TIBET POST: On 26th August, the spokesman for the foreign minister of China called for the Dalai Lama to stop his “separatist activities”. What is your reaction to this?
MR. SAMPHEL: I think it is a knee-jerk reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry. By calling the Dalai Lama a separatist not only unfair, it is not true! It is a blatant distortion of the real intentions of His Holiness. Our position is that we are willing to resolve the issue of Tibet through discretions based in His Holiness’ middle-way approach. In formulating his approach, we have really clamped down on some of the demands of the Tibetan people, which include cries for independence. We feel that by taking the political will of the Chinese administration into account, our proposal is very moderate and something which China can resolve. But right now, even these demands are clearly being rejected by the Chinese side.
MR. RIGZIN: China calling His Holiness a separatist is nothing new. It has happened for a long time, when actually, it is totally the opposite. His Holiness has asked for genuine autonomy for the whole of Tibet and has agreed to be under China. So, keeping that proposal in mind, how can China call him a separatist? It does not make any sense at all - period. In reality, China, or maybe I should be more specific, the communist Chinese regime are the separatist. It is totally wrong for the Chinese to accuse His Holiness in this way when he has clearly said on many international stages, many times, that he is asking for genuine autonomy and not independence. They have leveled so many accusations and blames against His Holiness which are completely baseless.
MRS. TSERING: China and the whole world know that the Dalai Lama has not engaged in any separatist activities. Whatever he has been saying personally as the head of the Tibetan people is to engage the Chinese government into a stand where both parties that will look at Tibet as an issue that needs to be resolved in the best interests of China and Tibet. They have been saying these things for the past three of four years – this policy of name-calling…
China tends to say the same things, no matter what the reality is on-the-ground. It always seems to me that the different departments of the Chinese government have huge communication gaps between them. Their response comes in spite of all the information that has been put out there by everybody who is pro-justice, pro-truth, and pro-human rights. These people have worked hard in coming up with documentary films, movies, and such, just to educate the world; and the world, to a large extent, is pretty well informed. But China still wants to remain ignorant.
TIBET POST: Looking to the future, the Dalai Lama is now 73. Does his ageing worry you for the future of the Tibetan cause?
MR. SAMPHEL: The imprint of his personality on the press is enormous. But at the same time, since we came into exile in ’59, His Holiness has introduced incredible reforms within our administration in the hope that our democratic institutions will help withstand the shock of his passing. There has also been so much energy channeled into education of Tibetan children. So year-on-year, there are generations of Tibetans coming out of schools and colleges who are equipped with both the education and the political will to carry forward the Tibetan struggle. The struggle for Tibet is not the struggle of simply one person - it’s a much larger issue.
Along with the democratic institutions here in exile, we have also able to very successfully re-establish all the key monastic institutions that were demolished in Tibet. So beyond the political aspect is the weight of the Buddhist tradition, and all of the key elements of this tradition are re-established. We have our political struggle, but beyond this, we have a cultural struggle. Like His Holiness says, this is the struggle of one culture to survive and we have all the tools in exile that ensure that it can.
MR. RIGZIN: We believe that as long as a single Tibetan is alive on this planet then the Tibetan struggle must go on. After His Holiness passed away, there is a huge vacuum of leadership - no doubt about that. His Holiness is our leader, and has always been our leader from the beginning, even before Chinese invasion. What happens after he passes away? No-one can predict the future, but I can guarantee to you that the Tibetan struggle will live on. We will continue to struggle until Tibet is independent.
MRS. TSERING: It is a big concern for not only Tibetans, but also the Chinese people that are pro-democracy. The Dalai Lama is the only unifying figure, and not only the unifying figure of the Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, but also between the Chinese and Tibetan people. Any potential transition on the part of China to resolve the issue of Tibet would be smooth and non-violent only under the leadership of His Holiness.
