His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at his enthronement ceremony, February 22, 1940, in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo courtesy of Tibet Museum
by Dr. Adfer Shah 4 January 2020
While he is leaving the white house soon, Donald Trumps’ last blow to China is his signing the legislation (Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020). The law signed by President Trump on December 27, 2020, becomes the official stand of the US on Tibetan rights, supports and reaffirms Tibetan Buddhist’s right to choose their own 15th Dalai Lama. As anticipated, China is vehemently criticised and treated as the United States’ deliberate interference in China’s internal affairs since China brands all issues related to Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as their internal matters. Not surprisingly, with this, the long-standing demand of choosing the 15th Dalai Lama by the Tibetan’s scattered worldwide or those who live in Tibet has been though endorsed by President Trump; the question is, will this legislation deter China that already seems not too alarmed or careful about Washington’s global diktats even not about the mega issue of south china sea.
The crude and bitter reality remains that the whole world has not been able to stop China from inflicting massive atrocities against the helpless Uighurs and using Tibetan land for whatever it likes, like a testing lab for forced labour, torture camps, and indoctrination what it very politely calls re-education now. The fact is that China doesn’t come under any international pressure even if Trump or the whole world labels Corona as the Chinese Virus or criticises its expansionist adventures against its neighbours. While it had already started to manipulate the Dalai Lama institution (i.e., Gedhun Choekyi- then just 6-year-old boy chosen as 11th Panchen Lama in 1995 was abducted along with his family and remains missing) and the process to choose their own pro-China Dalai Lama was ongoing, the question is, will such a strong and open support to Tibetan Dalai Lama institution help Tibetan cause or will it address the prolonged Tibetan refugee, identity, and livelihood crises? Will it make any difference in those Tibetans who live in Tibet under Chinese diktats or solve any of the problems that Tibetan refugees are best within alien lands? Also, will it check China’s demographic engineering, which is repeatedly destroying Tibet’s ethnic makeup in TAR (Tibetan autonomous region) and alongside save Tibet’s rich resources and the environment from just being the dragon’s dumping ground of plastic and other harmful waste?
I seriously doubt it! The recent legislation talks of environmental concern and even includes sanctioning Chinese officials (actually some visa restrictions only) if they try to appoint the next Dalai Lama on their own. What will United States do if China continues its evil designs in Tibetan territory and will China give any credence to such sanctions is also doubtful since China now sees itself as the only competitor (even EU recognises the rise of China) to the USA’s global hegemony and has earlier proved that it can bypass any US sanctions? Does the fact remain that China bought oil from Iran and even got away with it and still trades secretly with North Korea and always bypasses US decrees? The worry is, will it be feasible to contain today’s China that is over ambitiously, muscularly, and militarily crazy for its expansionist strategy to gain supremacy in Asia and the world.
Also, the question is that are Tibetans and their organizations reading too much into this law since the change of guard is about to happen in the USA, and will the new regime in the US follow Trump’s plans religiously? Though it can be safely argued that the USA’s policy on Tibet seems stronger than ever before, but Biden’s foreign policy too is in the offing and will see some changes regarding its Asian vision for sure. Should this development be seen as Trump’s deliberate attempt to make the road for US-China bilateral relations more thorny for the upcoming Biden regime? How will such rough postures influence the upcoming Biden government and the bilateral relations, and will a new China-US offensive discourse emerge out of it remains to be seen.
Also, is the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) based in Dharamsala, India, overestimating the legislation by describing it as a victory for the Tibetan freedom struggle? Should Tibetologists and analysts take it as CTA’s hoping against hope? Has the new law that somehow focuses on Tibetans’ religious freedom have anything to do with Tibet’s freedom struggle, or has the USA even urged its support for Tibet’s Liberation from Chinese yoke practically beyond some words of sympathy and refugee aid? Even if Tibetans choose their 15th Dalai Lama of their own without Chinese interference, will it anyway undermine China’s physical and actual iron fist control of the Tibetan territory and people as the dragon has virtually eaten and exploited it all? Should CTA change its goal posts and persuade the world about the seriousness of the Tibet issue rather than rejoicing a simple law enacted far away from China and celebrated by those who are far away in exile?
The critical has Dalai Lama’s middle path approach worked so far while China converted the whole of the TAR into a security orbit. Is it what Lobsang Sangay-the CTA president calls a momentous landmark for the Tibetan people? Therefore, should the Tibetan community across religious and ethnic, and class diversities (i.e., Tibetan Muslims and others well settled and permanent residents in other countries) ask for more from the global powers? Lastly, should India join the fray, and can it afford any excessive posturing towards Tibetans’ especially at this juncture and support the legislation and make its own new stand on Tibet without caring for the 2003 bilateral document(supposedly, that agrees on TAR as Chinese territory)owing to Galwan face-off and China’s consistent non-commitment on border peace or let US face the dragon on her own. As already the Chinese embassy has asked Indian media (indirectly the government) to stay away from the Tibet issue, it is a warning that it might damage the bilateral ties (which stand diminished by Chinese shameless incursions). Has the time come to start reassessing our ties with China’s and change the view towards looking at the dragon that never sticks to a rule-based relation and has started deciding unilaterally on all matters in Asia? Thus, there are endless questions, but without answers.
(Author works at SNCWS IN Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi )