Monday, April 11, 2011

Interview of Samdhong Rinpoche

Interview of Samdhong Rinpoche

Jianglin Li

(September 25, 2008, Dharamsala)

Li: Recent events have a silver lining in the dark clouds. That is, more and more Chinese are interested to learn what really happened in Tibet and why we have a "Tibet question". However, there are a few major misunderstandings and concerns in the Chinese community. One of them is the concept of "Great Tibet". Most Chinese believe that the Great Tibet" means that you are going to take one fourth of the territory away from China.  I think this concept needs to be clarified. It needs to be made very clear for everybody to understand. If we don't have authorized clarification, there are a lot of rumors going on. So I would like to ask you to give us some ideas about the "Great Tibet" concept, how it comes into being and what it means.

SR: This is a good and important question. We will discuss it in detail.

   The expression "Great Tibet" is a new expression coined by the PRC authorities. Tibet is Tibet; there is no "Smaller Tibet", “Greater Tibet" or "lesser Tibet". Tibet is Tibet.

  In 1932, 1933, there was a war between Guomingdang China and Tibet (1). In the ceasefire agreement, it was temporarily agreed to recognize the Dichu River (Jinsha River) as the border between China and Tibet and this arrangement has remained in force until 1951.  So from the China’s side they made this distinction of "Inner Tibet" and "Outer Tibet", the "Inner Tibet” meaning the east side of Dichu River ruled by Guomingdang China, and the other side, “Outer Tibet”, is the independent Tibet.

   During 1913 and 1914, Simla Convention (in India) took place. It was a tripartite convention, consisting British India, the Republic of China and Tibet. British India persuaded Tibet and China to recognize each other, saying that Tibet should recognize China’s suzerainty over Tibet and China should recognize full internal autonomy to Tibet. This was the protocol that both sides accepted. The British government did not accept sovereignty of China over Tibet; they only accepted China’s suzerainty over Tibet. And China also recognized Tibet’s internal autonomy. So this was settled in 1914.

  During the same convention, border issue was discussed. Tibet and British India had no border dispute. Tibet had accepted the McMahon demarcation; India had also accepted it. The so-called McMahon Line, the line that goes all along Tibet's length, the dispute was the border lined by Sir McMahon between China and Tibet.  That was not acceptable to the Republic of China. China’s representatives walked out, they had signed the document but did not put official seal on it.  They went back to China and announced from there that they did not recognize this agreement.

  And thereafter British India and Tibet had a separate protocol, saying that unless and until Republic of China came back to recognize the agreement, all the privileges given to Republic of China would not be recognized. That means giving the suzerainty over Tibet was not recognized by British India and Tibet. And then British India and Tibet decided and agreed on the Indo-Tibet border. The McMahon Line was confirmed. And they further had trade agreement.

   The trade agreement between British India and Tibet was renewed after every ten years. The first was 1914, and then 1924, 1934, and 1944. All these renewals of trade agreement were between British India and Tibet as equal and sovereign country.  After 1944, it was to be renewed by 1954.  But the whole situation has changed. India became independent in 1947, and Tibet was taken over by People’s Republic of China in 1951. How the trade agreement shall be renewed?  It was renewed between independent India and People’s Republic of China. That renewal agreement has a new prefix, a long prefix that is called Panchshila.  Many people do not know what Panchshila Agreement (2) really is about.  Panchshila Agreement is not an independent agreement. It was renewal of the trade agreement between British India and Tibet which continued from 1914. The trade agreement was renewed for eight years in 1954, not for ten years, because India proposed for 25 years, and PRC proposed for 5 years. After negotiation, they agreed on renewal extension for eight years. That eight-year came to the end in 1962.  But the same year they had a war, the Sino-Indian War. After that the trade agreement was not renewed for quite long time.

LI:  So the “great Tibet” idea comes from that time?

SR: I will come to that. So till 1951, Tibet was divided. China had ruled inner Tibet. From China’s side that part is called “inner Tibet”, like Mongolia, “inner Mongolia”, “outer Mongolia”. The “outer Tibet” was independent.  In 1950, the military force came upto Chamdo. There was lot of resistance. By the end of 1950, the Chamdo governor Mr. Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme was taken as prisoner of war. In Chamdo the military operation took place which was referred to as “liberation by force” in PRC now.
   In the beginning of 1951, negotiation was going on in Beijing on how to "liberate" the rest of Tibet. It was decided that the rest of Tibet will be "liberated" by "peaceful" means, through the Seventeen-Point Agreement.

