Missing the Big Moment

(Gyurmey Dorje la, in a comment on a recent post, asked: “Can you do an article on South East Asia and China and how we are missing opportunities because of Kashag’s China appeasement policies.”)

March 10, 1979. Photograph © Jamyang Norbu


I was in Delhi for the March 10th rally in 1979 taking photographs for the Tibetan Review and the Tibetan Bulletin. Being the 20th anniversary an effort was made to put together a grander program of events than in previous years. The Information Office came out with a special souvenir journal. There were, of course, many more speeches than usual that day, but somewhere during one of the long boring ones an idea came together in my head.

Just a few days earlier China had launched a massive attack on Vietnam, essentially to punish it for invading Cambodia and taking out Communist China’s client regime (and star pupil) – the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge of “Killing Fields” infamy. Why not, I thought, take the Tibetan rally, or at least a part of it, over to the Vietnamese embassy to demonstrate our solidarity with Vietnam and condemn Chinese imperialism? In between the speeches and slogan-shouting I shared my idea with gyakpon Jamyang Tsultrim la, the head of the Tibetan community at Majnukatilla, the Delhi RTYC leaders and Gyen Gose la (Ven. Thupten Jungnay) an exile parliamentarian and a tireless and unwavering rangzen activist, who died some years ago. They all agreed.

So concluding our business with the PRC, about fifty or sixty of us set out for the Vietnamese Embassy, which was just a block away, while the main rally started on its usual procession via India Gate, Connaught Place and onward. I quickly went ahead before the others to inform the Vietnamese officials. They were surprised but very welcoming. Speeches were made all around condemning Chinese aggression and celebrating the fraternal bond of the people of Vietnam and the people of Tibet. The Embassy staff also distributed cold drinks to the protesters. It was a hot day.

Vietnam’s relations with China have improved since 1979, especially since the nineties with growing commercial ties between the two countries. On the other hand the conflicting claims of both nations over the Paracel and Spratly Island has engendered a note of tension in this relationship. in January 1974 a major clash between Chinese and South Vietnamese forces resulted in China taking complete control of the Paracels. In 1988, China and Vietnam clashed over possession of the Johnson Reef in the Spratlys. Chinese gunboats sank Vietnamese transport ships supporting a landing party, killing sixty-four Vietnamese soldiers.

In Spring 2010, Chinese officials reportedly communicated to U.S. officials that the entire South China Sea was an area of “core interest” that was as non-negotiable and on par with Taiwan and Tibet on the national agenda. Vietnam responded on 21 June 2012, passing a law entitled “the Law on the Sea”, which placed both the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands under Vietnamese jurisdiction. In May 2013 Vietnam accused China of attacking one of its fishing boats. Indian naval visits at Vietnam’s invitation and also joint Indo-Vietnamese oil exploration ventures in these waters have contributed to the growing tensions in the region.

Readers will know that besides Vietnam,  other East Asian nations as Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines have their own  territorial disputes with China.

Just a month ago (Feb.5) President Aquino of the Philippines sounded the alarm on China’s increasingly aggressive territorial ambitions. “He called on nations around the world to do more to support the Philippines in resisting China’s assertive claims to the seas near his country, drawing a comparison to the West’s failure to support Czechoslovakia against Hitler’s demands for Czech land in 1938.”

The New York Times said Mr. Aquino’s remarks were “… among the strongest indications yet of alarm among Asian heads of state about China’s military buildup and territorial ambitions, and the second time in recent weeks that an Asian leader has volunteered a comparison to the prelude to world wars.”

The second comparison mentioned in the Times was the one made by  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japa on Jan 22nd this year at the Davos conference in Switzerland where he declared that the increasing tensions between China and Japan were similar to the competition between Germany and Britain before World War I. Mr. Abe, a star speaker at the gathering, said a “similar situation” existed in both periods because while each set of countries enjoyed strong trade relations, that was not sufficient to overcome the strategic rivalry.

