NDTV: Tibet-China row: India in tight spot?
Published On: January 31, 2013 | Duration: 21 min, 34 sec
Published On: January 31, 2013 | Duration: 21 min, 34 sec
CNN’s Steven Jiang reports.
More Tibetans are setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese repression.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was interviewed by NBC’s Ann Curry during his October 2012 Visit to Syracuse, New York, USA. The interview was originally broadcast on 11 October. Excerpts:
Ann Curry: More than sixty Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the three years, expressing a desire for greater religious freedoms and a desire to be able to speak their own language? Their deaths have brought no change from the Chinese. Have they died for nothing?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: It is difficult to judge whether these kind of methods are right or wrong. They are expressing in a non-violent way regarding the Chinese policies [in Tibet].
A C: One young Tibetan set himself on fire two days ago left an online statement that read: “If we reflect on the past we can see nothing but signs of defeat, anger, anguish and tears.” What should your people do to express these feelings? Do you support their decisions to set themselves on fire? Do you want them stop setting themselves on fire?
HHDL: I always consider myself as the free spokesman of the Tibetan people, and not their boss. My boss is actually the six million Tibetans in Tibet. I am in free country and quite comfortable. But they are passing through a very desperate situation, so they take these decisions. I am quite certain that those who sacrificed their lives with sincere motivation, for Buddha dharma and for the wellbeing of the people, from the Buddhist or religious view points, is positive. But if these acts are carried out with full anger and hatred, then it is wrong. So it is difficult to judge. But it is really very sad, very very sad.
AC: Through out history, the least powerful are repressed by the powerful. And in some cases, the powerless fight.
HHDL: The struggle, which we are carrying out, is a struggle between power of truth and the power of gun. For short term, the power of gun is much stronger, but in the long run, the power of truth is more stronger than power of gun. That is my fundamental belief. I am not admiring the United States’ military power, including nuclear weapons. I really admire the United States’ moral principle, democracy, freedom and liberty. I admire these things, which are the source of the American power and not weapon.
A C: In the region of Tibet how long they might ask is this going take their setting themselves on fire out of desperation?
HHDL: Six million Tibetans and so long the Tibetan people remain, the Tibetan spirit will carry on. Now judging the past 60 years’ event much has changed in China. I think the next 6o years will see more changes. The world’s trend is towards democracy, openness and freedom. Now matter how powerful the People’s Republic of China, it cannot go backward, it has to go along with the world trend. The basic human desire from the birth is that every human being has the right to be free, and not force can stop this. Ultimately the People’s Republic of China become a more open society, more democratic institution, with freedom of press. 1.3 billion Chinese people have every right to know the reality. Once they know the reality, they also have the ability is judge what is right and wrong. Therefore censorship on their own people is immoral.
A C: You can speak to world leaders, you have influence. If there is one thing you can do for your people, what would it be?
HHDL: Just one word – freedom. Complete freedom, with meaningful autonomy, about matters of religion, culture, and education among others. The defence and foreign affairs are up to the Chinese central government.
A C: Next month there is going to be a change for China, it will have a new leader, Xi Jinping. How are hopeful?
HHDL: It is difficult to say. I do not create some kind of speculation. Better wait for six months, one year or two years, then we will see.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In the remotest regions of China, inhabited by the country’s Tibetan minority, an appalling uprising is under way. In the past year more than 50 monks have died after setting themselves on fire to protest against government repression. Their uprising is mostly hidden from public view because journalists and TV cameras are usually barred from visiting either the Tibetan Autonomous Region or the neighbouring provinces. But China correspondent Stephen McDonell travelled undercover to western China to prepare this report. And a warning: this story contains images of self-immolation.
STEPHEN MCDONELL, REPORTER: In the remote Tibetan regions of western China, there is much that haven’t changed for centuries. But behind these tranquil scene there’s are simmering tensions. Some Tibetans are so disenchanted with Chinese rule that their protests are taking a shocking and extreme form.
After dousing themselves in flammable liquids, more than 50 people – mostly young monks – have set themselves on fire. In the last 12 months at least 42 have died. The Chinese government has been in damage control.