When Seventeen-point Agreement was discussed in Beijing, Tibetan delegation led by Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme said we are now coming back to the big family of the People’s Republic of China. Tibetans now must be united as one unit, not “inner and outer”.  At that time, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong both agreed that this is an appropriate idea, but expressed that at this moment they cannot do it because they already liberated the “inner Tibet”, and now “outer Tibet” is to be liberated peacefully, so we shall conclude the Seventeen-Point Agreement and we shall work on how to re-unify the “inner” and “outer” Tibetan people. So the idea was not new. It was rooted way back in 1951 at the time of the Seventeen-Point Agreement. 

Then in 1956, the Preparation Committee for Tibetan Autonomous Region was established in Lhasa.  At that time, I can’t pronounce the names of the officials; few very senior officials visited Lhasa from Beijing (2). They had established the preparation committee for the establishment of Tibetan Autonomous Region. During that time, Tibetan officials again raised the question that during the Seventeen-Point Agreement it was agreed to re-unify all Tibetan nationality as one unit and that it is now appropriate to implement it. Everybody agreed to that, and a committee was set up. The committee was headed by one very senior communist cadre of Tibetan nationality called Sangye Yeshe (3). The Sangye Yeshe Committee, I think was a five-member committee. They started to work on how to unify all the Tibetan nationalities as one Tibetan autonomous region. 

Then in 1958, disturbances started. In 1959 His Holiness and other Tibetans went into exile.  The Sangye Yeshe Committee could not do anything.  In 1965, Tibetan Autonomous Region(TAR) was established. But Tibetans were further divided in several other parts of Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and Counties in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu Provinces.

What we are asking from the PRC authorities is the concept of national, regional autonomy which guarantees autonomous status for each minority nationalities. PRC has 55 minority nationalities. Tibetan minority is one minority nationality, it is not ten or fifteen minority nationalities, and for that we must have one autonomous region. That is why we have given up the demand of separation and independence. If we are seeking separation, we would not have asked for re-unification of inner and outer Tibet then in 1951. We could only demand separation of the outer Tibet. So when we are accepting to remain within the PRC, we must get the national regional autonomy properly. Therefore, there should be just one national regional autonomy for all the Tibetan nationality. It is not a question of territory, it is not a question of anything, it is only a question of the people.

Because the basic objective of national regional autonomy is to preserve and promote the unique culture of that minority nationality, therefore to achieve that objective, the Tibetans should be living within one administrational autonomy because we are one nationality. If you look at the other major minority nationalities, they have only one autonomous region. The Mongolian, one Mongolian Autonomous Region; the Uygur, one Uygur Autonomous Region. Only Tibetan minority are divided into so many parts.  So we tell them that the Marxist and Leninist opposition to imperialism was about the policy of “divide and rule”, and this policy must go away.  The idea of national autonomous region was promoted by Karl Marx to foster equality and cooperation in order to make a united nation and united people. Therefore, both Han chauvinism and local nationalism must be eliminated. 

To implement that idea properly, the Tibetan nationality should not be divided into so many portions. If they have one autonomous region, then it will be very easy for the central government to deal with the autonomous region, and vice versa.  Then the preservation of language and cultural identity will be done at once, not in so many steps. That can achieve the emotional unification of the Tibetans with the rest of the people, the rest of the nationalities, and with the PRC as whole. So this was our argument.

And it may be the one fourth of the territory in which the Tibetan people are living. If we are demanding separation from the PRC, then you can think of the smaller or bigger, or one fourth of territory to be separated. But we are not asking for separation. We are asking to be united, to be integrated with the PRC. In that matter, the size of the territory is not an issue.

Li: So can I understand that the “greater Tibet” idea is not a territorial concept, it is more of an administrative concept?

SR: Yes. It is an administrative concept, absolutely an administrative concept. There is no question of territory.