Japan’s dispute with China is over another chain of islands, the Senkaku, in the East China Sea, which the Chinese call Diaoyutai. In recent months China’s principal propaganda organ the People’s Daily has managed to ratchet up tensions even higher by publishing “scholarly” commentary disputing Japan’s sovereignty over even the hitherto undisputed Ryūkyū and Okinawa Islands (belonging to Japan) on the ground that the kingdom of Ryūkyū once paid tribute to China at some point in its history.

Similar “revisionist” publications by Chinese scholars have also raised concerns in South Korea. A 2002 historical study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences claimed that the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, located in present-day North Korea and part of North-East China, was a Chinese kingdom and an integral part of imperial China. Korean and international experts on Goguryeo history accused the Chinese government of misusing history for political purposes, and there were speculations that China was positioning itself for the possibility of regime collapse in North Korea. I even recall references to China’s takeover of Tibet being made by South Korean academics to the press when discussing the Goguryeo controversy.

A couple of months ago Chinese warships patrolled areas claimed by Malaysia, completely ignoring Malaysian protests and reasserting its claims to nearly the entire expanse of the South China Seas. Although Malaysia has traditionally avoided confrontations with China, some experts stated that the move would antagonize Kuala Lumpur – an Asean member with “significant influence” – and might shift the state of play in the maritime territorial dispute. Dr. Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, noted that “If this modern form of gunboat diplomacy by China continues, Sino-Malaysian relations are likely to suffer”.

Readers are probably aware of all these developments and also of Japan’s unprecedented military build-up and the USA’s growing involvement in creating an alliance of all these nations, including India, to contain China’s aggressive ambitions in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

My point in presenting the above outline of events in East Asia was not to make predictions of imminent war in the region, or speculate about the “coming collapse of China”. These are not unreal possibilities, but let us save such conjectures for another discussion.  I just wanted to put forward this cautious observation that the geopolitical situation in this entire region has changed significantly since the nineties – and changed somewhat in Tibet’s favor, even if at the moment we are not doing anything about it.

This is not to say that these countries involved in territorial disputes with China are going to come out and openly support the Tibetan cause. They are not – at least not officially and not right now. Most of them are still doing considerable business with China, and Tibet doesn’t mean all that much to them. But recent events have, nonetheless, opened a window of opportunity for us to approach China’s adversaries and provide them a small advantage in their propaganda war with China.

A few Tibet activists and support groups in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have already raised issues of human-rights abuses in Tibet, which is undoubtedly important. But in this specific instance, countering China’s expansionism with human-rights arguments might not be the best way to move ahead. Most East Asian nations have human-rights baggage, historical and contemporary, of their own.

The conflict that is on-going in East Asia against China is about territory and national sovereignty. And the issue of Tibet, as I noted earlier, has been tied to this greater conflict by none other than Beijing itself. “Chinese officials reportedly communicated to U.S. officials that the entire South China Sea was an area of ‘core interest’ that was as non-negotiable and on par with Taiwan and Tibet on the national agenda.” (Policy Issues Congressional Research Service, 12 January 2011). Hence I think the issue of Tibetan sovereignty (and its subversion by China)  could be raised in these countries to benefit their legal dispute with China, and also to make their own public aware of how skillfully and ruthlessly China uses pseudo-historical information to promote its expansionist agenda.

A possible way to launch such an effort would be to contact independent academic and judicial organizations in these countries (through existing support-groups there) and provide them the information and documentation (copies  of treaties, passports, maps, flags etc.) so that they could issue declarations and press statements showing how Tibet was a sovereign independent nation that China had not only militarily invaded and occupied, but had retroactively built up a bogus historical case to validate its territorial claims. Much in much the same way that China was now doing in the case of the Spratley, Paracels, Senkaku and Ryukyu Islands and even the kingdom of Gogoryeo in North Korea.

For starters we have the booklet INDEPENDENT TIBET: THE FACTS, which is available in  English, Hindi, Tibetan and Chinese and published by the the Tibetan National Congress and the Tibetan Youth Congress. It can also be downloaded on Rangzen.net. We could certainly get it translated into Vietnamese, Japanese or Korean. Unlike the sixties or seventies there is much more material available these days at universities and institutions around the world and of course in Tibet itself and China, which would allow us to expand our efforts: organize conferences, exhibitions and so on around the central theme of Tibet’s independence and China’s re-writing of history for its expansionist or “Lebensraum” policies, to continue the World War references made by the Japanese PM and the president of the Philippines. I feel confident that such an initiative would receive support in all these countries. Perhaps in an instance or two even governmental support of a surreptitious nature might be forthcoming. We should bear in mind that these countries are, to put it bluntly, being bullied by China, and it would only be natural if they wanted to return the favor in an appropriate fashion.

