The President's visit to China brought renewed attention to the story of Tibet. After a background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We now get two views: Robert Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University and president of Tibet House New York, which is dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture on behalf of the Dalai Lama. Thurman was last in Tibet in 1996. A. Tom Grunfeld is Professor of History at Empire State College with the State University of New York. He is the author of "The Making of Modern Tibet," and was last in Tibet in 1988. Robert Thurman, did those remarks by President Jiang Zemin that we just heard break new ground?
ROBERT THURMAN, Columbia University: Well, yes, they did in the sense that he said that he would talk with the Dalai Lama and lately he and Li Peng have been saying that the Dalai Lama is an enemy of China and they reverted to pre-1980's propaganda characterization of the Dalai Lama. So for him to sort of speak of the Dalai Lama as a human being, with whom he might talk, in case the Dalai Lama would agree to certain preconditions for the talk, that in a sense was a little bit new ground. It isn't new for China overall. Deng Xiaoping also made the same kind of claim in relation to the Dalai Lama in the early 1980's but then again didn't follow through with it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tom Grunfeld, what was your response to those remarks? Did you think new ground was broken?
A. TOM GRUNFELD, Suny-Empire State College: I think it was significant that the President of China did not attack the Dalai Lama in his talk, that he was quite open about the terms of the talk, of what would be the grounds for those talks, and the fact that he publicly, once again, publicly acknowledged the need for those talks. I think that's very significant.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Professor Grunfeld, do you think that there are divisions within the Chinese government right now about how to deal with this?
A . TOM GRUNFELD: I think there have always been divisions within the Chinese government. I think there is a faction that is a very hard-lined faction, would like to wait for the Dalai Lama to die, would like to see the Tibetans become a minority in their own land, would like to see religion become something a mere fraction of what it is now.
But I think there's another faction in the government, in Lhasa, in Beijing, that would like to talk to the Dalai Lama, would like to work out a compromise, would like to give Tibet a large measure of autonomy; that these people exist as evidence by a campaign launched in November of last year just a few months ago by the Communist Party in Lhasa against members of the party who continue to call for dialogue with the Dalai Lama. So this faction-this liberal faction-continues to function.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Thurman, explain what the Dalai Lama means when he calls for genuine autonomy for Tibet.
ROBERT THURMAN: Well, what he means is that Tibet was promised autonomy by Mao Tse Tung in the 17-point agreement in 1951, when the Chinese Red Army paused in its invasion of Tibet after conquering Chomdo in Eastern Tibet, and made an agreement with officials, which is somewhat controversial, and later was repudiated by the Dalai Lama's government.
But during the time that he offered it, he said that they would not engage in the process of class struggle, of reform of the society, of destruction of the religion, all of which, of course, they pledged to do under the Communist ideology, but he said in the case of Tibet they wouldn't do that, and they would leave the local government, what they called the local government of Tibet, which actually was Tibet's national government, they said they would leave the local government to function and to run things in Tibet and would delay the process of liberation, as they called it, and of, you know, socialist reform. And because he didn't keep those promises and they began to, in fact, destroy the religion in Tibet and to bring in occupying forces and also colonists, which is what they have today in great numbers, the Dalai Lama eventually had to flee from Tibet and then attempt to challenge the Chinese control of Tibet.
So by asking for autonomy now, the Dalai Lama is giving up what all Tibetans really basically want, which is to be returned to being an independent country, a sovereign country, which they always were throughout their history. But he is giving that up pragmatically because of the difficulty of getting China to withdraw. After all, he is a non-violent leader and has never called for an insurrection against the Chinese, as in the case say of the Afghanis or of the Vietnamese or others against outside occupiers. He has pledged to try non-violently to engage in dialogue with the Chinese leaders all along.
