One hundred years ago, on February 13, 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama made a proclamation stating his intention to govern Tibet as an independent country. This was an unusual declaration of independence because he did not declare that his country was to become independent — instead, he declared that Tibet had always been independent, but their special relationship with the Qing emperors had resulted in some interference from Beijing. He declared that this interference would be at an end and Tibet would be like any other independent country.
Police in Himachal Pradesh, India formally charged the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, along with some of his aides, with crimes related to a putatively illegal stash of foreign currency which was discovered nearly a year ago. I had perhaps naïvely thought this story had quietly gone away. A number of questions arise: is the Karmapa going to be arrested? Since these are serious charges, is there any question of his being sentenced to prison time? It seems virtually impossible that things would get to that stage (if somehow every other avenue failed, I imagine the president of India could pardon the Karmapa to avoid the public relations disaster of trying to imprison such a high-profile foreign guest). But it is possible that today’s developments signal a stepped-up harassment of the Karmapa by hostile elements in the Indian government. Exactly what their motivation for doing that is has always been unclear to me. It could be related to the Shamarpa/Tai Situ controversy, but I have never had the impression that the Shamarpa has that much influence in the Indian government. It could be that elements in Indian government are actively trying to make sure the Karmapa never has any political ambitions that would cause friction between India and China; or, they do want him to have political ambitions, but they want to be able to control him.
A few days ago in Sanya, southern China, Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa issued a joint statement called the Sanya Declaration. Most of it is bland, but I thought that what was not said here is interesting:
9. We underscore that the concurrent presence of all five BRICS countries in the Security Council during the year of 2011 is a valuable opportunity to work closely together on issues of peace and security, to strengthen multilateral approaches and to facilitate future coordination on issues under UN Security Council consideration. We are deeply concerned with the turbulence in the Middle East, the North African and West African regions and sincerely wish that the countries affected achieve peace, stability, prosperity and progress and enjoy their due standing and dignity in the world according to legitimate aspirations of their peoples. We share the principle that the use of force should be avoided. We maintain that the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of each nation should be respected.
Most of the world is pleased and inspired to see people in the Middle East working together to overthrow their corrupt governments. BRICS, of course, is “deeply concerned”. But I call BS on the statement, “We share the principle that the use of force should be avoided.” It makes it sound like they are pacifists. But, do you think the Chinese government will use force the next time Tibetan protesters take to the street with snow lion flags and calls for the Dalai Lama’s return? You betcha. Not only will they use force, but they will feel no need to apologize for it. Anybody who thinks about trying to pull a Tahrir Square on the People’s Republic had better get ready for some force coming their way.
Now, of course what the Sanya Declaration means is that they want regional monopolies on using force within the boundaries of the countries they rule. That’s fine. That’s the basis for the current status quo international regime. There’s a downside to it (China locking up Tibetan protestors, al-Assad in Syria having demonstrators shot, etc., etc.), but that’s the way things work. I just wish the BRICS would say what they mean instead of what sounds nice.
is a free China. Not because the Chinese people will vote for a government that will recognise Tibet’s self-determination (they won’t), but because dismantling the apparatus of oppression in China will make it a lot harder to maintain it in Tibet. Therefore, I am enthusiastic about the goals of the so-called Chinese Jasmine Revolution, even though I have to admit I am not very optimistic about its prospects for success. Gady Epstein has a good summary at Forbes. Check out hashtag #cn220 on Twitter (but don’t believe everything you read). André Holthe translates from the Chinese a post entitled “We are the initiators of the ‘jasmine’ revolution“. Charles Custer reports from the scene in Beijing in a post titled “The Revolution that Wasn’t“; he says that nothing much happened. I would be very surprised if anything much comes of this, but you never know for sure what’s going to happen in the future. 自由万岁! Freedom forever!
The on-going release of U.S. diplomatic cables has included several which relate to Tibet. One describes how the Chinese government has been paying Nepalese officials to apprehend Tibetan refugees, which is a fact that should be more embarrassing to Nepal, but apparently no one cares very much. Another shows the Dalai Lama suggesting to American officials that the focus should be on environmental problems in Tibet rather than on politics. The most detailed cable summarises several conversations with exile government officials. I found it very interesting that the (unnamed) author observes, “Although Western journalists often ask who the face of the Tibetan movement would be after the Dalai Lama passes away, Tibetans seemed remarkably unconcerned because they see a clear succession path.” This is one advantage of having public elections for the kalön tripa: it raises his profile, which will be important in the future when a kalön tripa has to serve at a time when there is no Dalai Lama.
Not much that’s mentioned in these cables is very surprising, but it’s interesting to see what gets emphasised, i.e. what an American diplomat thought was interesting to talk about. It’s important to note that the Wikileaks cables are marked with the lowest level of secrecy in the U.S. system. Presumably, any really shocking news that diplomats wanted kept secret would be available only at higher security clearance levels.
guardian.co.uk recently ran an interview and analysis piece by Norma Levine about Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s current situation. He makes his most straightforward so far about not playing a political role in the government-in-exile in the future, rightly pointing out that there is a already a procedure in place in their constitution to choose a regent for the Dalai Lama. Levine writes compellingly about the restrictions the Karmapa faces living in India. Some questions were raised in the comments about the reliability of the translation of what the Karmapa said and about the accuracy of the conclusions Levine reaches, but this article is definitely thought-provoking.
Granted, this basically confirms what we already knew or suspected: that “Chinese operatives hacked into Google, the computers of US officials, and the online communications of the Dalai Lama“. One wonders what if anything the Dalai Lama would have been discussing by e-mail that would be an important secret.