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The Dalai Lama: Deity or a Demon?

Introduction:

In his acceptance speech after having received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama stated: “I accept the prize with profound gratitude on behalf of the oppressed everywhere and for all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace. I accept it as a tribute to the man who founded the modern tradition of nonviolent action for change – Mahatma Gandhi – whose life taught and inspired me. And, of course, I accept it on behalf of the six million Tibetan people, my brave countrymen and women inside Tibet, who have suffered and continue to suffer so much. They confront a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities. The prize reaffirms our conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons, Tibet will be liberated.”

That was in December, 1989 close on the heels of the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre (June 6, 1989) that brought China in the limelight for wrong reasons. Much water has flowed under the bridge since then and the Dalai Lama has mellowed down in his approach and attitude towards the Tibet issue. His middle path advocacy is well known and secret parleys between his representatives and the Chinese are also somewhat in progress ( the author’s C3S paper # 21, “Middle Way Approach And The Middle Kingdom’s Attitude“, dated June 21 refers)

Despite this, China has been accusing Dalai Lama as a “splittist” and does not miss a single opportunity to give vent to its disapproval should any country welcome him even if such visits were in connection with spiritual or cultural events. The Dalai Lama was received by the leaders of Canada and the United States last month and met the Australian prime minister and German chancellor earlier this year.

Congressional Gold Medal:

The US House of Representatives on September 13 voted to award Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.The award is in recognition of the Dalai Lama’s advocacy of religious harmony, non-violence, and human rights throughout the world and for his efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue through dialogue with the Chinese leadership.This was despised by the Chinese leadership who criticised this gesture as anti-Chinese. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that a wave of high-level visits by the Dalai Lama to Western countries would have no effect on the status of Chinese-ruled Tibet, and would only serve to harm relations with Beijing. Spokesman Liu Jianchao added that some countries or people support the Dalai Lama with the ulterior motive of trying to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China, which called on Washington to cancel the events and the “so-called medal,” retaliated by pulling out of a meeting in Berlin at which its representatives were to have met with those from the USA, Great Britain, France, Russia and Germany to discuss U.N. sanctions against Iran over that nation’s nuclear efforts. Wang Baodong, of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told the Associated Press that honouring the Dalai Lama amounted to “gross interference in China’s internal affairs.” The medal ceremony is particularly irritating the Chinese because it coincided with the meeting of the Communist Party Congress in China. It’s just a month after German Chancellor Angela Merkel held an official meeting with the Dalai Lama, despite threats from China that it would prompt disruptions in trade.

China’s Predicament:

However, the Chinese appear to have made no such threats toward the USA, whose markets are crucial to the booming Chinese economy.

  1. Since China joined the WTO in December 2001, U.S. exports to China have been growing by over 20% a year.

  2. China is now America’s second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade last year of over $330 billion – China has been America’s largest source of imports.

  3. China is projected to surpass Germany by the end of 2007 as the world’s third largest economy after the U.S. and Japan.

  4. And in 2006, U.S. technology exports to China grew by 44% to 17.7 billion—more than the entire value of U.S. exports to partners like India, Russia, and Thailand.

The economic relationship between the U.S. and China is indeed strong, and continues to move in the right direction. (To keep this momentum moving forward, Secretary Gutierrez has made four trips to China since becoming Secretary, which demonstrates the importance the US Administration places on strengthening U.S.-China ties.)

According to Robert Bernett, a faculty member at the Columbia University, President Bush’s plan to attend the 2008 Summer Olympics in China — a visit with much public relations potential for the Chinese — there was not much risk of retribution from Beijing. He adds that for Bush, honouring the Dalai Lama represents a chance to push China on human rights while casting his administration as a champion of such rights. Perhaps, as though to rebut his views, one of the longest serving Tibetan political prisoners, Ngawang Phulchung, who was one of the key leaders of the pro-independence demonstration in September 1987, in Lhasa, was released from Qushul Prison around 21 October 2007.

While China has reviled the Dalai Lama as a political exile and a traitor since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, special envoy of the Dalai Lama, hopes the medal might “wake Chinese leaders up and make them understand they are dealing with a man with widespread international love and respect.”

Dalai Lama’s reaction:

At the time of accepting the highest American civilian honour, the Dalai Lama observed thus: “On the future of Tibet, let me take this opportunity to restate categorically that I am not seeking independence. I am seeking a meaningful autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People’s Republic of China. If the real concern of the Chinese leadership is the unity and stability of PRC, I have fully addressed their concerns. I have chosen to adopt this position because I believe, given the obvious benefits especially in economic development, this would be in the best interest of the Tibetan people. Furthermore, I have no intention of using any agreement on autonomy as a stepping stone for Tibet’s independence.”

Conclusion:

Tibetans and believers in Buddhism all over tend to glorify the Dalai Lama as a deity or the ‘Living Buddha’ whereas the Chinese rulers treat him with scant respect and call him a ‘demon’ and are even afraid of his growing international influence. As Indians, we could treat him as neither but at least as a good human being and harbinger of peace – a cause that he espouses and which is so dear to him. That Indian dignitaries were issued with a moratorium to keep away from a function at Delhi held in order to felicitate the Dalai Lama on his having received the US Congressional gold medal does not appear to be in good taste especially when he is a resident of India for close to five decades since he and his entourage has been granted asylum in our country. On the contrary, the Dalai Lama is reported to have stated in that function ”Resolution of issue of Tibet is relevant for India-China relationship. I really wish to see a genuine friendship between India and China. I want to see the rekindling of the spirit of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai,”

(The writer, Mr.N.Raghupathy, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email: nraghupathy@yahoo.com)

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