementioned attempts to separate the Dalai Lama’s dual position as a religious and political authority.
One aspect has apparently been overlooked by Western analysts. While this latest statement must be seen as the Dalai Lama’s stern warning to the Tibetans, the Chinese authorities would do good in taking notice of it. For a peaceful solution, they need the Dalai Lama’s authority among the Tibetans. But if they continue to put him in the tight spot of being behind the latest riots, forcing him to withdraw from the public, those Tibetans who have grown so impatient in recent years might then be the ones to be in command. The result will be disastrous for both sides. Yet the Chinese authorities are also facing a dilemma of their own: If they accept the Dalai Lama as a speaker for the Tibetans, they would give up the Party’s claim to sole representation, thus encouraging the many minority groups of their empire to intensify their struggle. The Chinese are facing either a Tibetan disaster now or a slow farewell to single party rule in the future. They cannot, however, invite the world to their “Journey of Harmony” (their motto for the Olympic Games 2008) and not enter into some sort of a dialogue about the Tibetan question.
Trine Brox is writing her Ph.D. dissertation on the contesting imaginations of democracy and democratisation in the Tibetan diaspora.
Also by Trine Brox: Brox, Trine 2003: Tibetansk kulturdiskurs: En undersøgelse og analyse af Dalai Lamas og de tibetanske eksilmyndigheders tibetansksprogede diskurs om kultur i årene 1979-2002, MA thesis, University of Copenhagen. —— 2006: “Tibetan Culture as the Battlefield: How the Term ‘Tibetan Culture’ is Utilized as a Political Strategy”, L. Schmithausen (ed.): Buddhismus in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Gewalt und Gewaltlosigkeit im Buddhismus. Weiterbildendes Studium (X), Hamburg: Universität Hamburg. Abt. für Kultur und Geschichte Indiens und Tibets, 85-105. —— [forthcoming]: “Changing the Tibetan Way? Contesting Secularisms in the Tibetan Diaspora”, P. Schwieger (ed.): Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies: Bonn 2006. Bonn.
Cecilie Figenschou BakkeDirector, China ProgrammeNorwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo
Mounting criticism of ChinaThe upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing (8-24 August) have led to increasing criticism of China’s human rights record. When bidding for the Olympics, the Chinese promised that this sports event would be favourable to human rights. Now critics argue that preparations for the Games are instead having a negative impact on the human rights situation in China. Links are also made to foreign policy. As has been widely reported in the international press, Steven Spielberg in February withdrew from his role as artistic advisor to the Games due to China’s failure to do more to end the crisis in Darfur. Also, from inside China activists and academics have written open letters linking the Olympics and human rights. But, as with other signs of protests over the past year, the Chinese government has reacted hard to the initiative. The Chinese Government argues forcefully that sports and politics should not be mixed. But a look at history shows that the powerful IOC and the summer Olympics have often been interconnected with politics, with Mexico City 1968 and Moscow 1980 as two clear examples. While the Olympics is a good opportunity to put more focus on human rights violations in China we must not overlook important Chinese reforms underway with the potential for improved human rights protection. When thousands of foreign journalists have returned home, engagement with China on human rights should and must be continued. It is therefore imperative that we also look beyond August 2008.Dialogue and Chinese compliance with international standardsA few years after the tragedy on Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June 1989, the Chinese government started changing its stance on human rights. In 1996, after a period with heavy international pressure on China, particularly in the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, Deng Xiaoping stated that the country must be ruled according to law. The same year China signed the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. Also in 1996/1997 China initiated several bilateral dialogues on human rights with countries such as Norway, Canada, Australia and also the EU. This tactical move resulted in less open criticism of China in the UN. However, it also opened the door to closer engagement and practical cooperation projects on human rights inside China. Today China has ratified 5 of the 9 major UN human rights conventions, and 4 of the 8 core labour standard treaties under the International Labour Organisation (ILO). China is also member of the new Human Rights Council and sits on the board of the ILO. It is also compliant in handing in state reports under the international treaty bodies as required by the UN. But, state reports can be improved, and more civil society actors inside China should be engaged in the reporting processes. Increased transparency and information sharing are key words. Also, on the negative side, China has signed but not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the core conventions of the UN Bill of Right, and has furthermore been reluctant to receive visits by UN Special Rapporteurs. State ratification of International human rights treaties can open the door to discussing rights protection in a less politicised and more constructive manner. But, to implement rights, legislation, institutions and policy making at the national level are needed.