LIU WEIMIN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (translated): We believe that the recent series of events have clearly been masterminded and stirred up by someone behind the scenes.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: The head of the Indian-based Tibetan government in exile was in Australia earlier this year.
LOBSANG SANGAY, TIBETAN PRIME MINISTER IN EXILE: The blame and solution lies with the Chinese government, and self-immolators have made it very clear. We want basic freedom like any human being, like any Australians.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: The Tibetan plateau is, for the most part, a no-go zone for foreign journalists. But we find a way to sneak into the area in Sichuan province which has seen the most number of suicides.
Winter is coming and here nomads are on the move. They’ve broken camp in the high mountains and are heading to lower altitudes to prepare for the cold. It can be a hard life dictated by the elements, but they breed them pretty tough in the Himalayas.
TIBETAN MAN (translated): What we are doing here is cutting grass for the yaks and sheep to eat in the winter time. This is still a very traditional Tibetan area.
STEPHEN MCDONELL (speaking Chinese, translated): So your father’s father was doing this, and his father too?
TIBETAN MAN (translated): Yes, that’s right.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: This young man is proud of his heritage, which he says the bound up in Buddhism.
TIBETAN MAN (translated): The most important thing in our lives is culture. It’s in our work – everything. It comes from books so the monasteries are our most important source.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: But there’s much that people will not talk about openly. It’s very difficult to get away from the authorities in Tibetan areas. In villages like this there are eyes and ears everywhere, so even if we can make contact with ordinary people and if they know about the immolations they don’t really want to talk about it, especially not on camera.
Yet if you spend enough time here, there are those who will speak. We find a monk in a small mountain house helping a poor family. He’s certainly heard about his young brothers killing themselves nearby.
BUDDHIST MONK (translated): They feel unsettled in their hearts, that’s why they set themselves on fire.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: A short distance from where we meet this monk is Aba. Footage secretly filmed inside this locked-down town shows it chocked full of military police and SWAT teams. The streets are barricaded as if in a war zone – something akin to Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.
Aba town alone counts for 24 self-immolations. It’s hard to imagine the desperation that leads young Tibetans to protest by taking their lives in this most agonising way.
LOBSANG SANGAY: We have discouraged drastic actions, including self-immolations, but unfortunately Tibetans seem to be saying this is the only form of protest left, because any other form of protest the consequences is similar – you get arrested, tortured and often die.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Earlier this year, the mayor of Aba made a rare public appearance to condemn the immolations in his town.
WU ZEGANG, ABA PREFECTURE MAYOR (translated): Before taking these actions they have shouted out separatist slogans like “Free Tibet”.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: And the Chinese government says it knows who is ultimately to blame.
WE ZEGANG (translated): The Dalai Lama has not tried to prevent these activities, but he has encouraged these anti-human, anti-social acts of terror.
LOBSANG SANGAY: If the Chinese Government wants to see an end to self-immolation and various forms of protest inside Tibet: open up Tibet, liberalise Tibet, treat them humanely, give them basic freedom.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Every Tibetan town we visit is crawling with police. We’re inevitably seen, and from this point each time we walk out the door people are waiting for us. The same cars appear behind us again and again, and spotters start popping up all over the place. So we head for the hills.
A government vehicle comes around the mountain. It’s carrying the same officers we saw earlier in town.
(Speaking Chinese to officials, translated) Sorry, who are you?
CHINESE OFFICIAL (translated): He’s from the county foreign affairs office.
CHINESE OFFICIAL II (translated): Don’t film us. We can’t be filmed.
STEPHEN MCDONELL (speaking Chinese, translated): Let’s see your ID. How do I know who you are?
They question our producer and driver, then let us know that they’re here out of concern for our well-being. We’re told that Tibetan dogs could pose a threat to us. After checking our passports, they tell us we can’t be here without permission. We’re allowed to go if we move on.
But after driving all day, in the next town we’re met by a new team of government officials and police.
