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Statement by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama on His Visit to the United States, September 1995
I am happy to be in the United States to share my thoughts with you about Tibet-China and the United States. This is a crucial time when China is entering a period of great change — a time which provides the United States and the international community the opportunity to help the Tibetan and Chinese people realize their deepest aspirations.
We Tibetans have dealt with the Chinese for a long time. For centuries they were our close neighbors, but over the past five decades we have suffered under the oppressive rule of the Communist dictators in Beijing. We must also continue to live as China’s neighbors into the future. I therefore hope our unique experiences and insights may be of some value.
My sincere desire is to see China embark on a new era of peace, prosperity, and stability.
China has gone through revolutionary changes in this century The nationalist movement overthrew foreign Manchu rule in China in the early part of this century, which, in turn, was overthrown during the Maoist Communist revolution. The same ills that plagued the nationalists, corruption and inflation, are now rampant in Beijing. As the last of the comrades of Mao pass away major change is again inevitable and for the first time in China’s history, the emergence of a system based on the rule of law is a possibility.
As students, business leaders, and as Americans dedicated to human rights, justice and democracy, you have the ability to play a vital role in ending the suffering of my people and in bringing fundamental rights and freedoms to the people of China. We must work together to ensure that the changes that occur in China will be beneficial to all in the long-run, not just in the short-term.
For the U.S. and other members of the international community, a peaceful transformation is crucial because of the effect on regional stability, peace and the world economy. An increasingly strong and aggressive China, even if partly capitalist in its economic system, is very dangerous while it remains under totalitarian rule. On the other hand, a pluralist China, open to the outside world, will reduce fear of China in Asia and will promote stability and peace. This is essential for economic and lasting political development to occur.
Just a few years ago, monumental change came to the former Soviet Union. At that time the United States understood the importance of a peaceful and democratic transition of power and acted accordingly. The results of the current transition in China may have even larger ramifications for the United States than in the Soviet Union — and because of China’s huge population, chaos and instability could lead to blood shed and tremendous suffering for millions of people. I would therefore like to see China change to a more open and democratic nation in a peaceful and evolutionary manner.
Recently, there have been some strains on U.S.-China relations. I have no intention to take advantage of this. On the contrary, I would like to urge America to improve its relations with China. A strong and positive relationship between the U.S. and China will not only benefit the two countries, but will also help solve the Tibet problem. I would also like to urge the Chinese leadership that force and intimidation will not improve China’s image in the world.
You may wonder why I speak so extensively about China. I am concerned that a country which holds almost a quarter of the world’s population is on the brink of an epic change which will affect us all. My people’s future depends largely on what happens in China in the upcoming months. A government which oppresses its own people is not going to respect the rights of the Tibetan people or any other nation or people. Furthermore, all things are interdependent, and the situation for the six million Tibetan people, and indeed for all of you here today, is connected economically and strategically to what occurs in China itself.
In analyzing China and determining U.S. policy towards China, it is impossible to do so effectively without addressing the situation in Tibet.
The difficulties that we face in Tibet will not go away until China agrees to address them in an open and systematic way. When China’s leaders begin the process of honest and open negotiations on Tibet, it will be a clear indication that they are committed to a government that draws its legitimacy from the will of the people.
What happens in Tibet is also important from a strategic point of view, because regional peace and stability are tied to the solution of the Tibet question.
In Europe, where the tectonic plates of Christianity, Islam and Orthodox religions meets in the Balkans, there has been recurring and tragic conflict. Tibet occupies a similar place in Asia, surrounded by Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. And yet Tibet, because of the peaceful way of its people, has been able to remain stable and prevent direct confrontation between these groups. I have therefore called for Tibet to be turned into a zone of Ahimsa, a zone of peace. Such demilitarized zones have been created in other parts of the world. Doing so in Tibet would also allow us to play our historical role in maintaining peace in Central and South Asia.
As a result of Tibet’s unique culture and world view, we can also contribute to the peace and prosperity of China. Even with the overwhelming efforts of the Chinese government to wipe out all vestiges of the Tibetan culture during its rule, the Tibetan Spirit has survived — it has survived in exile, but also in the courageous hearts of the six million Tibetan people in Tibet. Our compassionate and non-violent Buddhist culture has much to offer to the rest of the world, and especially to China and the Chinese people, to whom Buddhism is not an alien religion.
