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No easy solution in Tibet

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Finding a “middle way” solution to problems in Tibet is not going to be easy.

That’s the conclusion a panel of experts reached Thursday evening as part of a symposium celebrating Tibetan culture at The Aspen Institute. The three-day event culminates with an appearance by the Dalai Lama on Saturday.

The panel, comprising two Americans, a Tibetan and a professor from China, was cautiously optimistic.



Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, a Tibetan envoy of the Dalai Lama, joined Shi Yinhong, a professor from China, on the dais with two Westerners: Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, and Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, investor and expert on China.

Shi opened the discussion from the Chinese perspective, telling the history of Tibet as a feudal nation in the 1950s, a place that benefited from Chinese aid and where serfdom and religion ruled ” far from the “Shangri La” of Western idealization.



The Dalai Lama is a wily political leader and strategist who adapts his ideas to Western sentiments, Shi said.

And Shi argued that Westerners should not dwell on troubles in Tibet and spoil a healthy relationship growing between China and the West.

“Tibet will always be Chinese,” Shi said.

Next, Gyari, who has a long record of negotiating with Chinese leaders, said that there will never be a resolution by debating Tibetan history.

Gyari said the future of Tibet will be under the Chinese constitution, but it must protect and make room for Tibetan people and culture.

“The survival of this civilization is important not only to us, but to all of you, especially the Chinese,” Gyari said.

It was a point driven home earlier in the day when Robert Thurman, a Buddhist scholar and father of actress Uma Thurman, joined Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche in extolling the virtues of Tibetan Buddhism, which aims to the possibilities of true happiness, not in the material, but in the true understanding of reality.

The theme is a symposium undercurrent: that Tibetan spiritual ideals, sharpened in mountain isolation while Westerners were spinning toward modernity, can benefit everyone.

Gyari said it was up to Tibet and China to hash out their differences, but that no Chinese leader has been willing to sit down at the table with the Dalai Lama. However, he’s seen a “sea change” in recent Chinese regimes, which are more willing to talk.

The two Westerners on the panel offered more pessimistic views.

Schell said the 50 years of unresolved Tibetan sovereignty was a result of a “confusing, curious, triangular relationship” between the West, Tibet and China.

Westerners have long projected their ideals on the enigmatic land of Tibet and have long championed Tibetans in exile.

Coming on a long history of gunboat diplomacy, Westerners championing the Tibetan cause is a threat to the Chinese.

The key is in breaking the old “misperceptions” and in finding a solution that is not belittling to the Chinese, Schell said.

“It’s going to be tremendously difficult,” he added.

“You can’t make deals unless you’ve got both sides willing to take one,” said Blum, who has a long history of traveling in China.

That the Chinese aren’t willing to sit down with Tibetans, Blum said, is “inexcusable.”

And he painted a bleak portrait of life on the ground for ordinary Tibetans denied education and civil rights, as once-cherished city parks become red light districts of Han Chinese coming to Tibet in greater numbers.

“[The Chinese] need to understand that His Holiness is not the problem but the solution,” Blum said.

Young Tibetans, seeing no way out, are turning to violence, as they did in mass protests around the country in March. Blum said that solutions will come only when the Chinese include Tibetans in social progress and acknowledge problems of race and ethnic tensions.

“Ultimately, the solution will be found between Chinese and Tibetans,” Gyari said. “Chinese must be able to make Tibetans feel that it is their home.”

cagar@aspentimes.com


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