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The Fate of Tibet
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, right, confers with Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, during a function in Dharmsala, India, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2008. A summit of Tibetan exiles is turning into a clash of generations over the direction of their struggle with China. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

The Dalai Lama, right, confers with Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, in Dharmsala, India, Nov. 20, 2008. (AP)

For decades now, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has smiled and talked of peace and won Western hearts — and dreamed of autonomy for Tibet.

And China has listened, intermittently, and said no, consistently.

This fall, after riots in Tibet last spring, China said no loudly — flatly rejecting Tibetan autonomy and the Dalai Lama’s smiling appeals.

For the last week, more than 500 Tibetan exiles from across the world gathered in Dharamsala, India, to debate their way forward: whether to stick with the Dalai Lama’s peaceful “middle way,” search for autonomy within China, or to reach openly for independence. Whether to pray, to fight, to wait, to hope.

Their path looks as steep as the Himalayas.

This hour, On Point: The Dalai Lama, China, and the fate of Tibet.

You can join the conversation. Are you still rooting for the red-robed Buddhists and their struggle to reclaim their kingdom at the “roof of the world”? Will that struggle outlast the Dalai Lama? Will old Tibet simply disappear one day under a wave of Chinese immigration and development?


We’re joined from Dharamsala by Tsewang Rigzin. He is president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, an exile group that advocates full independence from China.

From Vancouver, we’re joined by Tsering Wangdu Shakya, a Tibetan scholar and professor at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Asian Research. Born in Lhasa, he fled to India with his family after the Chinese invasion. He is the author of “The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947,” which The New York Times called “the definitive history of modern Tibet.”

Joining us from New York is Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.

And from Melbourne Australia, we’re joined by Cameron Stewart. An associate editor at The Australian. He was in Tibet in early November, one of only a handful of Western journalists to have been in Tibet since the March riots.

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  • Keith Heiberg

    Dear Tom,

    Thank you for your discussion of the meeting of Tibetan exiles.

    I can understand the common assumption that political freedom is only to be achieved through political pressure, but that’s been tried for decades, and the Chinese seem immune to it.

    How about learning from the Chinese themselves, who have increased their global power through economic influence?

    Especially with the global economic slowdown, I would imagine that China is more desperate than ever for foreign currency.

    Has there been any discussion of a boycott of Chinese goods? Or the possibility of exiled Tibetans offering alternatives to Chinese goods, so consumers could still buy what they want, but patronize Tibetan rather than Chinese businesses?

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    Keith Heiberg (“HIGH-berg”)
    Brighton, MA

  • J

    There is no Tibet indepedence in any realistic sense, it’s either under Chinese influence or under Indian influence, and consequentially the UK, US, and Western influence. Tibet and India are just foot soldiers for the Western political strategy.

    Someone just mentioned Taiwan and Mongolia. It’s either a Taiwan under Chinese influence or under influence of Japan and US. When Mongolia was under Soviet influence, Soviet troops and tanks were in Mongolia and at the border with China.

    So while China has control over Tibet right now, why would China give it up? Just like a bunch of foxes trying to get the crow to sing and drop that piece of meat.

  • Chris Tower


    This was a great discussion on Tibet. Thank you for bringing this to the world’s attention.

    The aggression of the Chinese, the slaughter of Tibetans and destruction of their religious buildings during the ’50s and continuing to the present is a travesty of injustice. The recent British denial of Tibetan sovereignty shows yet again that the “democratic” western powers are primarily concerned with preserving their wealth and power, not with truth and justice. We saw this first with the Armenians in this century, then the Jewish and other peoples of Europe exterminated by the Nazis, then Tibet, and next in Rwanda.

    Clearly the West acts primarily only to preserve itself and yet claims to hold the moral high ground in the world. Of the injustices and genocides perpetrated in the 20th century, only the Tibetan situation continues. Now is the opportunity of western powers to act in accord with the moral and political standards they profess and push for return of sovereignty to the Tibetan people.

    Please continue to look at all aspects of this enormous and profoundly important issue.

    Thank you,
    Chris Tower

  • John Hsia

    Being born and raised in China in the ’30s and early ’40s, I had always been taught that Tibet was part of China, but was an autonomous region (I was never quite sure just what that meant). I’ve seen statements by Western scholars that Tibet has been “part of China” since the Mongol dynasty, though largely ignored during the Ming, and I’m not sure what was said about the Ching. There are, of course, statements to the effect that Tibet was independent until the Chinese invasion in (was it 79?)… I would certainly appreciate some sources to clarify that question.

    I wonder if there are any parallels to be drawn between the current Tibet situation and our move to the West in the 19th century, and our treatment of the American Indians. Did we not take over their land, killing many in the process, impose our culture on the land, etc. etc. (as the Han Chinese are now doing)?

