Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

Some songs invariably conjure up specific memories. The other day when I was tidying the children’s rooms, the radio station played “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles. To me, this particular song has always conjured up memories of the Tibetan struggle now streching over more than half a century.

I had to think of the Dalai Lama’s envoy, Lodi Gyari, whom I had just seen on VOA’s Kunleng TV two days earlier. He spoke about the most recent round of talks with China and went out of his way to stress how hard they had tried to convince their Chinese counterparts that the Dalai Lama was an honest person and that he was not seeking independence.

On this long and winded road to a better future for Tibet, the topic “Sino-Tibetan negotiations” has become a never-ending saga, the epitome of the convoluted nature of Tibet’s relationship with China.

I’m picking up dozens of stuffed animals scattered around the floor, while contemplating about China’s strategy. The people in the Chinese government are definitely not stupid. They know very well the Dalai Lama is not a separatist. It’s a calculated move to claim he is, because this way they can afford to ignore the existence of the problem. Entangled in the game, our envoys are busy conveying the message that the Dalai Lama is not a separatist and not the source of all problems between Tibet and China. All the while, the real goal of the talks is never getting addressed.

The aim of the talks, as far as I have been able to follow, has been to bring about a direct meeting between the Dalai Lama and the supreme Chinese leader: to clear misunderstandings and establish mutual trust in order to pave the way for Kundun’s return and with him all his followers. It’s been the aim of the talks since they were initiated when Deng Xiaoping was still around or so With zero success in 20 plus years of talks.

Instead, the Chinese authorities have been very clever to lure the Tibetan side onto a long and winded journey, always surprising them with yet another bend to take (“we will not talk to you if you don’t say Taiwan is a part of China”), yet another little pass to cross (“we will talk to you but first you must ensure that all international protests stop”) totally screwing the Tibetan side over, but never getting to down to the bottom of things.

Remember, the BBC reported the other day that Taiwan’s leader will meet with the Chinese President to discuss tourism and charter flights? Lucky bugger, gets access to the president over tourism and charter flights, while the Dalai Lama’s envoys have been talking to some no names from the obscure United Front for two decades about something much more existential. Boy, have they been humiliating us and our leader. And boy, have they got away it.

So why should the Chinese government change its strategy? From their perspective, it’s been very successful. It has saved them the annoying job of addressing the magnitude of the Tibetan problem and looking for real, mutually beneficial solutions. All the while, they look to outside observers as though they are open to discussion. A new round of discussions has just been concluded in Beijing. As usual, no results, and as usual, the Chinese side has not commented on the talks other than saying they’ve taken place.

Being the good-natured and considerate people the Tibetans are, they have been meandering along doing China’s bidding, never allowing their spirit to go low, always seeking to see something positive, even if perspectives are bleak. The Tibetans are in such a desperate situation that they don’t want to be ones spoiling the broth even if the broth is unpalatable.

They even put up with ugly video games about them, like the one Factiva Dow Jones says was launched in China after the March 2008 unrest, and is called “kill as many Tibetan separatists and win a patriotism medal”. The report said nothing about how well the game was selling. But if Tibetans in Tibet and China can be believed, interracial relations are at an all-time low these days, I’d say coming up with a virtual promotion for ethnic cleansing is the last thing both sides need.

That’s of course not the end of it, just the tip. People in the Chinese government can get a lot more petty-minded. Everyday, news emerges documenting their fussy behaviour.

Like the report about issueing verbal orders to travel agents not to list France as a destination and stop offering package tours to that country because the Olympic torch in Paris was accompanied by protests and the Dalai Lama honored as a Paris citizen. The cowardly thing about it: The authorities deny an official travel boycott – in the same breath, they say France needs to take stock of its actions.

Or the news article about restricting movement at the border with Mustang, a Northern Nepal district, to punish that country over continuous pro-Tibet rallies. Little counts it that the Mustangis have been reeling under a virtual famine since they depend entirely on neighbouring Tibet for its food and ration supplies.

And of course, the all-time-favourite: Sending protest notes to any country visited by the Dalai Lama (“you guys are hurting the feelings of the Chinese people”) They must be doing that in their sleep by now given the Dalai Lama’s busy travel schedule.

The official China acts exactly like someone who walked into his neighbour’s house uninvited, took over the entire household, reorganised it to according to their preference, and has been telling the owner since then that everything is happening for their own good.

For the old house owners, it’s been Sleeping With The Enemy since. Sleeping in the same bed, dreaming different dreams.

Honestly, what options do the Tibetans have, with nothing to offer and no one to turn to? Astonishing that China, so extremely sensitive about the way it was treated by Western powers in the past, and who carefully conveys this sense of injustice from generation to generation, is unable to show a trace of empathy for the Tibetans.

In the context of the March unrests, someone - I think it was Don Lopez - wrote that as Buddhists, Tibetans have a long-term view of things, that they would think in cycles of creation, destruction and then again creation. If I colloquially paraphrased Lopez I would put it as: “No matter what the outcome, Tibetan folks are able to take a lot and they will persist” - or something to that effect. Not really a consoling thought per se, but I believe it does shed some light on the Tibetan spirit.

In politics change can come over night, or it cannot. No one knows for certain. All the while, the Tibetans will continue to talk to who ever in China is willing to talk, the political activists will continue to protest against injustice, people all over Tibet will continue to go about their daily lives with government workers going to their offices, private entrepreneurs running their businesses, farmers working in their fields, and artists will continue to record songs, paint, sculpt, and exhibit.

Everyone will continue on the long and winding road, and in their hearts, many will continue to dream about the return of the Dalai Lama and a free homeland. Whether this will ever happen and when, we don’t know. But the dream is immortal and there will still be Tibetans dreaming this dream, long after the last Chinese communist has disappeared. That is for certain.

In the meantime, I've also finished tidying the kids' rooms. At least for the time being. The effect won't last, but I still have to do it. That's for certain too.

Mountain Phoenix

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