Hillary Clinton has, in her much-publicized memoir Living History (Simon & Schuster, 2003) revealed the strong interest that she and her husband, Bill Clinton, had in Tibet and the Dalai Lama. She refers to three events involving Tibet that had a deep impact on her.
Living History talks about Clinton’s disdain at Chinese restrictions placed on Tibetans from exile wanting to participate in the UN World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.
“It is indefensible that many women in NGOs who wished to participate in this conference have not been able to attend or have been prohibited from fully taking part,” Clinton is quoted by the media as telling the conference then.
There is a more extensive reference to the discussion that the Clintons had with President Jiang Zemin during his state visit to the United States in 1997 and during their return visit to China in 1998.
Hillary Clinton writes, “Jiang Zemin and his wife, Madame Wang Yeping, came to the Untied States for a state visit. Jiang spoke English and conversed easily. Before the visit, many of my friends had asked me to raise with him the issue of China’s suppression of Tibet. I had met with the Dalai Lama to discuss the Tibetans’ plight, and so I asked President Jiang to explain China’s repression of the Tibetans and their religion.
“‘What do you mean?’ he said. ‘Tibet has historically been a part of China. The Chinese are the liberators of the Tibetan people. I have read the histories in our libraries, and I know Tibetans are better off now than they were before.’
“But what about their traditions and the right to practice their religion as they choose?
“He became passionate, even banging the table once. ‘They were victims of religion. They are now freed from feudalism.’
“Despite a developing global culture, the same facts can be and often are viewed through starkly different historical and cultural prisms and the word ‘freedom’ is defined to fit one’s political perspective. Still, I didn’t think Jiang, who is quite sophisticated and had succeeded in opening up and modernizing the Chinese economy, was being quite straight with me on Tibet. The Chinese, for historical and psychological reasons, were obsessed with avoiding internal disintegration. In the case of Tibet, that led to overreaction and oppression, as obsessions often do.
“During our visit to China, Bill and I again raised our concerns about Tibet and the general state of human rights in China. Predictably, the Chinese leaders were adamant and dismissive. When I’m asked why a U.S. President should visit any country with whom we have such serious differences, my answer is always the same: America, the most diverse nation in human history, now wields unparalleled power. But we can be quite insular and uninformed about other countries and their perspectives.”
When Hillary Clinton was going through a very difficult period in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s scandal, she seems to have received much solace from an advice given by the Dalai Lama.
Writing in her memoir about this, Hillary says, “Some weeks after Mandela’s visit, the Dalai Lama called on us at the White House. At our meeting in the Map Room, he presented me with a white prayer scarf and told me he thought often of me and my struggle. He encouraged me to be strong and not give in to bitterness and anger in the face of pain and injustice.
“His message dovetailed with the support I was receiving from my prayer group, especially Holly Leachman and Susan Baker, who came to visit and pray with me, Secret Service agent Brian Stafford, then head of the President’s Protective Division, and Mike McCurry, the President’s press secretary through the hardest days.”