So in order to do that, he's now had to give up the claim of independence, which has cost him some support within the Tibetan community who want independence, but he has said it is not practical and genuine autonomy means that internally Tibet has its own government and its own way of living, and it agrees to join the Chinese unions and allow the Chinese to control defense and foreign affairs, and one of the problems of the offer, though, is that the Dalai Lama-
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me.
ROBERT THURMAN: --wants all of Tibet to be reunited-excuse me-to finish-all of Tibet-all the Tibet autonomists prefectures that the Chinese carved off into other states-he wants them to be reunited with Central Tibet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tom Grunfeld, is there any sign that the Chinese would be willing to go that far?
A. TOM GRUNFELD: Well, I think that Professor Thurman is talking about two different Tibets, and that has to be made very clear. There is a political Tibet, the area of Tibet which the Dalai Lama's government up until 1950 controlled as a political entity, and then there is the area of China in which there is large numbers of ethnic Tibetan inhabitation.
It's somewhat equivalent to the Mexicans who live in California and New Mexico and Texas and Arizona and so on. These are two separate entities. The Dalai Lama has in the past called for a greater Tibet, but very much like Richard Holbrooke just said about Kosovo, a greater Tibet will only create even greater friction in the region. We're talking about what the Chinese are talking about, is autonomy for the Tibetan political area, which is now known as the Tibetan autonomous region.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Chinese are talking about that?
A. TOM GRUNFELD: There are people, as I said, I believe that there are factions in the Chinese government that are willing to give the Dalai Lama autonomy but within that area, that political area called the Tibet autonomous region, not the greater Tibetan area that Professor Thurman is referring to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Robert Thurman, what should the U.S. do now? What should be U.S. policy?
ROBERT THURMAN: Well, as I said in my Wall Street Journal editorial of July 1st, it is very important at this time to-for the U.S. State Department-there is a special coordinator for Tibetan affairs who works for Madeleine Albright, which is named Greg Craig-and that he should be encouraged, and, if not him, probably it would take Madeleine Albright, herself, perhaps President Clinton, himself, to use the good offices of the United States to try to stimulate a dialogue between the Chinese foreign minister and the Tibet government in exile or the Dalai Lama's representative.
Without that, I think this little bit of conversation between Clinton and Jiang Zemin, which was very, very personal, where Clinton assured Jiang Zemin that he and the Dalai Lama would get along and they should really meet and hang out, which was very positive and very favorable, and might enable Jiang to cut through some of the bureaucracy to actually meet the Dalai Lama, which would be very important, because he would then change his view, with all the propaganda about the Dalai Lama and all of this nonsense about feudal theocracy, which is all fake propaganda, there is no such thing in Tibet, but all of that would be swept away the minute he met the human being-the Dalai Lama-he would realize he's dealing with an honest and an excellent and a creative, thoughtful person who cared about the situation, who cared about the people, and the people of China as well as the people of Tibet, and-but they won't do that on their own, though, because the Chinese are very powerful, the world is catering to them all over the place, and they feel that they are kind of winning by not engaging in dialogue and they only said-he only said he would talk to him because Clinton sort of pushed him to do it, with that very Clintonian sort of personal appeal that he did. I know the Dalai Lama--I know he's an honest man, and I'm sure you'll like each other-which is true, they would.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tom Grunfeld, what do you think the U.S. should do at this point?
A. TOM GRUNFELD: Well, I think the U.S. should stop the China bashing that's going on. I think that the international campaign, the Tibet free concerts, all of these activities, the congressional hearings all hurt the Tibetans in Tibet far more than help them. They strengthen the hand of the hard-liners. They make it harder for the people who are willing to compromise with the Dalai Lama to have a say.
I think that the appointment of a special coordinator on Tibet has largely to do with American domestic politics and has nothing to do with Tibet. And I think that what the American government has to do now is quietly through diplomacy encourage those factions in the Chinese government that are willing to sit down and compromise with the Dalai Lama. Jiang Zemin and meeting with the Dalai Lama will not solve the problem. It's much more complicated than that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you both very much for being with us.