Why The Dalai Lama Matters As The Leader of the Tibetans

The Dalai Lama continues to inspire restraint and nonviolence among the Tibetan youth in exile and all the Tibetans in Tibet, in spite of their mounting frustration at the lack of progress made in achieving economic self-sufficiency, religious freedom, and human and other rights due to the Chinese government’s oppressive and destructive policies.

Dalai Lama & His Call for Tibetan Autonomy

Some Tibetans nowadays, freely in exile and underground in Tibet, complain about the Dalai Lama’s leadership because of his insistence on nonviolence and his offering to accept autonomy  within China rather than the full independence that Tibet deserves under international law. But so far, they still follow him and restrain their urge to do violence.

HH Dalai Lama at Manhattan Center Photo by Sonam ZoksangActually, the whole debate of autonomy versus independence is mainly the result of a general confusion. The Dalai Lama never questions that every Tibetan wants and has a right to have independence; he always says that all persons and all countries flourish with it, and all value it supremely. However, once independent, they and their neighbors have to relate to one another. They have to trade, exchange, tolerate, and connect to each other. There is no such thing as absolute independence. Everything is interdependent. So to ask for true autonomy within China is simply to be realistic.

The Dalai Lama is essentially saying to the Chinese, “Well, you want to own Tibet, but that is not possible. Tibet is naturally free and Tibetans are Tibetans, not Chinese. Since you are, however, determined to play a large part in Tibet’s future, and we do need your help to modernize and to repair the immense damage your predecessors have wrought in our land, we will voluntarily join with you in federation, in a ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement such as you have with Hong Kong and should soon have with Taiwan. As we are a minority people in union with you, your own constitution dictates that you cannot swamp us in Chinese (“ Han”) colonization. So once you remove your colonists and internal occupation armies, you can keep your troops on the borders to protect us, and then let us have our own internal basic law, just as Hong Kong does. Then we will vote, and I will campaign to persuade my countrymen to vote for joining you in a legitimate, voluntary union. And just so you don’t worry too much, I cast my vote for union right now, ahead of time!”

Tibet’s Existing Legal & Historical Independence

The point is, the Dalai Lama does not need to call for independence, since Tibet actually has independence, historic, moral, and legal. It always has been independent and always will be a free highland under the vast sky, ringed with high snow peaks, where only people with special genes can be comfortable with the lack of oxygen at almost three miles of altitude.

Tibetan Childrens' Village School Photo by Tenzin ChoejorTheir independence is not only in the minds of all living Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, but also in the mind of anyone who has seen through the propaganda and the diplomatic lies of present governments and done even cursory research into the history and the issues under international law. Just because the Chinese have troops and colonists there, and just because the UN and other nations’ executive branches are prevented by fear and greed from bringing international law to bear on the question, that does not mean that the Chinese occupation has legitimacy, that their preposterously false historical claims can ever convince anyone. In fact, a number of the world’s important parliaments— the United States Congress, the German Bundestag, the French and Italian Parliaments, the Costa Rican Parliament, the European Parliament— all have passed resolutions similar to that of the United States Congress, which pronounced unequivocally that Tibet is an independent country under foreign occupation.