On Atsok’s Poem and Chinese Propaganda

 By Choenyi Woser | April 12, 2017

(Translated from the original in Tibetan by Kalsang Dhondup, edited by Tenzin Gaphel)

Recently in the exile Tibetan society, a poem written and posted on Facebook by prominent Tibetan independence activist Atsok Lukar Jam became the subject of heated debates and discussions. The poem was a tribute to late Professor Elliot Sperling, a renowned Tibetologist and an expert on Sino-Tibet relations, who died on February 1, 2017 in New York City.

Later, on March 22, 2017, Lukar’s car was found smashed with rocks by unidentified miscreants.

Based on these developments, the Chinese government, under the pretext of analyzing the incident, published a report on March 26 through its state media, criticizing the Tibetan community in exile. Several concerned Tibetans have stated that we have given the Chinese government a weapon to use against us. However, I don’t consider it as a serious matter because in a democratic society, arguments over different views and sometimes even news of unfortunate incidents need to be made public.

Therefore, let us try to analyze the words and phrases used in the title of the Chinese government’s news article, ‘Separatists disintegrate again, internal conflict of Dalai clique becomes public’.

First about ‘Separatism’

Separatism means to separate or secede from the main entity, which is done through both legitimate and illegitimate means. As Tibet is currently under Chinese occupation, Tibet’s wish to separate from China is its historical right and an exercise of the right to self determination. Moreover, Tibet seeks separation due to the unbearable repression under Chinese occupation.

To coexist, both parties need to agree on coexistence.  Even after that, it does not mean that one does not have the right to seek separation.

Having said that, although China occupied Tibet, it never obtained the consent of Tibetans to a mutually agreed peaceful coexistence and this is most evident from the utter impossibility of living under Chinese repression and discrimination in Tibet. The issue of Tibetan separatism, backed by historical evidence and the universal principles of freedom, justice and human rights does not violate international law. Therefore Tibetans being called separatists by China is not unbearable.

To choose whether to secede or not is a right embodied in the core principle of self-determination and enshrined in the various conventions and covenants of the United Nations. In recent times, a number of countries have exercised their right to self-determination. Tibet fulfills all the requirements necessary to exercise its right to self-determination. In 2008, Kosovo regained its independence from Serbia by exercising the right to self-determination. In 2014, Scotland held a referendum to secede from Britain. Although the referendum resulted in the majority voting to remain with Britain, there are plans for another referendum to be held in the near future.

After years of sporadic contacts with the Chinese government, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, since reestablishing the Tibetan government in exile in the aftermath of the Chinese occupation in 1959 proposed to China in clear terms that Tibet is willing to coexist with China if the regional national autonomy law is genuinely implemented in Tibet. In 2008, a memorandum based on the Dalai Lama’s proposal for Tibet’s genuine autonomy was submitted to the Chinese government. The proposal was rejected. Moreover, the Chinese government has intensified the denunciation campaign against the Dalai Lama, labeling him a separatist. It is not because China is unaware of the Dalai Lama’s proposal. China wants to continue subjecting Tibetans to repression and making them powerless. The absence of any legitimate negotiated settlement on obtaining Tibetan consent to coexistence is evidenced by Chinese policy to isolate the Dalai Lama. In contrast to what China would let us believe, disagreements in exile do not mean disunity. It is the separatist actions of Chinese government that create a wedge between Tibetans and Chinese, and in some ways seem to provide leverage to the Tibetan independence activities. The issue of Tibet is clearly evident to the Chinese leadership, Chinese democracy advocates, especially the Chinese supporters of Tibet.

Second on “Disintegration”

The word denotes the dismemberment or breaking up of a coexistent entity. The disintegration of Tibetan movement may be one of China’s most ardent wish, but a truly organic and intrinsic coexistent entity cannot easily succumb to this wish. A democratic society guarantees space for the expression of divergent ideologies, perspectives, hopes and aspirations. Within this democratic diversity, often forceful debates and controversies are witnessed, with some resorting to public demonstrations and hate campaigns targeting with vandalism and loot. China should not feel surprised or happy to see these things happening in the exile society.  China is not used to democracy and sees any kind of contrasting viewpoint as a threat to the power of Party leaders or the national stability. Repression and imprisonment has always been China’s response to divergent views.

In addition to routine repression of Tibetan and Uyghur activists, Chinese dissidents are also detained and sentenced with alarming regularity. For instance, Chinese democracy activist and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is still in prison. Chinese lawyers who defended people who held views different from the Chinese government were imprisoned. In its 2016 report on the human rights situation in China, a committee set up by bipartisan Congressional members concluded that one out of ten Chinese human rights lawyers were killed in the previous year.

It is impossible that the Tibetan movement will disintegrate due to the prevalence of different views and ideologies. For thousands of years, Tibetans have coexisted together, not in a state of uniformity but with vibrant diversity; there were times when Tibetans revolted and brought down the rulers, and yet Tibetans did not disintegrate. Many nations at the time existed in such circumstances. Tibetans share the same language and script, traditions and customs, and national identity. Tibetan society will not disintegrate due to diverse opinions because force was never used to keep the Tibetans together. Tibetans still embody the soul force of Tibetan emperors which is a matter of great pride for all Tibetans. Therefore, disintegration will never occur and protests against China will never cease. It is natural for species of the same kind to live together. Chinese occupation has forced many Tibetans to live in different parts of the world in scattered communities. But Tibetans have always shared the same views on Chinese occupation of Tibet with the consciousness of the same national identity. It is not like the goats and sheep have joined the foxes.

Third on “Dalai clique’s internal conflicts become public”

If it is a matter of the internal conflicts becoming known to all, then it should be noted that the Tibetan government in exile under the Dalai Lama’s leadership has now been existent for the past 58 years. Those years were not spent without any disagreements or acting like everyone thought the same. Nor any violence or intimidations were used to crush conflicts. The exile Tibetan society might be small but it has strived to create a democratic society to allow expression of various opinions and ideologies. It is not a secret that Tibetan society has always witnessed differing views both in the past and present. A major example is the prevalence of political advocacy by independence and Middle Way proponents who were able to defend their stands at various conferences and meetings organized by Tibetan government in exile and non-governmental organizations. In this age of advanced and popular social media sites, it is natural that incidents will become public. Could it be that China censors so much information, it is only now that they notice it.

A civilized society allows leaders, intellectuals, writers and artists to freely express different views and the public to participate in discussions and debates. There is no reason to consider it as disintegration or civil war. There is no need to use force to intimidate or suppress expression of views, or use repression and imprisonment to keep Tibet within China. Tibetan people have the natural and inherent capability for coexistence. To free Tibet from China’s repression, efforts are still being made to resolve the issue in a mutually beneficial way.

Choenyi Woser is a journalist who writes in Tibetan language.

The views expressed in this article are that of the author and should not be attributed to Tibet Express.

In case of discrepancies in the translation, please consider the orignal in Tibetan as authoritative.