 In the PRC, minorities are of different types. Some minorities are bigger in number, but they do not have any concentrated areas to live. They are scattered all over. For them only the national autonomy could be granted, not the regional autonomy.

The Tibetans are living together. For them the national regional autonomy is applicable. That is only a question of how to operate the autonomous administration.  Autonomous administration is always under the control of the central government, the central parliament, and the communist party. Everything is there. We are only asking to implement the constitutional provisions of the PRC; therefore there is no question of territory.

Li: When you say “central government”, “central parliament”, you mean Beijing?

SR: Yes.

Li: Then what is the function of Tibetan…say, the Dalai Lama administration in this autonomous region?

SR: The Dalai Lama administration has nothing to do with the Tibetan autonomous region.  Once the Tibetan issue is settled, then the Tibetan government-in-exile will be dissolved, and Dalai Lama will not have any political responsibility. The autonomous region of the Tibetans will be constituted according to the PRC constitution. During this transitional period, until the Tibetan Issue is settled, His Holiness has moral responsibility to do something as a free spokesperson of the six million people of Tibet.

Once the Tibet issue is settled and the constitutional provisions of the autonomy are granted, then the Tibetans in exile might go back and some might not. If they don't go back, they will become Indians or citizens of other countries.  People in America or in Europe already became residents of these countries. This is a very simple issue.

Li:  Thank you very much for your explanation, Rinpoche. My following question is, if the “great Tibet” idea can be realized, and all the Tibetan people can be united into one autonomous region, what is the detail of “autonomy”?  What is the future plan of the Tibetan autonomy?

SR:  Our future plan of Tibetan autonomy is very simple and very clear.  After His Holiness adopted the Middle Way policy, one document was issued in 1989, called the Strasbourg Proposal (4). The Strasbourg Proposal talks about one-country-two-system, a high degree of autonomy. It was almost like Hong Kong model.  During our negotiation after 1989, the central government of the PRC made very clear to us that this was not achievable.  And we have accepted that it is not achievable.

   Since year 2002 until now, we are asking to implement the national regional autonomy provisions enshrined in the constitution of the PRC and the law of the national regional autonomy.  So what we say is: you have not implemented anything. The autonomy to the Tibetans at this moment is just a name.  There is no autonomy, not a single autonomy legislation has been enacted. The legislatures in the autonomous region had not delivered through their work. 

   So for the coming dialogue in October we are going to give a detailed document about what autonomy that we desire. We only call for the constitutional provisions. The constitution provisions speaks about language, speaks about culture, speaks about religious freedom, speaks about economy, speaks about education, speaks about the internal security, and speaks about the cultural and trade relations with other countries, and all these are very clearly defined in the constitution and the law for national regional autonomy. So we refer each of these details and ask them to implement sincerely for the entirety of the Tibetan people. This is our autonomy. 

   There is no need to change their policy, no need to alter their constitution. Only political will is required. If the PRCs leadership has political will, they can do it within 24 hours, it is only to be implemented. For example, the first step to implement the autonomy provisions is to make a basic law, which is called in constitution language the "Autonomous Regulation".  Autonomous regulation has to be enacted. 

   I was told the Tibetan Autonomous Region has submitted the autonomous regulation thrice, but all the three times it has not been approved by the Standing Committee of the central parliament.  According to the constitution, it needs to be approved from there.  If that is approved, there is a separate autonomous regulation for the Tibetan autonomous region, and then within that regulation the autonomous region parliament-lawmakers can enact all the acts. So this is the barrier that needs to be crossed, and thereafter all other things can be implemented. 

   If these things are completely implemented, then autonomous region will not have any separate military.  The military will always remain the central subject.  Also the autonomous region can not have diplomatic relations with any other countries. The autonomous region can only send students outside or invite scholars under cultural and academic sphere.  The autonomous region can also enter into border trade with other countries that has common border with Tibet.  You don’t have to ask the central government.  So practically the defense and the foreign affairs will be the subject of the center. The central government need not give any money to make the autonomous region dependent on the center. The autonomous region can use their own natural resources according to their own law. 

