About the Sperling-Lobsang Sangay controversy

Tibetan Buddhist monk at a Chinese government-sponsored event (from Xinhua)Thanks for posting about the Elliot Sperling-Lobsang Sangay dissension, Jigme. I had actually intended to do a post on the Sperling article when it first came out, but, unfortunately, I got a bit wrapped up in non-blogging responsibilities. I found Lobsang Sangay’s response quite disappointing, both because I have a favorable impression of him (I lack any qualifications to assess his merits as a potential Kalön Thripa, but I like his bearing) and because I think there is a valid critique to be made of Sperling’s conclusions. And yet, Lobsang Sangay seems to respond only with invective. I don’t think it’s a fair criticism to simply accuse him of orientalism. His arguments make sense — it is very difficult to see how a free Tibet can be achieved through China’s legal system. The problem is that, when  you lack any good options, simply demonstrating the faults of Option A doesn’t prove that Option B is going to work well. So, the question must be: if genuine autonomy is a very difficult goal, how is independence going to be achieved instead? Personally, I agree with Lobsang Sangay that there is a better chance of making gains by supporting the Middle Way plan (or going further, even, and simply asking that Tibet be given exactly the same status as Hong Kong), but, unfortunately, I don’t think that this particular contribution to the debate actually helps make that case.

On a vaguely related note, I also recommend this article from Tibet Info Net about the foibles of TGIE’s “Finding Common Ground” initiative, in which they have organised talks and meetings between Tibetan exiles and Chinese dissidents. I don’t object to the basic idea and, moreover, I have no reason to think there was anything wrong with the execution either; but, it’s still important to pay close attention to the inevitable (and occasionally weird) problems that can pop up even with a well-executed good idea. And I completely agree with the Tibet Info Net author that SFT’s rant against Jet Li was pointless. Jet Li definitely said a couple things that I don’t agree with, but Jet Li is really, really not the big problem here.


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