Implementing human rights in ChinaThere are serious human rights challenges in China today. Some result from a lack of implementation of legislation but also the lack of knowledge and/or political will. Some of the areas that receive attention in western media are problems in criminal justice, extensive use of the death penalty, dissidents and political prisoners, the use of re-education through labour, tight restrictions on civil society, and strict censorship of literature, media and the Internet. Are there any positive developments at all? Poverty reduction is an area where China has received international praise. According to the World Bank, China is responsible for 75% of the poverty reduction in the Developing World since 1980, and according to Chinese statistics more than 200 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. The new challenge now is to meet rising inequalities in China and to secure minimum standards and social protection for those who are falling behind in the Chinese economic boom. That the Chinese State “respects and protects human rights” was written into the Chinese Constitution in 2004. Though the Constitution is not directly justiciable, this addition had a strong symbolic effect as recognition of the language of human rights. It also gives a greater degree of political legitimacy to those working with human rights questions. In the field of criminal justice important reforms have been undertaken to conform closer to international standards. Although Chinese authorities reject a discussion on the abolishment of the death penalty, new legislation from 2006 resumed the Supreme Court’s powers to review all death penalty verdicts in China, and there are signs that the number of executions has been reduced slightly. The Criminal Procedure Law is also being revised, and Chinese academics are actively engaged in the process. Two of the hot topics debated are the role of the defence lawyer in criminal proceedings and the use of evidence extracted through forced confessions – or torture. These issues are of great relevance to human rights protection in criminal justice. In the field of workers rights several new legislative steps have also been taken. In January this year a new Labour Contract Law was adopted and the principle of non-discrimination was for the first time included in the Law on Employment Promotion. Work is also underway to train local state officials in charge of labour administration to help with competence building related to assisting the implementation of the law. If the legal provisions on non-discriminated can be effectively implemented, it might help improve the situation of migrant workers and other vulnerable groups suffering under tough and unfair working conditions in China.
Can dialogue and cooperation help? While pressure for increased respect for human rights in China must be upheld, it is also important that the international community works closely with the Chinese side and offers technical assistance where needed. There is a broad range of international and bilateral aid projects in China, working on rule of law and human rights related projects. While some projects cooperate directly with the Chinese government and legal intuitions such as the courts and procuratorate, other activities are conducted through the different UN organs in Beijing. There are also a large number of projects implemented directly in cooperation with civil society and professional groups. The bilateral human rights dialogues which have been running since the mid 1990s can also serve as meeting points where practical cooperation projects between professional groups in China and abroad are initiated. As an example; under the Dialogue between Norway and China, cooperation has developed between the trade unions, employers’ organisations, lawyers associations and academic groups. A majority of the projects are directly linked to international human rights standards and targeted at issues where the UN has raised concern about the situation in China. In this way bilateral projects can help support the multilateral system. The Norwegian Centre for Human (NCHR) China Programme has cooperated with Chinese academic partners since 1997. As clearly reiterated by the Plan of Action for the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004); human rights education, training and public information is essential for the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Linking up to thes
e important aspirations, one of the NCHR China Programme key priorities has been to support human rights research and education at Chinese universities. In 2001 the NCHR, in cooperation with Chinese partners, published the first ever Chinese Textbook on international human rights law. Through Chinese-Nordic cooperation in the period 2001-2008 more than 200 law teachers have been trained, many of them have become engaged in teaching and research on human rights at their home universities. These are just small, small steps forward, but if opportunities to study and research on human rights can be extended to students at Chinese law faculties, this will make the legal profession better prepared to advocate for the adherence to human rights standards in China in the future. Today we see that a core group of human rights competent academics exist in China, who can offer high quality advice and opinions to ongoing reforms inside China.
The 2008 Olympic Games and beyondThe coming Olympics is a good opportunity to put extra light on the human rights situation in China, but there must be a plan for what will happen after the closing ceremonies are concluded and the international journalists, athletes and participants have returned home. We must urge the Chinese authorities to continue its cooperation with the UN, to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to continue the important social and legal reforms which are underway. The international community must support continued cooperation and activities in the field of rule of law and human rights. Through these cooperation projects the international community can help raise knowledge about international human rights standards in China and offer relevant practical experience from social- and legal developments in other countries. China has come a very along way over the past three decades, as it has developed from a position of isolation to today’s active engagement with international standards and institutions. The coming years will be of great importance and the international community should support initiatives which show that Chinese political will and ambition is put behind the symbolic Constitutional changes and the development of a harmonious society in China.
