Talk by Thubten Samdup
Conflict Resolution:The Tibetan Resolution
Speaker: Thubten Samdup
Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe
The talk was co-hosted by the Tibet Support group Grampian and the
Politics and International Relations Society of the University of
Aberdeen. The subject was based on the Memorandum for Genuine Autonomy
for Tibet drawn up by the Tibetan Government in Exile which proposes a
Middle Way between complete subjection and full independence and which
was seen as a possible way out of many conflicts through-out the world.
The talk was introduced by Dr. Martin Mills for the Tibet Support Group
Grampian and by Linea Heinonen for the Politics and International
T: Thubten Samdup
M: M Martin Mills
L: Linea Heinonen
Other Speakers not identified.
L One of the questions I’ve always thought about [with regard to] Tibet
and many other minorities in China is that the discussion is not
necessarily where it should be. [It’s expressed] as China
versus the little people whereas, in fact, in my opinion,
especially with the aggressive Han Chinese policy of settlement, it’s
really about racism. There doesn’t seem to be that discussion about the
reality on the ground which is an extremely racist situation. Instead
the discussion is about statehood and authority etc. instead of racism
which I think is what it is about.
T When I speak to Chinese parliamentarians they say things like “The
Dalai Lama wants all Chinese to leave Tibet” before there is any
discussion. I then ask “When did the Dalai Lama say this? I’ve never
heard it. Did you read what I gave you”. “Well no” they say “ they just
told us that’s what the Dalai Lama wants”. People just don’t seem to
read much. Yes to Linea; there is some racism, there is the idea of
Tibetans being barbarians. They should be grateful since we have
peacefully liberated Tibet since 1951, they should be grateful for
everything we’ve done for you. Everyone’s happy and dancing. They are
very genuine. After 26 years in Canada I realized that all this
screaming and shouting is not getting us anywhere. It’s better for me
to be friendly with the Chinese. I was not getting anywhere. It is
better to be friendly to the Chinese and try and influence Chinese
1st Speaker Shall we get down to fundamentals. No conflict
resolution unless aggrieved people have their rights respected. The
Chinese will distort the truth as all dictatorships do – it’s paranoia.
The only way to get a discussion going, so to have conflict resolution,
is to go to the UN and get some important person to oversee the talks.
Talking to the people, what you were talking about, is not a problem,
they are receptive [in the way you were] were referring to.
T Yes, the UN has a Security Council and they can do whatever they want. But what do we do if all these
avenues are not working – do we just give up. So my thinking was ‘Now the whole world needs them [the
Chinese] so they don’t care any more about what the rest of the world thinks’. But I believe the Chinese
Government is very sensitive to what the domestic audience thinks. There’s a fundamental shift in what the
Chinese government think; that they should have been a little less harsh on the Dalai Lama. If it is true
what the Dalai Lama is saying that he is not seeking [?independence?] but genuine autonomy - “What is
the big deal? It is in the Chinese constitution. The Chinese may re-think .
1st Speaker Have they demonstrated it? They don’t like freedom of expression even though it might be
T Recently Liu Xiaobo was getting the Nobel Peace Prize. His wife was
locked up; so unreasonable. Many Chinese are very embarrassed by it,
especially those abroad studying. It’s ridiculous. But that’s the kind
of regime we’re dealing with right now. Many of them are looking to
stay in power, whatever it takes. Hopefully, the next leadership change
in 2012 may change [the Chinese government’s policy] a little.
2nd speaker I’ve worked for the Palestinians. ……………………………………………….
T I’ve been brought up in Tibetan Buddhist Culture. [One of
precepts] is impermanence. For example, thirty years ago it would
never have been thought the Soviet Empire would fall or the Berlin
Wall. Things change in our own personal lives and in the life of a
Also Chinese people studying abroad – when they go home they will take up important positions in government and business.
One hundred years ago the Europeans fought [among themselves] all the
time but now they have the European Union and come together.
