17 October 2007

Dalai Lama Congressional Gold Medal

I reply to an (unconventionally) conservative friend who asked my opinion about the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, and in so doing remarking that it seemed like a provocation, comparable to another state awarding a medal to Osama bin Laden. (He also commented on positive role of China in resolution of North Korea crisis):

You kindly asked for my opinion, (paraphrasing and supplying some implicit context), on the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, i.e., whether it’s an unwarranted provocation to the Chinese. This has to be considered in light of their stated position that Tibet is part of China, and any recognition or even official conversation with the Dalai Lama constitutes interference in their internal affairs. (This has been their position since 1959, and has been expressed quite distinctly in these terms since the 1970s).

I’ll avoid giving you a long diatribe on the historical reasons for believing that the Chinese interpretation of their sovereignty over Tibet is untenable, although that is my opinion. Sufficient to say, Tibet was de facto independent, and at most a tribute state (early on the tribute usually went the other way), continuously from about A.D. 750 until 1959, when the Chinese invaded and enforced their claim, which they had proclaimed with the founding of the P.R.C. in 1949. Their primary interest in Tibet is its mineral wealth, which is enormous, and they have been systematically displacing the indigenous population and installing Han Chinese population. With China having a population of 1.2 billion and Tibet having a population of 6 million, the threat to Tibet’s culture and identity as a people is quite real.

I’ll also avoid a diatribe on the brutal oppression of the Chinese towards Tibet, which has abated somewhat in the last ten to fifteen years. There is quite strong evidence that the suppression (and outright destruction) of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and political dissidents during the Cultural Revolution resulted in at least 200,000 Tibetans (out of that six million population) being killed.

So the case that China has bloody hands with regard to Tibet is there to be made. I am a little biased, I suppose, so in the interests of disclosure I admit I am a Buddhist, of the Gedan tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, which originated in Tibet, and that I have great love and admiration for Tibetan culture and spiritual traditions. But this isn’t really the issue. The fact is that Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is not a separatist. This is a Chinese canard. He has called for autonomy with Tibet as a part of China, much to the dismay of some of his own refugee population. The Chinese position on Tibet is quite simply indefensible, and they know it. They are flat out lying about the position taken by the Tibetan Government in Exile, which is that there should be recognition of the interests of the Tibetan people and self-determination on issues of development and what’s normally called domestic policy. Much like the arrangement that Catalunya has with Spain. It’s all negotiable, and the Tibetans aren’t fooling themselves about how weak a position they’re in. But the Chinese are lying about this, claiming that the Tibetan Government in Exile is militant and separatist, which just isn’t true. It’s classic disinformation propaganda.

So, yes, I think the Congressional Gold Medal was perfectly appropriate. It’s not an interference in Chinese internal affairs to say, in effect, “we don’t have a beef with you, but we recognize the truth, too, which is that you need to negotiate a resolution to the legitimate interests of the Tibetan people, and we recognize His Holiness as a rightful representative of the exile community.” The Chinese will pout and stamp, but it’s posturing. They’ll get over it. And it is well for us to occasionally give them a little taste of resistance and speaking of truth. China is an authoritarian empire, much like what it has essentially always been. Our interests are not congruent with theirs, and an occasional reminder of that fact is not a bad thing.

Incidentally, I have to say that comparing, even obliquely, the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to Osama Bin Laden, is just preposterous. I have received teachings from His Holiness and heard him speak on several occasions, and I can tell you from personal experience that he is an honest man of peace. My spiritual tradition is in conflict with some of his religious edicts, but politically he is doing the best he can in a very difficult and precarious position to preserve and defend the interests of his extremely beleaguered people. Moreover, the Tibetans have never (in modern times) attacked the Chinese. Quite the opposite. So to compare their leader in exile in any way to Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida is offensive and untenable. And, once again, the Chinese know perfectly well what the Dalai Lama has really said and done.

Korea is an entirely separate issue, and there it has been in the Chinese interests to help broker a deal, much to the chagrin of the more militant authoritarian neoconservatives in the White House, such as John Bolton and Dick Cheney. (I know Bolton’s out, but there are plenty of folks who think just like him). The Bush administration’s negotiator, Christopher Hill, is a State Dept. guy, aligned with Rice and Negroponte, and one of the best diplomats they've got. Before these six party negotiations were finally embarked upon, the administration’s policy towards Korea had been entirely less than zero. Here’s a good case for how, thanks to the neocons, NK built nuclear weapons they wouldn’t have otherwise built. But I agree with you that the Chinese were undoubtedly instrumental in bringing about a favorable outcome. (Let’s just hope it holds). The last thing they want is a unified Korea with American troops on their border, not that that was a particularly likely outcome. They want NK to continue to exist, and to gradually come under their hegemony as a sort of client state after Kim Jong Il dies. Which is a pretty likely outcome. Marxisim-Leninism is just a slogan for them nowadays, it’s all about hegemony and centralized control. If nothing else, the Chinese are smart enough to look down the road a bit further than we usually do. So, in this case, the Chinese interests and ours coincided, and we were smart enough (for once) to cooperate with them.

Anyway, in general I believe we need to find common ground with the Chinese where it serves the interests of peace and prosperity for our people, and diplomatically resist them when not. Pretty much like any other country. They don’t want open hostility with us any more than we do, so a watchful coexistence is the only course for both countries. Anyone who thinks we have anything more friendly than that going on with them, though, is, in my humble opinion, deluded. They will trade with us, of course, because that relationship is frighteningly lopsided in their favor. If it weren’t, they’d curtail it. They buy US made airplanes, and admittedly it takes a lot of 99ct widgets to pay for a Dreamliner, but if they thought we were getting the better of the trade relationship, they’d forego the benefit to their consumer economy and cut it back. Because they think strategically first and foremost.

I think it likely that in the long run, since they own so much of our debt, we're going to have to accommodate them more than we would care to. Not to mention there are disturbing signs that they will lose interest in US debt as the dollar becomes weaker and weaker, and start buying equity. At the end of the century they're likely to be the world's superpower, not us. Certainly, economically. A prospect that doesn't thrill me, although I'll be dead, so it won't matter to me personally.

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