The crucial thing for us would be that the issue of Tibetan independence would once again be raised and debated in the global arena. And there is no telling what other doors would open then, and what major opportunities would present themselves for us to advance the struggle? One thing for certain is that this would be an enormous morale booster  for everyone inside Tibet, which would in turn accelerate the chain-reaction of destabilization on the Tibetan plateau and in East Turkestan.

But it goes without saying that Dharamshala is definitely not going to seize this or any other moment. The Middle Way doctrine is unequivocal about no pressure of any kind being put on China’s leaders. A recent report in Phayul.com made it clear that even seeking “outside support” was now prohibited.

San Francisco, February 23: The Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama told Tibetans living here that the issue of Tibet must be resolved through dialogue with China and not by seeking any outside support. The 78 year old Nobel Laureate recalled a conversation he had with the late Indian PM Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956 and 1959. “I remember him (Nehru) telling me that the only way to resolve the issue was to talk with China and not by seeking support from outside including the UN,” His Holiness said.”

No “outside support”, no pressure, no sanctions, no protests and no boycotts are the crucial building blocks of the Middle Way strategy of cringing fatalism. And these are not merely hypothetical prohibitions. Dharamshala actively opposed all those calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics; it opposed the “Freedom March to Tibet” in 2008 and every protest, even the seminal uprising in Lhasa, that year. Earlier, prime-minister Samdong Rimpoche had even called on Tibetans not to organize peaceful protests against Chinese leaders visiting the USA, Europe and India.

Those of us who realize that an unprecedented and vital moment has arrived in the history of our struggle, should ask ourselves what we must now do to overcome official defeatism and ensure that the struggle for Rangzen becomes the paramount task of the exile government and the foremost concern of the Tibetan people. Readers can expect a discussion very soon on this blog.

Before concluding I want to touch on this year’s March 10th observances. I hear that officially inspired “suggestions” have been floating around Tibetan communities and organizations for the restructuring of the celebration and demonstrations. No more singing of “Longsho (Arise)”, no more banners with messages that would “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”, and no more shouting of such slogans as “CHINA GO HOME”, “BHOD RANGZEN or even “FREE TIBET”.  I hope none of this is true. In case it is I request participants at this year’s rallies to ignore all such “suggestions”. If you are approached by someone who asks you not to shout the old slogans and instead cry out: “CHINA PLEASE – TALK TO US”  or “DEMOCRACY NO – COMMUNISM YES”, “WE LOVE THE PRC” then I think the correct, creative and non-violent response would be to hawk up a great big slimy gob of mucus and delicately spit it on his (or her) face. But no anger or violence, please.


32 Replies to “Missing the Big Moment”

  1. If the rumour about the slogan restructuring is true then the enemy is within us..and its very unfortunate. I will stand tall with my “FREE TIBET” placard and if that should hurt the feelings of “China” then i have served my purpose on this 10 march. I don’t give a hoot about what anybody has to say against it. And don’t YOU come nearby and ask me to drop it..coz i will be a very very angry man at the time.

  2. enough is enough!!!!

    I can’t believe how HHDL become passive!!!!! how CTA slowly turning China representative in india!!!!!

    we have to change all these outdated leadership!!!!

    I suggest prolonged protest in Dharamsala against middle way and CTA, HHDL in next 10 march, as will as protest against China!!!

  3. I can’t believe this. To my mind our people will use the same slogans if not stronger ones. But,my concern is whether this article is based on the facts or a mere guesswork to stir the things up.HHDL and our exile leaders are making great effort to solve the long standing problem. But, criticizing for the sake of criticizing should be avoided. If someone has better plan or strategy, bring it out and lead us. But mere guesswork will create division among us.

