His Holiness the Dalai Lama today delivered his annual March 10 statement to the Tibetan people from Dharamsala, India, stressing openness, transparency and the free flow of information within China as the means for building greater understanding of the true situation in Tibet and greater trust between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples, and among Tibetans themselves.
In what appears to be a new initiative, the Dalai Lama invited Tibetan officials in Tibet to visit Tibetan communities “in the free world” to understand the aspirations of Tibetans in exile. Calls for first-hand observation in Tibet to ascertain the truth are frequently used by the Chinese government as a way of defending its policies in Tibet.
On March 7, just days before the Dalai Lama’s statement, China’s Xinhua news agency reported that, Jampa Puntsok, Chairman of the People’s Congress in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), told a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing: “As always, we welcome tourists, journalists and government officials to visit Tibet and take a look there to better understand Tibet. Seeing is believing.”
However, the reality on the ground is that this is not possible due to censorship and heavy surveillance, restrictions on travel, lack of diplomatic access in Tibet and the continuation of a security crackdown, including a significant military presence in most Tibetan areas.
In his statement, the Dalai Lama stressed that the Tibet issue was not the result of a dispute between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples, but rather was the result of the “ultra-leftist policies of the Chinese Communist authorities.” He therefore urged “Tibetans everywhere to build closer relations with the Chinese people,” and to inform them about the situation in Tibet.
In March 2008, the Tibetan plateau erupted in overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations in what was widely interpreted as a popular reaction to decades of Chinese misrule in Tibet, including the imposition of central government policies that threatened the survival of the distinct Tibetan identity such as “patriotic education” campaigns and a model of economic development that has marginalized large sections of the Tibetan population. The Dalai Lama cautioned Tibetans against placing “our hopes in material progress alone” and urged vigilance against progress that could “damage our precious culture and language and the natural environment of the Tibetan plateau.” He added that Tibetans “both inside and outside Tibet should broaden their modern education hand-in-hand with our traditional values.”
The Dalai Lama specifically referenced in his March 10 statement the decision by the Chinese government at the Fifth Tibet Work Forum held in Beijing on January 18-20, 2010 “to implement their policies uniformly in all Tibetan areas” – a departure from the previous approach which developed Tibetan policies uniquely for the TAR.
The Dalai Lama’s statement included a mention of his “Middle Way Approach,” which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China. A resolution through the Middle Way Approach would be “of benefit to us both,” [the Chinese and Tibetan people] the Dalai Lama stated.
The Dalai Lama cited support for the Middle Way from President Obama, which was also echoed in the official White House statement at the conclusion of their February 18 meeting. He characterized the lack of a positive response from the Chinese government to his proposals as “disappointing,” but he noted changes in the perspective among the Chinese people – “There will be a time when truth will prevail. Therefore, it is important that everyone be patient and not give up.”
In Lhasa, the Chinese authorities have been carrying out pre-emptive detentions amid tightened security in the build-up to March 10. More than 400 people were detained and questioned by police in a systematic sweep of Lhasa. (“Tibet strike hard crackdown shows good initial results, 435 suspects interrogated,” March 4, 2010, www.chinatibetnews.com.)
The full text of the Dalai Lama’s March 10 statement can be seen at www.dalailama.com and the full text of an additional statement by the cabinet (Kashag) of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala can be seen at www.tibet.net.