   From Article 112 to Article 122 in the Constitution, all these autonomous provisions are being made very clear, then also the act of law for national regional autonomy.  If these two are implemented in a sincere way, then there is no problem.  Tibetans will be satisfied, Tibetan culture will be preserved, and Tibetans will be emotionally integrated with the PRC.  That is the very easy, simple, smooth and transparent solution for the Tibetan Issue.   So if you ask me what you mean 'to go autonomy'? I can only say:  “autonomy as it means by the Constitution and by the law. “

Li:  Thank you, Rinpoche. I have another question here. The dialogue between the Tibetan exile government and Chinese government has been going on for seven times now. Next month will be the eighth time.

SR:  Next month will be the eighth time, yes.

Li: People are getting frustrated. Not only the Tibetans are frustrated, people care about the Tibetan Issue is getting frustrated too. It is going nowhere. What do you think is the roadblock?   Why so many years, over twenty years, nearly thirty years now, the dialogue made no progress?

SR:  There are two basic differences between the PRC government and His Holiness’ representatives that we are not able to reconcile.

The first is about the history. The second is the unification of the Tibetan nationalities. These two issues are the major blocks in advancing our dialogue.

Li:  History? What do you mean by the history?

SR:  PRC wanted His Holiness to accept that Tibet belongs to China historically.

Li: Since when?

SR: No such demarcation.  How can we say and agree on something which is historically not true The whole of Tibet has never been a part of China till 1951. From 1220 to 1265, Tibet was fully occupied by Mongolia when Ghinggis Khan’s son invaded Tibet. But in 1265, Emperor Kublai Khan has given the charge to Drogon Chogyal Phagpa thereby restoring the sovereignty back to the Tibetans. Then Tibet goes to China in 1951.

   Right now we say we are inseparable part of the PRC today, we will remain inseparable part of the PRC in the future, provided the autonomy is implemented. But we can’t say that we have always been part of China.  It is not true and His Holiness, being a Buddhist monk, cannot make untruthful statement for political purposes.  Their limitation is, if we do not accept that Tibet was always a part of China, then the 1951 "peaceful liberation" will be considered as an aggression and today’s position will be considered occupation according to international law. In order to legitimize PRC’s present position, we are asked to accept that we have been always part of China.  So this is one difficult position to be reconciled.

The other is that we are talking about one autonomous administration for all the Tibetans; and they say no, they cannot do that.

Li:  What’s the reason for that? What is the reason the Chinese side gave for that?

SR:  The reason they have given is very weak. They say historically Tibetans have never been one unit. Tibet has always been separated, all the times.  Then we say if you go to history, then ancient history, medieval history, present history, all history should be given equal weight.  If you look at the ancient history, in the seventh century, eighth century and half of the ninth century, the Tibetans were always one unit. The disintegration of Tibetans only began in the middle of the ninth century, after Tibetan King Lang Dharma. So it is true if we only look at 1951, Tibet was divided.  This we also accept. But when we are coming back to the big family, we should have the right to re-unite. This is our position. These two are the basic points of disagreement. So far in the talks, we always agreed to disagree.

Li:  Do you think in the next month the same thing will come up again?

SR: I think so, unless they have some different position on how to solve the differences. What His Holiness say…His Holiness is very reasonable.  His Holiness says we should not refer to the history, why we should talk about history? I’m not saying that historically we are separate therefore I seek separation. Whatever may be in the history, I say that at this moment, we are inseparable part of the PRC. And we will remain in the future. That is enough. Leave the history aside. Let historians to debate on it. The whole issue is not an academic matter, it is a political matter. 

Li: Rinpoche, thank you very much for the interview.

(1)   Referring to the armed conflict between Chinese warlord Liu Wenhui and Tibetan army, also known as the  “Xi Kang-Tibet Conflict”. In October 1932, representatives of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama signed an ceasefire agreement. Both sides agreed on using Jinsha River as the temporary border between Xi Kang Province and Tibet.
Panchshila Agreement, also known as The Five Principals of Peaceful Co-Existence. The Agreement was signed in April 1954 between China and India.
Referring to the establishment of the Preparation Committee of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in April 22, 1956.   Delegation of central government led by Chen Yi came from Beijing to participate this event.

Sangye Yeshe (1917 2008), also known as Tian Bao. 

(5) Address to the members of the European Parliament by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in June 14, 1988. It is known as The Strasbourg Proposal.

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