  4. The (Buddhist) Middle Way, in my small, outsider view, has been designed to protect Tibetans within Occupied Tibet from government and comprador reprisal. While the Uighur Way may look like a more directly confrontational and militant strategy, it simply lets the dogs out to slaughter the rabbits. Rangzen requires a many lifetimes projection and an everyday discipline, much like that demonstrated by that “simple monk,” HHDL. Stay resolute and persevere.

  5. Lhasang, the comment you made above is very disgusting. How dare you suggest protest against HHDL? Are you nuts? HHDL is the heart and soul of Tibet. Nobody in our entire tibetan history has tirelessly worked like Him. People like you are curse to our society. You better think twice before you write such an idiot idea. Don’t pretend that you are smart and open minded. I’m 100 percent sure that nobody will pay heed to your cynical idea.

  6. It is said that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world !

    But the professions of spying, infiltrating, collaborating,betraying and murdering are probably older than that.

    However, mankind has had to really wait a long time for this ” Tibetan Cause ” to come along and allow even amateurs to do all the above !

    Begging is another profession and sadly in this ” Cause” it is widespread…from top to bottom–Tibetan and Non Tibetan !

    This has nothing to do with any refugee syndrome and has all to do with a job being badly done by the leadership !

    A leadership that begs the enemy for mercy, encourages the enemy´s friends passivity, begs EVERYONE for half-hearted instead of strong support, distorts the facts about and the messages from Tibet—!!!!!!!Such a leadership is simply doing a rotten job.

    This whole FREE FOR ALL is rotten to the core and I welcome JN la´s idea to connect with real independent thinking and hard working groups and individuals on a global scale.

    That is something worth doing instead of this continual, meaningless repetition in this rotten, smothered atmosphere that only a chicom can breathe and survive in !

    If this crap goes on the chicoms and their kind will be the only ones left !

  7. Joe Hamilton, agree with you 100% .

    Jigme Dadul, IF someone comes to stop you from shouting “China Shame”, ” China get out of Tibet” then dont stand there and get angry just “hawk up a great big slimy gob of mucus and delicately spit it on his/her face” like Jamyang Norbu la said. you wil feel better, your body energies will be aligned with your true feelings and no negative karma.

  8. I truly hope things don’t have to come to the scenario that you signed off with.

    China is GREEDY. We appease, appease and feed its ego and yet she’s not satisfied; always wants more and more. One day she’s going to burst in the seams -from all the scenarios building up like you have written about.

    (Just read somewhere that a chinese woman ate & drank; ate & drank during New Year’s till she had to be rushed to surgery and her stomach then just burst open!!!)

  9. Praising Mao and Chinese behaviour of relentless arrogance, brute and display of innocence and victim hood will only feed into Chinese intolerance and petulance.

  10. I hear Lobsang Sengey is going around Tibetan communities telling communities we are middle way and everyone should follow middle way and private meeting with community leaders. Some leaders of the communities who support Lobsang Sangey I hear that in Calgary, the new president kick long time community leaders out because they don’t speak good Tibetan, so much for unity. He also called SFT students to not protest loud or hurt China, everybody must do silent protest and whatever posters or signs they make need his approval. There are many norbu tsring leader types now running Tibetan communities, new Tibetans from india who don’t tolerate, amerian Tibetans, Canadian Tibetans, who they think are not pure Tibetan so only pure Tibetans are accepted but not Tibetans who even if they have served their communities for years if they are not new Tibetans are looked down on, its so sad to hear.

  11. Tenwang

    I just speak what I think..I never force my idea to accuse me these things

    in a free democratic society every idea respected

    by the way, I said that in order put prussure in our leadership, they are too relax, why don’t we send to them message so they could understand that Tibetans people are not satisfied the way the CTA are handling our issues!!!!!

    I think its good strategy, will raise attention to Tibet..will put more prussure to our leadership…so why not???

    we have to change our strategy, we are trying middle way for morethan 20 years already!!!!

    why don’t we new things!!!

    its just an idea any way

  12. we also have to send clear message to HHDL that Tibetans are not satisfied for HHDL praising Mao!!! as “great revolutioner”!!!!

    what about Tibetans who has been killed by this blood sucker!!!!!

    if we don’t send strong message to our leadership, they will not change this bad behaviour!!!!

