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 Relations Society.

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 opinion.

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
 quite rational.

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 country.

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 every day.”
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 ‘minorities’.

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 issue alive. 

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 leader.

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 odds.

 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 optimistic people.

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.