To understand the situation in Tibet and to design sensible policies to help alleviate the suffering of the Tibetan people it is critical to understand that the essence of the problem in Tibet today is that the Chinese and Tibetans are fundamentally very different peoples. Tibetan civilization originated thousands of years ago. We speak different languages; are of different civilizations; have different customs; our religion and culture, and even our written languages are completely different.
Tibet has a long history, in which our country was never a part of another country had good relations with our neighbors, but we were never united with any other country or annexed by one. Armies invaded Tibet but were repelled or left after signing treaties with us. Tibet was an independent state when the Communist Chinese army invaded our country in 1949, in direct violation of international law. The newly installed Communist government in Beijing forced Tibetans to sign a treaty for the “peaceful liberation of Tibet.” It then proceeded to occupy our country.
Mao Tse-tung told me when I met him in Beijing in 1954 that the Chinese were there to help Tibetans develop economically, politically and socially. The reality has turned out very differently. Instead of helping Tibet, the Chinese have killed, tortured, raped and robbed the Tibetan people. An estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of the Chinese occupation, and more than six thousand monasteries, temples, forts and other historic landmarks, the repository of our ancient civilization, have been destroyed, desecrated and plundered. I was forced to flee into exile in 1959.
It saddens me to tell you that the suffering of the Tibetan people in Tibet continues.
Today, the repression of my people has taken a new form. It is less open, and more subtle. Tibetans are allowed to visit temples and to pray but they are often not allowed to receive religious teachings, people are allowed to burn incense on their altars, but they are not allowed to observe events of great historic or religious significance; children are allowed to attend school, but they are encouraged to study in their non-native tongue, and parents are punished for sending their children to study abroad.
The Chinese government insists on controlling even our most cherished religious traditions. For many years, China banned our practice of recognizing the reincarnation of religious figures. Today, China has established rules which, if followed, would rob us of this tradition which is so essential to our beliefs.
Most dangerous of all, China has encouraged millions of Chinese to settle in Tibet in order to eliminate all vestiges of Tibet as a land for Tibetans. This is China’s idea of a “final solution” to its Tibet problem. Already today, Tibetans are marginalized in many major towns and cities. If this population transfer is allowed to continue, Tibetan civilization will cease to exist.
So the Tibetan struggle is a struggle for survival– for the survival of a people, a civilization, a unique culture and spiritual tradition, and for our environment.
Our struggle is not a struggle against the people of China, nor is it an ideological struggle. The Chinese are a people with an ancient and rich civilization. We have great respect for them, as we do for our other neighbors. The Chinese people have suffered terribly under the communist regime, especially during the Cultural Revolution. So we sympathize with them, and we understand their yearning for democracy and freedom.
The Tibetan struggle is also a non-violent struggle. We take our inspiration from the teachings of love and compassion of the Buddha, and from the practice of non-violence of the great leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. For me, the path of non-violence is a matter of principle and my stand on this is absolutely firm. Moreover, in the case of the Tibetan struggle for freedom I believe this path is the most beneficial and practical in the long run.
As part of our efforts, we have proposed negotiations with China. We first did so in 1979, after Mr. Deng Xiao-ping promised us that “everything except total independence can be discussed.” It is on that understanding that I have based my proposals, which I first conveyed to the Chinese government. When no response came, I made my proposals public. The Five Point Peace Plan was presented on Capitol Hill during my visit in 1987. The Strasbourg proposal was presented a year later at the European Parliament.
These proposals contain maximum concessions — they provide that Tibet would not be fully independent of China. The proposals recognize that China can play an important role in Tibet. But they are based on the need for mutual respect and mutual benefit. If Tibetans benefit from a close relationship with China, then they may feel no need to fully separate. But if China continues to exploit Tibet and suppress the people, Tibetans will continue to struggle to free themselves from China. Unfortunately, the Chinese government has refused to sit down to negotiate with us.
I have great hope that this new era dawning in China provides the Chinese and Tibetan people an opportunity to bring fundamental change to their lives. In large part the change is dependent on the outcome of power struggles within the Communist Party and the army. However, the seeds for this change are firmly planted in China and the Chinese leadership is facing a generational change, as we saw during the courageous Tianenman Square movement. This has been equally clear in Tibet where Tibetan monks, nuns and lay persons continuity defy the oppressive Chinese rule.