The presence of His Holiness is a big factor and communist China has looked at this. In 2002, a state paper was leaked where the Chinese indentified two apparent great weaknesses within our community that they could take advantage of, and the first was the ageing of His Holiness. The second point was that the Tibetans have many differences amongst themselves. A lot people ask me this same question and wonder whether the Tibetans will fall apart and I say ‘no – look at India’. India is a multi-cultural, multi-religious country. They have all these issues amongst themselves – Hindu/Muslim, Madrasi, Bengali and what not…but tomorrow, if Pakistan attacks, first and foremost, they are all Indian. So the struggle will go on. The Tibetan identity will still remain alight and China’s wish will not be fulfilled.
TIBET POST: The Reporters Without Boarders organization recently confirmed that pro-Tibetan media was barred during the Olympic Games – this despite the Chinese promises for free media.
How is it possible to collect evidence to hold against China at this crucial time with such restrictions in place? Where is the evidence to estimate a death toll for example? How should the world react?
MR. SAMPHEL: Evidence of China’s double-teaming and double-standards are clear. The rest of the world knows about this, but knowing something, and condemning this knowledge at the expense of your commercial and national interest is a big choice, and we know very clearly what choices will be made. The weight that the Chinese carry around the world is so heavy and so overwhelming that they can afford to ignore any international outcry. It is known that China’s misconduct and wrong policies are universally ignored because the world has greater commercial and national interests, and China are fully aware of this.
MR. RIGZIN: Concerning the death tolls for the recent uprising, I think the Tibetan government-in-exile put the figure around 400 – I think – whereas the Chinese government are saying that it’s on 22; and only one Tibetan of that 22. I personally believe the figure is even more than 400. But to really assess that, China needs to allow an international, independent and neutral fact-finding delegation inside Tibet. Only then would we know exactly what is going on. But because they are scared of being exposed, of course they are not allowing such access.
MRS. TSERING: That is the greatest tragedy, I feel. But if the whole world gets together against China, on the side of human rights, then why shouldn’t the rest of the world be able to put pressure on China? It seems that each country wants to view China as more powerful than themselves. If they stand alone, then this is true. But how is it that the rest of the world, who apparently advocate human rights, are not able to stand together and put pressure on China? In that event, China would have to take the Tibet issue seriously into account. However, in the face of submission, China just feels more powerful and gain more confidence to bully an even bigger country. Everyone is giving in to China like this. I recently went to 131 countries, embassies and councils, giving information and lobbying to say ‘please question China!’
TIBET POST: In retrospect, do you think the Olympics were a positive thing for the Tibetan cause?
MR. RIGZIN: The Tibetan Youth Congress has for many years opposed the staging of the Olympics in China until Tibet is independent. That was our stand. Now knowing that the Olympics are over, I think it’s too early to tell whether it was positive or negative.
In a way it is a double edged sword. We opposed the Olympics in Beijing because we knew China would be able to use it as a political tool to attempt to cover over the issue of Tibet, which they did. But on the other hand, we as Tibetans still took up the opportunity to highlight the issue of Tibet before and during the Olympics. However at the same time, if you look at past Olympics, in 1936 we saw the holocaust happen after the Olympic Games and not before, so we’ll have to see what happens in the near future.
Now that the Olympics are over, we fear even more repression from the Chinese. Their goal is to terminate the Tibetan race and wipe out the Tibetan religion, and they know that the world’s spotlight is no longer on them. Even when they had the spotlight, they had Tibet sealed off.
MRS. TSERING: As the Olympics arrived, Tibetans, and Tibet supporters worldwide made a lot of noise and have made it difficult for China. Now there is no way that China can deny that Tibet is an issue. We have sent a strong message to the world saying ‘Look! We are not happy under the policies of this Chinese communist government.’
It’s amazing though, because now China can’t get away. In 1987, ’88,’89, when the second uprising happened, China got away because communication was not as easily possible as it is now. It is now 2008: technology has developed, and people are becoming more world-aware thanks to the internet and better radio news. So, now after their strong repression, China has now become really worried. They know they are losing control. If only the Chinese people had more freedom and access to international news, then the communist government would not be able to cope. It shows that a lot of Chinese people are suppressed. Their human rights are also being violated by the communist government, who originally formed because they wanted to bring a better life to the common people. It has not happened.