Yale risks undermining core values by supporting China

Robert Li’s column “Dalai Lama sows seeds of selfish plan in Tibet” (3/27) was very disappointing. While I can appreciate Li’s national pride, a large component of patriotism is questioning the words and actions of one’s government to ensure that they are in accordance with the state’s professed ideals. Li presented a one-sided account of events in Tibet that not only failed to critically examine the propagandistic claims of the Chinese government, but also assailed the Dalai Lama with allegations that are dubious at best and slanderous at worst.

The Chinese government justifies its occupation of Tibet in terms of territorial integrity, arguing that Tibet has historically been part of Chinese territory. In modern times, Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy and de facto independence until 1950-’51, when the newly victorious Communist government of China invaded Tibetan territory and coerced the Tibetan government into signing an agreement renouncing claims of sovereignty. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly asserted that he would be content with the granting of autonomous status similar to that of Hong Kong for the misleadingly named Tibetan Autonomous Region. Further, despite much searching I was unable to find any evidence for one of Li’s greater claims that the Dalai Lama seeks control over other provinces as part of a “Greater Tibet.”

International boundary law is not my specialty, so I will not attempt to challenge China’s recent actions on this basis. However, they are still condemnable from a human rights perspective. Tibetan protests appear to have begun peacefully, but have since degenerated as the Chinese state responded with police and military repression. Sadly, some Tibetans began attacking ethnic Han Chinese people and businesses, bringing upon the community undue suffering. This has, however, been the only fact reported about events in Tibet by Chinese news agencies that fan anti-Tibetan sentiments.

While Li admonished the Dalai Lama for not expressing condolences for those Han harmed in the protests, the spiritual leader has repeatedly said that he does not want Tibetans to act violently, and even threatened to step down if violence continues. However, he recognizes that he may be unable to contain anger that has built up from almost 50 years of Chinese occupation, colonial settlement policies, and attempts to control and repress Tibetan culture.

Li argues that we may look at the restoration and funding of certain monasteries as evidence of the Chinese government’s commitment to protecting Tibetan culture. This ignores past demolitions of monasteries, as well as Chinese interference in the administration of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is not young, and many Tibetan Buddhists fear that the Chinese government will attempt to impose its will for a new Dalai Lama, as it did to the Panchen Lama, the second most holy figure in Tibetan Buddhism, who was kidnapped along with his family by Chinese authorities in 1995 and “replaced” by a Panchen Lama selected by China.

In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported anticolonial movements around the world attempting to assert their rights to self-determination and freedom of cultural expression; however, the Chinese treatment of Tibet during the same period and today has run strongly counter to this principle.

It is undeniable that the Chinese government has invested heavily in Tibet and developed the region economically, but these benefits have generally accrued to the Han Chinese who moved into the region since the Chinese occupation began in the 1950s. And to argue that Tibetans should view the Chinese as having liberated them from a feudalistic, lama-dominated society ignores that the Dalai Lama continues to be a symbol of Tibetan pride and resistance.

Instead of scrutinizing their own policies and giving credence to the legitimate demands of Tibetan protestors for greater cultural and political freedom, the Chinese government, through the official People’s Daily, called in an editorial for protestors to be “resolutely crush[ed].” The leader of the Communist party in Tibet called the Dalai Lama a “wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast,” not the typical description of a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent the past half-century urging nonviolent action as the best way to achieve Tibetan demands.

China grows more powerful economically and politically each day. It continues to make great advances in the sciences, an area in which Yale wishes to improve. However, the university has a moral obligation to balance the opportunities provided by China’s growth with a serious look at the country’s policies.

For those who say Yale has no place questioning a sovereign country about its internal policies, there is already the precedent of Yale Law School seeking to prevent military recruiters from visiting the school due to policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians. The University should be able to question and give feedback on the actions of its partners, be they businesses or governments. It must do so in the case of China if it wishes to uphold its own institutional standard of embracing and promoting diversity and equal human rights.

Kai Thaler is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.

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