    What would our response be if an Amerind leader were to organize a protest asking for New Mexico and Arizona to be an independent state (country)? I hear no protests about our treatment of the Amerinds historically, and even now. What would be our response if the Amerinds started sacking and burning “Anglo” establishments? Would we be criticizing and resultant police/national guard action?

  • redarmy

    Keith Heiberg: Please advocate to the American public that by buying Tibetan goods, it will save the US economy.

  • Geser

    Chinese authority attack on Dalai Lama is sign is Chinese growing fear of loosing control over Tibet since March Revolution and China; very day protest over job lost to freedom of any kind.
    a chinese in Europe was asking me if Tibetan work to break China
    yet with global econonic melt down will break China in Two year;Dalai lama and Tibetan will outlive the Communist Cola any time
    Independent China
    autonomous Tibet


    I just think it is fair enough for China to leave Tibet alone!Why does the human race seek trouble rather than peace? It is absolutely important that we live in peace. So, China! please leave the Tbetans alone, for the sake of peace.

  • Elaine Zhang

    Why shouldn’t the ethnic Han Chinese be free to move to Tibet? It is part of their country and they should be allowed to seek opportunities anywhere as they wish. Is the only way to save Tibet to isolate it ethnically? Isn’t that just silly in this day and age of globalization??

    As far as the Han Chinese are concerned, the Tibetans (as well as other ethnic minorities) enjoy far more privileges than the Han. They are exempt from the One Child Policy, and the government are investing so much money for the development of that region.

  • Elaine Zhang

    And can we please just call what happened last March as what it is? A RIOT, not a “protest”!

  • Thomas

    There is just too much misinformation and disinformation about Tibet and this is actually one major problems of Tibet.

    First of all, Tibet is quite autonomous already, over 90% of the cadres in Tibet are Tibetans themselves, most civil servants in Tibet are Tibetans, and all local police are Tibetans. Some Tibetans are even enlisted in PLA and in Para-military forces. When talking heads in the West talk about Tibet, they never tell you these basic facts of today’s Tibet.

    Second, the people who are most vehemently again the return of Dalai Lama are actually the local Tibetan leaders in all levels. Members of ruling class of today’s Tibet are mostly the sons and grand sons of former serfs and slaves under the Dalai Lama’s former regime. They have no interest but fear of the return of Dalai Lama. It is China’s Land Reform that liberated these serfs and slaves and redistributed land and animals to them. Event today, many old Tibetans still hang Chairman Mao’s portraits in their homes – something even the Han Chinese don’t do nowadays. There are still plenty of old political activists and China loyalists in Tibet and they are the current ruling class in Tibet. Again, audience in the West never hears this most important fact of life of modern Tibet. Today’s Tibet is just and fair not because of Dalai Lama but because of the Land Reform China has introduced some 46 years ago. China’s subsequent collectivization drive was too harsh and “leftist”, but that dose not negate the just and correctness of the Land Reform.

    Third, Dalai Lama is a theocrat – he is the head and the embodiment of a theocratic institution. He was and technically still is the head of old Tibet that exploited Tibetans as serfs and slaves. Dalai Lama never abdicated his old slavery regime and his family technically still owns slaves. Dalai Lama himself was from a poor family, but when he was chosen as the Dalai Lama, his family received monastic property that included serfs and slaves. Dalai Lama never renounced or forfeited his family’s slavery ownership.

    One of problems China has with the Dalai Lama and his exile followers is the Foreign Factor. Dalai Lama and followers are basically living on the handouts from West. Dalai Lama himself used to be paid by the CIA, making him a CIA agent. Without the West support, Dalai Lama and his exile people can’t even survive.

    Dalai Lama’s reliance on the West is very problematic to China. How could China negotiate with some one who used to be a CIA agent and even today still lives on the largess from the West? What exactly is Dalai Lama’s allegiance?

    How could Dalai Lama be trusted if he says he wants to be part of China and then the next day goes to Washington or London seeking foreign backing?

    The problem is that Dalai Lama can not afford not rely on the West. Dalai Lama and his exile followers owe their living to the West. Dalai Lama is relevant only because the West makes him so. Dalia Lama is just a proxy in West’s anti-China war, anytime the West wants to smear and blackmail China they can just prop up and push out this smiling Dalai Lama – never mind he is actually a theocrat and the head of a slavery regime.

  • kid lee

    i am Han chinese and right now i am at America since last two year.when i was in China our school tought us that dalai lama is slave holder and he used to take off women skin.at that time i was not intreasted on that.when i reached at west i leared that all people in world his smile and his presence.so i start to read his biography and lots of his book.finaly i found him amzing.i felt that we chinese losing something…

  • Lee

    What a rubbish the Thomas talks about. He just likes the White rulers of South Africa who claim that most the police during the apartheid regime were Blacks. As for Ellian Zhang, don’t you know that people China do not have the right to go and live anywhere they like?