This is the kind of man the Dalai Lama is. A well known journalist in
New York said to the Dalai Lama, “Don’t worry – in ten years you will
go back to Tibet”. The Dalai Lama said “How do you know this?” The
journalist said, “The Central Government in China will collapse – not
because of Tibet, but because of labour unrest in China which is
growing every day. The gap between haves and have-nots is widening
His .Holiness’s answer was, “I don’t want to return to Tibet under that
kind of scenario. I want to return to Tibet while China is strong and
prosperous. I don’t want to see China collapse. It’s not in the
interest of any of us to see China collapse”.
3rd Speaker I don’t understand that attitude if that is his attitude.
Only when China is free will Tibet become free. If the Dalai Lama
retires it will be [to a free Tibet] which the Buddhist world would
welcome for all the peoples of that region. The Dalai Lama is the
nationalistic aspect of Tibetan freedom campaign. In some ways it is in
contradistinction to aspects of Buddhism, because Buddhism teaches
non-attachment including non-attachment to nationhood.
T Absolutely. On the other hand, to someone like me who has had a very
comfortable life in Canada – I don’t even remember Tibet really - it’s
so far away. I feel I can’t just sit back and do nothing. The people of
Tibet are counting on [people like] me to be their voice in Canada.
3rd Speaker The sort of things you say you have been doing like contact
with Chinese people will do something and the kind of thing of drop by
drop will suddenly result in a sort of Soviet Union situation of
perestroika glasnost and that will come and could build up or could do
– a sort of Buddhist argument.
T It is tough – I’ve perhaps been too long with His Holiness and his
tolerance has rubbed off on me – it’s not easy for them [Tibetans in
Tibet] to forget and forgive.
3rd Speaker You were saying earlier that [without the Dalai Lama as
leader] you will have lost a lot of political and ideological leverage.
This must be true in some respects. He will say it’s not me, anymore
than it’s the Buddha, but the teaching, the doctrine.
T He’s always said this. I know, I’m a Tibetan and now his Representative.
3rd Speaker He articulates it very well but others could.
T No ..without him..
3rd Speaker I disagree. He does articulate it very well but this is not unique.
T We may have another dynamic articulate Tibetan leader who might unite
all Tibetans 3rd Speaker ‘or more than one’ T Yes, or more than one,
but we have a saying ‘hope or the best, prepare for the worst’.
4th Speaker I’ve to admit, I haven’t read a huge amount about this. But
I’ve heard that there are other autonomous groups in China. And the
spectre to the Chinese Government is that, if you give in to Tibet, you
have to give in to everyone’s demands legitimately. So I wonder, how do
you work with other autonomous groups? And indeed, if you did, work
together [you could] get some agreement because it is linked in someway.
T I agree, many people say that, and it is a legitimate concern. But
the Chinese Government is in a very comfortable position. Because the
so called ‘minorities’ are so minute and the Chinese [population] is so
large – 1.4 billion and the ‘minorities’ can never take over. And what
the Tibetans are asking is - if you look at these figures I’ve
distributed – it [autonomy] is enshrined in the Chinese constitution –
there is nothing outside it – and of course [this applies] to all the
If you live in Scotland [you have] devolution. I’m from Quebec, French
speaking. [Quebec was] always fighting for separate independence. It is
now happily part of Canada after two referenda – the Government was
mature enough to say, if you really want independence have a
referendum i.e. if you want to be separate it OK if 51% [vote for
independence]. You shouldn’t be forced to stay. That’s respect.
If the Chinese government asked me ‘What can we do to win the hearts
and minds of the people of Tibet’, I’d say one thing, ‘You [the Chinese
government] say to all Han Chinese in Tibet – if you want to live in
Tibet , work in Tibet, learn the Tibetan language’. That’s what
Canada did in Quebec. You have to speak French. It’s surrounded by USA
and Canada which are English speaking. This is showing respect.
4th Speaker I come from the Ukraine. We’re a sort of Soviet Union Tibet
and if we were offered autonomy, we’d say ‘No we want freedom, we’re
not going to stop’.