  13. There is no danger to the Dalai Lama’s life. He is absolutely safe. Also, there is no evident indication that anyone is trying to harm his life. The reason is that he is in pension and he spends is his time in spreading his Buddhist based message of compassion and universal human principle.

    Does that solve the problem of Tibet? No. And this is a big no. And the no is becoming bigger every day. That is because the Tibet Issue is becoming more and more obscured. Tibetans must have a clear cut stand, and this stand must be that of the united Tibetans.

    The Tibetan leaders must first unite the Tibetans. And then work to solve the Tibet Issue. Unity is strength, so the wise saying goes. Tibetans must first unite. They must forget about the creed and caste. They must think about ONLY Tibet; Tibet and nothing else than Tibet. Tibet first and rest later!

  14. Having participated the 10th March rally here in Dharamsla today, I can assure you( jamyang) that the slogan-restruction rumour is not true, even if it was no one seemed to have listened, at all. I along with other Tibetans shouted the same old slogans out loud. The patriotic spirit of the ordinary Tibetans has not died, and actually it is higher than ever. As we marched down the valley, I saw tightly clinched fists swirling in the air.

    However, as someone has mentioned in a comment that Dalai Lama has become so passive, I think it is not just Dalai Lama who has become so. It is the CTA.

    Before the marching began, a bunch of CTA staff, including The prime minister and parliament speaker) gave some sort of speeches and how the 10th march rally came about and why we commemorate this every year. And that is it. I mean why don’t they walk with dharamsala citizens, it would have given people more of a hope that everyone is taking part in the rally. CTA shouldn’t be this relaxed. We don’t have much to waste. If the Tibetans inside Tibet ever come to a point where they lose the hope, which is equally likely and unlikely to occur considering the unbearable pain and torture faced by them ,then we are done for once and all. So the survival of keeping that hope alive is our responsibility. However, we are not merely talking the survival, but also the FREEDOM. If it is not for the freedom why the hell did we flee in the first place?

  15. Dharamsala should invest more time and energy to bring unity among Tibetans (Shugden/Non Shugden and Rangzen/Uma) than building friendship with the Communist Chinese that will yield nothing at the end. The first and foremost step in achieving something out of our struggle is to educate the Chinese mass about our cause and this is only possible through confrontation, of course non violently. Tibetans and Tibet supporter’s protest during the 2008 Beijing olympic was one such example. Many Chinese who were unaware of the issue earlier got to see our national flag and more importantly now knows what our issue and the demands are. Hamilton is right, we can’t seek mercy from the ruthless enemy.

  16. Stop the attitude of begging to Chinese..they don’t care, just face it!!!!!

    morethan 60 years of harsh Chinese rule, and still we think Chinese “Unaware” of Tibet problems!!!!

    Chinese number 1 love is MONEY..nothing else..Tibet the last thing they concern or think about

    so, lets change our outdated attitude!!!!

  17. I am a regular reader of your articles and i am an avid fan your writing skills but not your Rangzen ideology for sure. I stand with Middle way(Umae Lam) as i see this way is more meaningful and faster to resolve our issue than complete independence approach. I want to return to Tibet and see Dalai Lama giving Kalachakra preaching in front Potala Palace before I DIE and this will be only possible through Middle way.

    There is no doubt that i am an avid fan your writing skills and will remain for ever.

    Bhoe Gyalo, Umae Lam Gyalo

  18. Chinese use every trick including “procedural rape” at UN to thwart any discussion related to Human Rights and Tibet at UN. See how Chinese shamelessly tries to dictate others delegates. Its ally lap dog Pakistani and Cuban delegates support China while many democratic countries supported Tibet.

    German and UK delegate made a very strong worded statement against Chinese for trying to stall the discussion.



  20. An Update on Free Asia Radio scandal appreciated, please.
    There is lot of talk about in the society how this guy called Kelden Lodreo is selling access to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has even threatened our new Dhonchoe of stepping on his shoes.