CHINESE OFFICIAL: Xiahe is not open to foreign journalists.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Pressure is now on to leave the region entirely. So the next day we get up earlier than those pursuing us and have one last crack at talking to people. We arrive at the Lablang monastery. It has the largest number of monks outside the official Tibetan Autonomous Region, and has been the site of protests calling for human rights to be respected. Here we meet a woman who wants to speak to us. What she has to say is precisely what the authorities don’t want us to hear.
TIBETAN WOMAN (translated): People self-immolating – yes, I’ve heard of it. They forced those people to die. There is something wrong with the Communist Party and this country.
STEPHEN MCDONELL (speaking Chinese, translated): Sorry, whose fault did you say it was?
TIBETAN WOMAN (translated): The reason they committed suicide is that the monasteries have lots of difficulties in this country. We don’t have any rights, even the right of speech. They tell us exactly what we have to say. If we speak the truth, they will arrest us and beat us to death.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: She says she’s a devout Buddhist and not afraid to speak out, but given the highly sensitive nature of her comments we’ve decided to protect her identity. She speaks, for example, about the monasteries being infiltrated by monks on the payroll of the government.
TIBETAN WOMAN (translated): Some lamas are evil. They are dressed in lama’s clothes but, if the country gives them money, they will take it and are willing to do whatever the government tells them to do.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: She says that most Tibetans are poor with no hope of improving their lives. And, as for a solution to the problem of young monks killing themselves here…
TIBETAN WOMAN (translated): All countries in the world should pray together for the downfall of the Communist Party so it’s not here anymore. They are extremely bad.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: Again, police and government officials find us, and this time there’s no getting away. They’re angry that we haven’t already left town.
(To police officer) Why does it matter? Why do you want us to go?
POLICE OFFICER: Because [inaudible] this is our government has consideration…
STEPHEN MCDONELL: But why? What is the problem?
POLICE OFFICER: Because you’re a journalist.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: But… we’re journalists, we go to lots of places. What is the problem here?
POLICE OFFICER: Because this is a Tibetan area. I’m very sorry.
STEPHEN MCDONELL: We’re escorted out of town until they make sure we’re leaving the area well and truly. Behind us is fear, resentment and tragedy, along with government policies showing no sign of winning over Tibetans.
By Sue Lloyd-Roberts BBC Newsnight, Dharamsala
A series of self-immolations in protest against Chinese rule has shaken exiled Tibetans’ faith in their spiritual leader and the path of non-violence.
At 76, the Dalai Lama has announced his retirement as a political leader, but retains his role as spiritual leader of some five million Tibetans.
But he has remained strangely quiet on the subject of the self-immolations – 32 of which have taken place in the past year alone.
“Now this is very, very sensitive political issue,” he explains with due solemnity.
“If I get involved in that, then the retirement from political power is meaningless. Whatever I say the Chinese government they immediately manipulate.”
For more than 50 years now, the Dalai Lama has been pursuing his “middle way” – a policy of advocating non-violence while pursuing a programme of talks between successive Chinese governments and his representatives.
But, he admits, it has been a waste of time. There have been no talks for more than two years.
“Our approach [has been] more or less failure to get some kind of cross understanding with the Chinese government and some kind of improvement inside Tibet. In that aspect [it has] completely failed,” he says.
“These [Chinese] leaders are very foolish, narrow minded, authoritarian sort of people,” he says.
“They use only their mouth. No ear, never willing to listen to others. As far as their government is concerned, they are really very, very hardened.
“They do not understand what is the real Tibetan feeling.”
He speaks with emphasis and anger. It is the most ungodlike behaviour I have ever witnessed from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 20 years of interviewing him.
He is fed up and so are his followers. But for decades, it was considered almost blasphemy to criticise the Dalai Lama and his policies. Not any more.
“I question the current policy and position of His Holiness not to face reality and then forcing Tibetans to commit suicide,” says 60-year-old Lhasang Tsering, a former president of the influential Tibetan Youth Congress.
Karma Chophel, a former speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, takes the warning further.