T This is the debate going on with the Tibetan community e.g. the largest Tibetan NGO, their position is total independence.
I’ve said I can stay calm but then I’m not suffering. But the Tibetans
in Tibet are suffering [whilst] those of us in exile [are just] looking
at the torture and killing. We are OK.
I’ve just come back from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia and
there is real support for the Tibetan people as memories are so fresh
of what it is like living under a communist regime. I attended the 30th
anniversary Solidarity Movement in Gadansk two weeks ago. I came away
so inspired at what they’ve achieved. It’s incredible. I said to
the young people that this spirit needs to be exported to the rest of
the world. As far as I’m concerned the Poles’ most prized export is
they’re Solidarity Movement.
3rd Speaker Could you say something about the tone and progress of the
meeting in Dharamsala in November 2008 and what were the other factions
other than the Middle Way?
T His Holiness’s thinking is ‘Violence is not an option’. Outside
of violence he [the Dalai Lama] believed that the right way is the
Middle Way. – ‘Asking the Chinese to give us genuine autonomy. I’m not
asking for independence, I don’t want separation.’
Tibetans complained that this wasn’t working. So His Holiness said ‘OK,
you discuss and you tell me what you think should be an approach
outside the Middle Path’. We have a strange dynamic between the Dalai
Lama and the Tibetan people. Tibetans are very intelligent, very
resourceful, very vocal, very opinionated but when it comes to the
Dalai Lama, they stop thinking.- ‘Whatever you say will be’ – no
opinion. It was almost unanimous – the Middle Path. I,
personally wasn’t very pleased (at that time I wasn’t the Dalai Lama’s
Representative), and I don’t think His Holiness was very pleased
either. It would have been nice if there’d been at least two or three
options on the table, there were none.
So in my own way I’ve done a few things to show young Tibetans. I’ve
said it’s not always necessary to talk – if you think something needs
to be done, just do it – and I’ve done a few things and I think that’s
why I was picked to be the Dalai Lama’s Representative in London.
Because I didn’t wait to be told by the Tibetan Government in Exile or
by His Holiness. – I just went ahead, I did it as a private citizen. So
that’s the way with the outreach to the Chinese, I just felt this
needed to be done, I just did it, no-one told me.
So perhaps other Tibetans will say ‘he’s done this, that’s wonderful,
OK, maybe I could as well’. We need more innovative minds especially in
our situation. And we need to be more strategic and creative as we
don’t have the luxury of time. We have a very small creative window of
opportunity and we’d have to maximise what’s the best way, do what it
takes, lobbying parliamentarians etc. whatever it takes to keep the
His Holiness and I do believe Tibetans do have something unique, a rich
culture. Tibetans can be a stabilising factor in the most populous part
of the world between India and China [through] Tibetan religion and
philosophy. Every time I go to Dharamsala [I see] more and more Chinese
Buddhists coming to study under the Dalai Lama and, when they go back,
they go back changed. That’s the way. It takes a long time but
better than taking guns and terrorizing the world.
3rd Speaker If you were trying to do the same sort of thing in
the Western World, you would try to recruit or suggest an organization
such as the Round Table etc. and contact their affiliated
organizations in the rest of the Western World. But in China,
this type of set up doesn’t exist. So the difficulty lies in contacting
comparable organizations within China. But you don’t know who they are,
even if they exist and they probably don’t exist
5th Speaker The problem basically is that Tibet has an awful lot of
what China wants for its own. First of all it has altitude, so China
can launch an attack without using much fuel. China in Tibet
controls resources especially water for much of South East Asia. There
is power over much of South East Asia, there is the strategic
importance of Tibet.
T There are six major rivers – [this is] a big concern especially [for]
India. [There] is a water diversion project. Uranium, gold, copper and
zinc have been discovered in Tibet. What Tibetans never knew about.
1st Speaker What was the attitude [of the Chinese government] when Hong
Kong went back to China? What does China think [about this]? Does your
organization know anyone in the Chinese Government who understands what
was their response to that was. Because it’s a reverse situation. We
were saying ‘we respect China. Hong Kong is really part of China’. It’s
similar isn’t it, a similar situation almost.