    People say there is new turf fight between Dhonchoe and his people on one side and Kelden Lodroe and Chinese woman on other over His Holiness the Dalai Lama ‘s future program in D.C.

    People are also saying Jamyang Norbu and SFT and TYCs are shunted out from RFA interviews and some Horsemen from Amdo is in as big time commentator . Are these true or just plain rumor. An update would be good. Me only listen to VOT and VOA. No to scandal ridden RFA.

    An Update on Free Asia Radio scandal appreciated, please.
    There is lot of talk about in the society how this guy called Kelden Lodreo is selling access to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has even threatened our new Dhonchoe of stepping on his shoes.

    People say there is new turf fight between Dhonchoe and his people on one side and Kelden Lodroe and Chinese woman on other over His Holiness the Dalai Lama ‘s future program in D.C.

    People are also saying Jamyang Norbu and SFT and TYCs are shunted out from RFA interviews and some Horsemen from Amdo is in as big time commentator . Are these true or just plain rumor. An update would be good. Me only listen to VOT and VOA. No to scandal ridden RFA.

  22. A most excellent and enlightening blogpost by Kalsang Phountsok, thanks for sharing it, though when i read the word, “Resolution” I thought it was about the recent resolution passed by Exile Parliament against Dolgyal practice, where CTA said, “a small number of Tibetans have remained ignorant about the propitiation. In order to lead the ignorant to righteous path………” (primrose path to spiritual disneyland) ..and other such tripe….

    It is just incredible that Tibetan Youth Congress would be this brazen or think so little of what makes a good democracy. But ofcourse our democracy is a joke, by now, all Tibetans should be well cognizant to this fact. To deny this fact is to deny that all men have equal rights within the human society.

    We all know who is behind this sham democracy, this Dalai Lama democracy. Gadhang Phodang reaches far, and where tis will not extend, thither they darts it. RFA, TYC, SFT, any org with Tibetan sentiment would be corrupted by the Middle Way agenda, the bread crumbs are there for anyone to follow if you but meditate the Tibetan news and views judiciously.

    If we follow the news carefully then we are forced to conclude that such concepts as Fairness, Justice, Equality, Democracy, Unity, COMPASSION, Interdependence, etc. will be no friends to Tibetan National Congress, the Dalai Lama democracy will not allow another political party which may upset this ancient oligarchy which today wears a fresh educated facade.

    There has got to be a push back against what Dharamsals is doing. One can push back by writing just as Kalsang Phuntsok did. I hope that in the times to come we see some push back from TNC. TNC need to know in no uncertain terms that Dharamsala and His Holiness will fuck with them, oppress them, marginalize them, truly comprehend this and then be as Machiavellian as Dharsa or order to fight back.

    I have deep faith in genuine democracy because i believe this form of government is the most humane, most intelligent, most fair, if done right. I believe it will help Tibet and the Tibetan people now and future generation that are yet begot. However, I am on the fringe of Tibetan society therefore, I realize, my words are shit. I have no where to turn, no power to see my political needs met, the closest thing is the TNC who i take on good faith having read their Resolution, that they are dead SERIOUS about evolving our democracy to serve all Tibetans and not just the privileged bullies in power who’s style invariably outweigh their substance.

    This fight for fair and just democracy is worth fighting for in our own community rather than fighting over gods and deities.

    Success to your new blog Kalsang Phuntsok!!!

  23. Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and all the Middle ( finger) path followers:

    Take a good look a the photo of Gashul Lobsang la from Amdo on his death bed. I have one word for all of you: Shame on You. Reflect, are you seriously working for Tibet or for your personal glory. Shame on you.

  24. Tibet is impermanent, I am impermanent.
    Tibet is a great lesson on impermanence.

    Only 1(ONE) thing matters.
    The preservation and distribution of the lessons.
    My silly suffering matters not.
    Your silly suffering matters not.

    Yet when the spiritual infant’s cry and kick it’s legs instead of giving it a nipple we complain and talk about why it is crying.
    Waaaaa !!!

    Some let baby cry because they don’t want to clean up poo poo.
    Others feed the baby because it is the right thing to do.

    I think China is hungry.

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