‘Beyond Textbooks!’
by Lhasang Tsering (30 July 2000)

I am glad to see that a few people have read my article- ‘India’s Tibet: A Case For Policy Review’. If the few responses that it has generated is any indication- it seems that the readers were mostly Americans. This is sad because my article was mainly aimed at fellow Tibetans and also the people of India. These days these does not seem to be any platform to discuss serious political problems among Tibetans. Tibetan Review is no longer what it used to be. And, while the spirit of the TYC Rangzen still rings true- it suffers from poor editing and falling standards. It is for this reason that I have made a few attempts to submit my article to WTN. I have no way of knowing if my article was received. Finally, Lhakpa from the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago kindly offered to post it on the TSG-L.

One reason for the long delay in my response is due to the fact that I am not connected to the Internet. While I am able to use the cyber cafes in McLeod Ganj to send out messages- all incoming messages must still come by post. The frequent power cuts have played no small role in delaying this reply. But the main reason for not responding immediately on receiveing my mail- which was more than a month ago- is the feeling of futility in discussing real life and death problems with people who cannot go beyond what their textbooks tell them.

This is particularly true of the article ‘Autonomy, Self-government and Self-determination for Tibet?’. On the face of it the article is proper and even informative and with such good advice so freely available I hope our decision makers have taken note of them. But the crucial issue is how far such defenitions- no matter how legally correct and academically excellent- will get us with the Chinese. The problem i not one of defenition of power- all of which at the moment is either in the hands of the Chinese or on their side.

While admitting that in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region ‘Tibetans have minimal rights to govern themaselves in theory and none in practice’ the writer states that ‘the self-government or autonomy proposed by His Holiness, in His 1998 Strasbourg statement, provides for Tibetan control over most matters affecting Tibet’. The writer then tells us that ‘in deciding whether an autonomous arrangement will meet a particular people’s needs it is necessary to carefully examine the distribution of these governmental powers between the nation’s identity- including education, official language, national symbols, postal and telecommunication systems, currency and monetary policy and determintion of citizenship.’

For the sake of the record I wish to relate what happened in the immediate aftermath of the Strasbourg Statement which was announced on 15 June 1988 to members of the European Parliament. On 26 June His Holiness explained the policy to Tibetans living in Swtzerland- this being the first time that the policy was explained to the Tibetan public. That evening Tibetan, Youth Association living in Switzerland organised a panel discussion on Rikon. On the panel were Kasor Tenzin Geyche Tethong, Private Secretary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Kasur Gyari Lodi Gyatsen, Special envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New York and Mr Kalsang Gyatsen, then representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Zurich. It should be stated here that next to His Holiness, from among all Tibetans these were then the people most closely associated with the Strasbourg Statement and the most qualified to explain this policy.

The first point of the Strasbourg Statement proposes that the ‘whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang) should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People’s Republic of China’.

We are all familier with some of the bombastic names of the leftist revolutionary banana republics of Africa and Latin America. But surely the above description cannot pass for the name of the country. And, while it was reassuring to know that Tibet will not only be united but also democratic, legal and people oriented I could not help wondering whether it will also be free. It also needed to know whether the ‘A’ word would still be in the name of my country. So my very first question to the panel was to the panel was to ask what will be the name of the future Tibet as envisioned in the proposal. At the same time, I asked to know: Which flag will fly over the Potala? What postage will carry my letters to my children? And, when as an old man I go to the Barkor to buy some radish for my evening thukpa- with whose currency will I do this?

To all these questions the simple answer from the panel was- we have yet to think about these things!

I will not say more here. But a host of other questions burst forth from me at the time and do so now. For the moment let it be clear that Strasbourg Proposal had not taken into consideration some of the most crucial and critical elements of ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-government’ that the respodent mentions.

One writer has kindly takjen the trouble to point out that the USA, China or Britain never ‘explicity recognised Tibetan Independence’. It seems to me that I should be the one to tell others about the duplicity and doubling and dubling dealing an individual who sacrificed his career to join the Tibetan resistance in Mustang, I witnessed the painful impact of such doubling dealing first hand.

Again, the problem here is one of not being able to go beyond the textbooks and not being able to hold politicians and governments accountable for their deeds and not to be carried away only by their claims. When, for example, a Christian murders his or her neighbour what do we do? Turn to the bible and see if the murder has indeed been committed? We know the Bible teaches us to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself.’ We know the Ten Commandants says- explicitly- ‘Thou shall not kill.’ On the strength of what the Bible says is it the practice in the United States to let murderers go free?

Perhaps more to the point, when Tibetan Lamas and Geshes teaching in the West are alleged to have seduced some young female student- what is the response of the Western press and the public? Do they simply turn to the Vinaya and ask what vows Tibetan monks are required to take to decide whether there has been sexual abuse?

The point I have tried to raise is simply that at a time when there was a need various governments indulged in the act of recognised Tibet as an independent country. And at the same time they had no option but to do so beacuse Tibet was indeed an independent country. Is there no one in the USA or Britain or China who is prepared to hold their respective governments responsible and accountable for what they have done and not just what they profess? Why is it that even so-called independent scholars and journalist readily accept baseless Chinese claims and statements about Tibet as ‘legal’ and dismiss the actual exercise of independence by Tibet?

Again I believe this has to do with our complete lack of power of any kind- military, political or economic. And this makes the wonder whether the lip service paid by various Western leaders to the peaceful and non-violent path of the Tibetan people is being done with the best interest of the Tibetan people at heart or simply in the interest of their trade with China? I believe this is a question every Tibetan must consider.

One remark I was waiting for is the one made by Jeff Inglis who asks to know which State I should consider to be the 51st State of USA. I called on Tibetans to declare Tibet the 52nd State of the US and not the 51st so as to start a discussion on the second great malaise affecting the Tibetan struggle today. The first- our lack of clarity and consistency of purpose- is what I tried to discuss in my original write-up- India’s Tibet. I believe the second great disease we suffer from is indecision. And it will not require any great deductive powers to see that the one is a result of the other.

I am aware that pureto Rico is not yet a state of the US and it may take years or even decades before that happens. I had Taiwan in my mind as more likely to beat us to be the 51st State of the US offered at the very least another option to maintaining their present status. And, in view of our chronic inability to make difficult decisions and the manner in which Taiwan has been moving forward during the past decade- should the people of Taiwan begin to consider this option- I believe they would beat us to it.

I quick look at our recent history will help illustrate what I am trying to say. It took us nine long years from May 1951 to March 1959 to understand that the Chinese never intended to abide by the so-called 17-point Agreement. It then took us twenty years to realise that no one in the so-called free world is going to sponsor our struggle for freedom. Even after this realisation it took us another years to come out with a concrete proposal to seek ‘association’ with China. Thereafter it has taken another ten years to change the call from ‘association’ to ‘genuine autonomy’. How long will it take for us to realise that, as things stand now, the Chinese have no need to talk to us.

As for deciding Tibet a state of the US- this is such a major departure from our present line of thinking it will never happen. It was to highlight our indecision that I suggested 52nd and not 51st. Whether or not taking such a step- or even the one of declaring Tibet a part of even protectorate India- is altogether another issue- one which could benefit from more careful consideration and more debate.


Lhasang Tsering was twice the President of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and one of the founding directors of the Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamsala. He was also a member of the Tibetan Resistance Force in Mustang, Nepal

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