T Yes, in a way it is. Britain has given so many countries independence voluntarily, including India.
6th Speaker You talked a lot about democracy when you
talked about referenda and such like earlier. Isn’t it strange, given
as how you are the representative of an unelected religious
T Tibet isn’t recognized. You can open an office as a religious
representative. I would love it if London allowed Tibet an ambassador.
But they would never allow it.
7th Speaker Is there any potential for Tibet to export the concept of non-violence?
T As long as there’s a will we’ll find a way. Unfortunately, in China,
the regime has no interest at all. This is where we are. What do we
do? We have met Chinese representatives nine times – every time
it has been our initiative. Every time the talk is about the Dalai
Lama’s return. But as far as Tibet is concerned, there’s nothing to
talk about [meaning this should not be the only or even main subject of
discussion]. [Because] if the Dalai Lama comes back we can discuss the
details. It’s not just about the Dalai Lama, there is the welfare of
six million Tibetans.
8th Speaker Before you said the Chinese in Canada are very open minded.
Are there conversations between the Han Chinese and Tibetans?
T There are many conversations but Tibetans see the Chinese as
occupiers and businesses are all Chinese. More and more if you go for a
job in Tibet you have to speak Chinese. That’s how the French Canadians
in Canada found it. All the bosses were English. Now it’s rather the
other way round. English are discriminated against.
9th Speaker How many Tibetans in Tibet speak Mandarin?
T Nowadays when I see Tibetans coming out of Tibet in India, for example in my office in Dharamsala, they speak Chinese.
4th Speaker Is it that it is the Dalai Lama that’s the problem?
The Tibetans are following the Dalai Lama saying they want real
autonomy rather than the other way round. Because that’s what you said.
I’m a Chinese citizen. We were told that in 1951 there was slavery and people were dealt with badly by aristocrats.
T Not true I’d say. But, then again, it would be wrong for me to say
Tibet was a perfect society. No, I don’t think the Dalai Lama is making
others follow him. I think the Dalai Lama is great but I’m not like my
father – my father’s generation would follow the Dalai Lama blindly.
The Dalai Lama is very informal – you have to meet the man yourself.
You would change your mind. I’ve seen a transformation [among] Chinese
who’ve met him. He’s really unique. He has that warmth. He brings out
the best in you.
4th Speaker ………..Chinese people learn English, so economic power means that Tibetans need to speak Chinese.
T Some progressive governments look at minorities and preserve their language. I hope China will be like that.
9th Speaker If the Han and Tibetans could communicate they would care
more for each other. If the Scots still spoke Gaelic they wouldn’t get
on so well with the English.
T Yes, I encourage my children to speak Chinese. Tibetans coming out of
Tibet to my office find speaking Chinese easier [than Tibetan]. But you
can learn many languages. Any nation needs to look at ‘minorities’. The
Tibetan language is national so [you should] learn both Tibetan and
Chinese. In Quebec, if you want a government job you have to be
bilingual even though three quarters of the population speak English.
Every Chinese in Tibet should show respect to the local culture.
MM Tibet has been doing non-violence for decades, we’ve been doing
negotiation, we’ve been doing discourse and it doesn’t seem to be
working. It is tempting to take away from your talk the [view of] the
little Tibetans and the implacable powerful Chinese. When the Chinese
invaded Tibet, peacefully liberated Tibet with 40,000 troops, Mao said
they’d have two policies for Tibet. “For eastern Tibet (Kham and Amdo)
we’ll use communist reforms, for central Tibet we’ll go slow as a
tortoise because, you know, they need time”. In Kham and Amdo they had
an armed uprising within six years, in central Tibet , they had an
armed uprising in nine years. And they [the Chinese government] tore up
the Seventeen Point Agreement, threw it out of the window and said
‘right OK so lets institute military rule’ and they introduced martial
law straight away all across Tibet. They instituted the Great Leap
Forward through which thirty million died and then the Cultural
Revolution. At the end of the Cultural Revolution after Mao died, Hu
Yao-bang went to Tibet and looked at it and said ‘you know for all that
we’ve done for Tibet – for all the money we’ve spent, we might as well
as thrown it into the Yarlung Tsangpo River for the good it’s done they
still hate us’. So he said, “Let’s institute cultural reform, open up
to economics and let the tourists in, the backpackers”.