“Non-violence has not worked. Violence could now be the only option,” he says.
There have been 32 self-immolations among mainly monks and nuns living in the Tibetan areas of China over the past year alone.
Norbu, a Tibetan from Sichuan province in China, braved the perilous journey over the Himalayas to find refuge in India.
“I had to come,” he says, “to tell the world what is happening.”
“I was shopping in Ngaba [Aba] town when suddenly two monks ran down the street in flames. One was holding a Tibetan flag and shouting for freedom of religion and for the return of the Dalai Lama.
“After a few minutes, police, firemen and soldiers arrived, put out the flames and threw the two monks in to the back of an army truck. We were told they were being treated in hospital but no one has been allowed to visit them and so we don’t know whether they are dead or alive.”
The self-immolations witnessed by Norbu took place in September last year. Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Kunchok were both 18 years old.
Nearly all of these desperate acts follow the same pattern. The monks and nuns (there have been only two civilians) drink kerosene and splash it over their bodies before setting themselves alight.
Many wrap themselves in barbed wire to make it harder for the police to stop them. All policemen in the area carry fire extinguishers.
If Norbu was so anxious to tell his story, I ask, why did it take him so long to leave Sichuan province?
He explains that there are now three military camps surrounding Kirti monastery, where the majority of those who have self-immolated come from, and “security forces and plainclothes police are everywhere. There are checkpoints on every road.”
“The internet cafes have all been closed and even the public telephone office. It’s as if we Tibetans have been shut up in a room and the Chinese have locked the door.”
The Chinese have forbidden access to the area to outsiders. They believe they are bringing development and modernisation to backward Tibetan areas and blame outside forces – particularly the Dalai Lama – for stirring up trouble.
The only way of finding out what is going on is to watch the horrific YouTube videos of the self-immolations which are regularly posted on Tibetan support websites such as Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet.
Journalists wanting to find out more head to Dharmamsala in India, where the 150,000 Tibetans living in exile with the Dalai Lama monitor the grim events taking place in their erstwhile home.
All the major monasteries in Tibet have equivalents in India. At Dharamsala’s Kirti Monastery, I am directed to two monks, Kanyag Tsering and Lobsang Yishe.
While the monastery resounds to the sound of mediaeval prayersong, accompanied by cymbals, bells and giant Tibetan horns, Tsering and Yishe are on their Apple Macs and smart phones.
As I arrive in their cell at the top of the monastery, there’s been another self immolation and they are hard at work.
“His name is Lobsang Tsultrim and he’s 19 years old,” Tsering, with his phone to his ear talking to a monk in Kirti Monastery in China, says to Yishe who is typing fast on his keyboard.
“Did he shout any slogans? What happened?”
They are told the police threw his body into a truck – he was still raising his hand and shouting “Free Tibet!”
“He’s not dead yet? You’re checking?” He died the next day.
Once they hear from three different sources, they send the news to Tibet support groups and journalists.
The two monks then make their way up and along the narrow staircases and corridors of the monastery to the office of the head of the monastery, Kirte Rinpoche, who is also spiritual head of the monastery in China. His face contorts with pain as he hears the news.
“The recent self-immolations express the suffering not just of the monks but of the entire Tibetan people,” he says.
It was Chairman Mao who once said “when there is repression the people will revolt”.
In an office in Dharamsala, the current general secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tenzin Chokey, is sitting at her computer monitoring the pictures coming in from Tibet.
They show demonstrations involving thousands of Tibetans as news of the latest self-immolation spreads through Ngaba [Aba] county in Sichuan province.
“Listen,” she says as she leans forward towards the screen to try and hear what the crowds are saying, “people in Tibet have spoken and they want freedom and independence. We’re scared. Up until now, it has been non-violent. But it could spiral out of control.”
That evening, news of another self-immolation reaches Dharamsala. Monks, nuns and lay people take to the streets for a candlelit procession.
It used to be the Dalai Lama and his team in exile who debated the direction in which his people should go.
Now, Tibetans in Tibet are asserting themselves and those in exile can only respond with candles and prayer.