Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Missing in the Middle Kingdom

Missing in the Middle Kingdom

Author: Claude Arpi
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 27, 2003

A rather surprising announcement was made recently by Zhuang Cong Sheng, a senior official of the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Mr Zhuang declared in Beijing: "To my knowledge in recent years, we didn't have any formal talks with the Dalai Lama." It is more astonishing as in May this year Mr Zhuang himself was host in Beijing to the Tibetan representatives led by Mr Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy. To play down the visit of the Dalai Lama's representatives, the Chinese official added: "Tibetan compatriots who visited the region for sight-seeing and tourism, had some `contacts' with his department". He further told the press that it was `misleading' to call these contacts `negotiations'.

Mr Zhuang's words were corroborated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the eve of his departure to the US. In an interview to the Washington Post, Mr Wen declared: "We have taken note of the recent remarks by the Dalai Lama, but we still need to watch very carefully what he really does. So long he genuinely abandons his position on seeking Tibetan independence and publicly recognises Tibet and Taiwan as inalienable parts of Chinese territory, then contacts and discussions between him and the central government can resume."

It was 15 years ago, in September 1987, that the Dalai Lama officially and publicly declared he was renouncing his claim to Tibet's independence. A year later, in front of the European MPs in Strasbourg, he reiterated his position of seeking "genuine autonomy" within the People's Republic of China. This compromise had been suggested in 1978 when Deng Xiaoping sent a message: "We can discuss everything, except independence."

Today, Mr Wen's interview shows that nothing has changed in the last 15 years, despite the Tibetan leader's compromises and his obvious wish to find an amicable solution. Many feel that it was perhaps his mistake to seek a "middle path" approach. Some parry that if he had continued to ask for independence, negotiations would today be under way? Who knows?

At the beginning of the 20th century, the predecessor of the 13th Dalai Lama told his British friend, Sir Charles Bell: "The Chinese way is to do something rather mild at first; then to wait a bit, and if it passes without objection, to say or do something stronger. But if we take objection to the first statement or action, they urge that it has been a misunderstanding, and cease, for a time at any rate, from troubling us further."

The Chinese give a different meaning to "middle path". First they grab; if they encounter strong resistance, they may withdraw half way. Unfortunately, in the case of Tibet's status as well as for the borders with India, the reaction was too mild to even be taken note of by Beijing, which remains today on its original position.

Mr Wen's declaration raises very serious issues for the Tibetans in exile as well as for India's border negotiations. In both cases, Beijing is in position of control (whether in Tibet or Aksai Chin) and to wait 10, 20 or 50 years does seem to be a problem. However, this can be seen from another angle. What we are witnessing today in Tibet is a clash of civilisation. The Dalai Lama's crusade for ethics and universal responsibility is a fight to preserve an endangered way of living. It is also a battle against time.

If this endangered culture disappears forever, it will certainly be a great loss for mankind which continues to need spiritual awareness to grow and develop. Recently, I was told by a friend who went to Mount Kailash that as soon as one crosses the Indian border to reach Purang (Taklakot) located near the trijunction between India, Tibet and Nepal, one finds brothels and karaoke bars where, 50 years ago, there were only monasteries or stupas. During the last couple of years, Purang, the last town before the Kailash parikrama, has gone into these new business ventures. How would pilgrims react if brothels were opened in Mecca or Vatican City?

A thousand years ago, the kingdom of Guge-Purang was the centre of one of the greatest cultural renaissance which spread into the entire Himalayan belt. The knowledge which had been accumulated for centuries in the great viharas of North India, and which was systematically destroyed by barbarian hordes, took refuge in these areas of Western Tibet.

Today, a new civilisation based on Deng Xiaoping's motto: "It's glorious to be rich" is clashing with the old one. Slowly, the Tibetan plateau, the symbol of inner peace, is being taken over by modern concrete ugly buildings and prostitutes. Most ironic is it is perhaps the people of China who most need the inner qualities that the Lamas discovered in their caves after years of meditation and sadhana.

The viharas and the caves were certainly not the answer to all ills, but brothels or karaoke bars are answers to none. Can Beijing understand it is in the interest of the people of China to find this inner dimension again, which was always present in China's long history? If Beijing could understand this, the new leadership would certainly have a serious dialogue with the Dalai Lama immediately.

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