Seven years later, protests broke out in Lhasa which lasted three years
till martial law had to be installed. Then a new set of reforms were
put in place and they tried a new policy and then that policy got
stronger, as you know, which is the policy of economic development in
Tibet, which was such a radical reform . Then in 2008, protests broke
out, not just in Lhasa but all across of Tibet, not just amongst monks
but students, teachers, the spread of protest occurred massively.
In 1950 many people argued that Tibetans were relatively divided
amongst themselves. Many people now argue that the Dalai Lama unifies
all Tibet, certainly all religious orders and, some argue, all classes.
So one is [meaning we are] minded to say, ‘we’ve spent fifty
years and it’s no good’. But from the Beijing side, from the
other side, quite a few think they’re losing the battle. It seems to
me, when you ask the question, what good does it do? – most of the
first part of your talk was a trenchant critique of classical political
realism and yet the solutions and results you seem to want are in terms
of classical political realism or in terms of nation states along these
lines. The real change …..achieve are not about that, they’re about
something a lot more undefinable but at the same time apparently at
T You’re right………I have to be candid, the Dalai Lama’s popularity
is amazing. How many people’s lives he’s touched round the globe…… But
some times I can’t help myself feeling the Tibetan issue, the Tibetan
people are being sidelined. Sometimes, as an activist, I have to raise
this. Recently, when I was in Poland I was seated at the top table with
Lech Walesa, I was seated there because of respect for the Dalai Lama
and I said to them, “The Dalai Lama travels a lot and he always has
this smile and has a message of love. But most people don’t see he
carries a very heavy burden of his people’s reliance on him, it’s a
huge load and he feels sometimes he carries it alone”. The people of
Tibet, they have a faith in him, a dependence on him…..
When I say we’re going nowhere it’s because I feel a sense of urgency.
I keep reminding people. Are you going to let them [the Tibetans in
Tibet] die or are you going to do something? I don’t know what else to
say. We’ve tried shouting and screaming for freedom, all sorts of
things. It doesn’t give me the sort of return I’m hoping for. If I’m
wrong someone needs to tell me…. Sometimes I think the Dalai Lama is
trying be an example to the rest of the world… ‘Even if we [Tibetans]
lose we have to give an example’. People say we don’t want to be this
scapegoat. It’s tough. Right now the Dalai Lama is the only reason
holding the Tibetans back. Anyway, we never lose hope, we are an
Roger Eames, secretary of the Tibet Support Group Grampian. We need to
draw to a close now but if anyone wants to ask any further questions to
Thubten Samdup or to say any more, I’m sure he will be only to pleased
to speak to them afterwards. I think we’ve been given a wonderful
message from His Holiness’s Representative, thank you very much. Also,
you’ve all been very good in discussing all these different issues
which is what we’d hoped when we asked Thubten Samdup to come here. I
hope you all go back with the message he’s been giving you.
There area few practical points, it did cost a little bit for Mr.
Samdup to come here, there has been a contribution from the School of
Social Sciences but there remains a fair amount of expenses to be met
and there are collecting tins at the front for donations. If any money
is left over, Mr. Samdup suggests it should go to the
Tibet House fund for education and health.
We are a local Tibet support group here in Aberdeen, some of us are
academics, some not. If anyone would like to be part of our group,
please sign a list at the front. Some universities have their own Tibet
support groups and you might like to go along these lines, forming a
university group. Mr. Samdup has left copies of the Memorandum on
Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People which you can take away or you
can leave for others. The Memorandum is on the website.
And finally, please show your appreciation of Mr. Samdup’s talk.