Cristina Chaminade, CIRCLE – Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy, Lund University, SwedenandJan Vang, CIT – Copenhagen Institute of Technology, Aalborg University, Denmark
It is most likely to be wrong that ‘The world is flat’ and that we can expect that countries like India and China will become the new innovation power houses, as the famous columnist Thomas L. Friedman concluded in his international best seller published a few years ago (Friedman, 2005). On the surface he and his supporters appear to be right. One of the most dramatic changes in China and India in the last decade is the rapid accumulation of science and technology capabilities. For many, like Friedman, this is a clear indication that China and India will become the new innovation power houses of the world. Indeed, in just one decade the number of firms locating R&D departments in India and China has grown very rapidly. In 2005 China and India were hosting 18% of the world R&D sites (only 8% in 1997) (UNCTAD, 2005). Only that year, 252 new foreign direct investments in R&D projects were located in China & India (80% of South, East and SE Asia). India is currently considered to be the second most popular destination of offshore R&D for certain industries such as ICT (only after the US) (The Economist Intelligent Unit, 2007).This global re-location of R&D activities has run in parallel and it is closely related to the growth in internal research capabilities in these two countries. China was in 2005 the third country in the world in terms of gross domestic expenditure on R&D in absolute terms, only after US and Japan (although as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product is only 1,4%, comparable to that of Southern EU countries) and the second one in the total number of researchers, only after US (OECD, 2006). And the R&D expenditure in China is growing on an average of 24% per annum since 1999.Looking at this numbers, there is no doubt that there is something happening in that corner of the world and that there are reasons to be watchful. But as we also know it is not an easy task to capitalize on investment in research. So, if we only look at research investments, is it right to conclude that they will become the worlds’ innovation power houses in the near future? We sincerely doubt it. There is a very extensive stream of literature on innovation studies that highlights that there is a very long way between investments in research (R&D) and innovation (launching new products, processes or services in the market). Innovation is definitively not a linear process that starts with R&D but is the result of a complex interactive process (Kline and Rosenberg, 1984), where new ideas emerge as a result of the interaction with universities, other firms, etc. China is strong on some areas of R(esearch) – speech recognition, for example – but is weak in D(evelopment). Furthermore, in China there are hardly any investments in research and development in the indigenous private firms. This makes it very difficult for firms to capitalize on the investments in public research. Moreover, for many firms and industries, R&D is considered to be only a minor input of innovation activities. Thus one can question the relevancy of the R&D fetishism in general when talking about innovation power houses. Looking almost exclusively at R&D investments in China and India or their ability to attract FDI on R&D will provide a very narrow and limited picture of their capacity to innovate.If one goes beyond input indicators such as R&D statistics and research capabilities, China and India do not display so well. In China, many of the organisations that characterise a well functioning system of innovation are there, but the linkages between them and the institutional framework are weak (Schwaag-Serger and Breidne, 2007) and thus the capacity of the system to mobilize the existing capabilities and turn them into innovation is rather limited. Yet, the realities and myths of the size about the Chinese markets have given the national policymakers a strong bargaining power over the TNCs – and this is probably on of china’s strongest cards. In India the situation is quite similar yet also different. Martin Kenny, has illustrated this nicely in a deep yet still unpublished analysis’s of venture capital (VC) investments in China (and India – India VC is almost only export oriented) (Kenney at al, 2008). In India, and more specifically Bangalore, which is considered the Silicon Valley of Asia, our research confirms that the system of innovation remains rather weak and fragmented (Chaminade and Vang, 2006a and 2006b, Vang et al 2007). The collaboration with other firms, final users or universities is very limited. And the importance of the home market neglectable. So, while China and India are rapidly catching up in terms of accumulating S&T capabilities, their capacity to transform those resources into new products and new services is still rather limited. At least at national scale.However some additional considerations need to be done. On the one hand, there are important industry differences. India seems to be excelling in innovation in certain industries like automotive (Mahindra and Mahindra Scorpio 4-wheel drive was awarded “Car of the Year” from Business Standard Motoring and the “Best Car of the Year” by BBC on Wheels, developed the electric car, the low-cost car, etc) or software (with Tata Consulting Services or Infosys as world players in the provision software services). On the other, one should not forget that innovation might take place in any place of the value chain, not only in the high-end (more visible). Chinese firms are increasingly becoming innovators in the low end of the value chain, for which it is not necessary to have a very well developed system of innovation and only cutting edge innovators in a few. Finally, as the Bangalore case has showed us, it is possible to become a global player and an innovator, without a well functioning system of innovation. Although it might not be sustainable over time as it requires a large amount of in-house investments in those activities that a well functioning system of innovation provides to firms otherwise.In sum, we could conclude that – some regions or even industries in – China and India are catching up but that there are important constraints before they can become innovators at a global scale. But it is important to keep an open eye on especially some of the science parks in for example Beijing which offers some of the best incentives in the world for foreign firms.References
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