Because of the influence the U.S. can have on developments in China, the solution to the Tibetan problem is also dependent on your actions. U.S. policy towards China must be proactive, not reactive. It must be designed to promote democracy, rule of law and respect for peoples currently under Chinese Communist rule.
The United States must not underestimate its role in the world today. As Americans you should be proud of your heritage; proud of the values upon which your constitution is based. Accordingly, you should not shirk from your responsibility to bring those same fundamental rights and freedoms to people living under totalitarian regimes.
U.S. influence can be exercised an many levels. High level meetings with Chinese leaders, for example, can send very powerful messages to the Chinese population and to the leadership. I know that there are people of vision among its leadership in Beijing who wish to see change in China towards a more open and pluralist government. These are the same people who wish to see the question of Tibet resolved through negotiations. These are the people the U.S. should support and encourage, to the extent that is possible. Explicit and public references to the need for democratic change and for a resolution of the question of Tibet would also show a new resolve from the United States.
Economic leverage, as the U.S. has used elsewhere, can be very effective. Indeed, the dramatic rise in arrests of dissidents and other human rights violations in China and Tibet since China’s Most Favored Nation status was unconditionally renewed, shows how effective even the threat of economic sanctions can be. Furthermore, a totalitarian China which benefits from an escalating trade surplus with the United States, but does not respect the rule of law or international norms of behavior, is a danger to us all.
The business community can play a major role in ensuring that the U.S. government exercises its influence. Business is very much a part of politics today. Whether openly or not, business interests play a major role in political decisions. Not only does action affect politics, but inaction has an impact. Business leaders must take their responsibility in this respect seriously.
There is one last point I would like to make. For four decades communist rule has separated the Chinese people from their moral and spiritual roots. By spiritual I do not mean a particular religion, but values that come from basic moral teachings common to any tradition. Similarly, during these forty years of communist rule, everything that give a Chinese person a sense of outer individual identity was also taken away. For many years everyone had to dress alike, think alike and behave alike.
Therefore, the Chinese people have been deprived of both their inner lives and their outer lives, and there is a tremendous hunger for a restitution of both. But it is very dangerous to feed only the outer hunger for material things because that leads to corruption and anarchy. The inner life — the spirit of a person — must be fed too, so that there is a balance. In achieving this balance, I believe we Tibetans can play a helpful role by sharing our spiritual insight and knowledge with our Chinese brothers and sisters.
In conclusion, I urge the United States, its leaders and its people, to study China carefully, to understand China’s potential as a responsible member of the international community, and the dangers of a renegade nation, home to one fifth of the planet’s population. Addressing the question of Tibet is in the self-interest of the U.S., as much as it is in the interest of China, South, and Central Asia. It is of course very much in the interests of the Tibetan people.
I therefore urge the United States to:
- forcefully promote democracy and the rule of law in China, particularly with regard to the plight of the Tibetan people;
- engage in a high-level dialogue with responsible leaders in China;
- use economic leverage to bring about positive change — linkage between human rights, the rule of law and economics is an essential component in today’s interdependent world;
- promote responsible business ventures, which will bring economic and moral prosperity to China which will serve generations to come;
- strongly encourage the Chinese to begin substantive negotiations with me or my representatives, and use its leverage to make this point;
- provide leadership for a multilateral response to China’s policy towards Tibet.
After 46 years of Chinese Communist rule the Tibetan people are weary of an oppressive government; weary of poverty, discrimination and deprivation of cultural expression. Change in China could mean more suffering for my people and cause your people great economic and military hardship. It could also mean new life and hope for Tibet and the emergence of a stable and peaceful business partner and ally for the United States. I remain hopeful that with concerted international pressure, positive change can come to China, and thus to Tibet.
I repeat today what I said two years ago while speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations and in 1988 to the European Parliament. I or my representatives are ready to meet with China’s leaders to resolve the question of Tibet. I want to state clearly that independence need not be on the agenda of negotiations with China. We must first find solutions to the substance of relations between the Chinese and the Tibetans, based on mutual respect and equality, and based on concepts of fairness and justice.
In the past America has played a useful and important role in bringing conflicting parties together. I would hope that America could bring leaders together to begin to iron out the differences between us, as you have done in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is the way civilized nations and people should behave.
I urge China to reconsider its policy towards Tibet and I appeal to the United States and other democratic countries to persuade China to do so. Let us talk to each other as human beings in a sincere effort to resolve this issue, which has caused suffering to so many for so long.
- Tagged: his holiness the dalai lama
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