    Tibet was an independent country that was conquered and colonized by China. The Tibetans have to right to fight for their freedom.

    As for America and Western conspiracy mongers, I guess you believe that protest by poor people in Longna in Gansu is also CIA plot.


  • sou joh

    tibetan in Tibet are not happy with our Gov.i think our gov. not treating them properly.but i love china and pride being chinese.95% in chinese in china are blaming west.may be west is afraid of our china economy superpower.

  • Thomas

    If Tibet is an independent country, why is it that all countries in the world, including USA, recognize Tibet as part of China?

    Even the Great Briton has to change its position recently, just two weeks ago, to publicly recognize Tibet as part of China.

    So stop the non-sense of China invading Tibet, it sounds like China invading China.

    As for Dalai Lama being a CIA agent, it is on State department records and public, just google Dalai Lama CIA.

    And here is the report from the New York Times just today, that says:
    Dalai Lama Group Says It Got Money From C.I.A


    This is just a nice way of saying that the Dalai Lama was a CIA agent.

  • Tsering

    I am a Tibetan in exile.

    I am well aware of emerging trend of the states converging on to make unions because of the global effect of todays politics, economy or social upheavals in any particular state.

    Despite the fundamental difference between Tibet and China which are clearly indicated by recent crisis in march undermining the “Chinese govt special zone” subsidies, The Dalai Lama has proposed a very pragmatic solution under the consititution of PRC itself, which Chinese govt. has denied and instead attacked on Dalai Lama which will again anger Tibetan worldwide.

    I as Tibetan feel that there is no inch of compromise left to do from the Tibetan side.

    Chinese govt hardliner policy is based on the patriotic education they have propagated to their Chinese student since 1994 who are now the backbone of the Chinese economy.

    Chinese govt for the fear of lost of face among its working citizen has decline to consider the most pragmatic and practical solution proposed by the Dalai Lama.

    I urge all our Chinese brother and sisters to contemplate on the proposal put up by Dalai Lama and Who is the responsible for unwanted China bashing.

  • redarmy

    I feel for your cause. As a Han Chinese living in North America, I’d rather people in exile conduct patriotic education among themselves.
    You seem to realize that Tibet will not survive if not living inside of PRC. You people in exile rely on foreign funds to seek whatever cause will not fly a inch among the Chinese. Dalai speaks to foreign media all the time, but changes face/stance all the time before different audience. You should know the reason why?
    The Chinese government is building infrastructure and modernizing the region in Tibet plateau for the last few decades. You people tend to ignore the reality, but instead waste time in seeking something unrealistic and did nothing helping your Tibetan siblings.
    What a shame…

  • Topic

    ****Will old Tibet simply disappear one day under a wave of Chinese immigration and development?*****

    I just don’t get it, whenever western Caucasians implies a culture transformation or ever changing world, they can do that to themselves or other cultures, but other cultures can’t have a choice of emerging another cultures. Why is an old and a surf culture has to be reserved without being transformed or emerged? Why is Chinese Han ethnic cultures influence so bad? How is that most of the world are heavily influenced by western culture legitimate and pushing for modernization toward China??? Do you see the hypocrisy here??

  • Topic

    ****Why is Chinese Han ethnic cultures influence so bad?*****

    I am going to answer to my own question, I know why, because today’s Chinese Han ethnic cultures are pretty much western worshiping culture. Ironically, the funds for the Tibetan Independence Group all come from the western countries, like Europe and United States, and the same time they are the ones encourage the industrialization and modernization throughout the world. When other countries want to do some catch up for modernization, it’s the same very countries doing the back stabbing.

  • Topic

    Dalai Lama is the political tool of the western countries, period.

  • Tsering

    Colonial attitudes of the Chinese intelligentsia

    such propositions raise a much more serious and pervasive issue. It seems that asking some Chinese intellectuals—be they Communist Party officials, liberal democrats or dissident writers—to think about Tibet in an objective and reasonable manner is like asking an ant to lift an elephant; it is beyond their capabilities and vision. Their perception is impaired by racial prejudice and their imagination clouded by the convictions and certainties of all colonial masters.

    my friends are in pure state of ignorance, despite Chinese government building infrastructure and modernizing, Tibetans in Tibet are spiritually not happy which resulted in recent revolt even under the “bayonet” in Mao’s word.

  • Nanda

    This was a pretty biased episode. Robbie Barnnett is not that respected as a Tibet expert. He is actually a journalist and former free-tibet activist so he’s comming from a pretty biased perspective. Notice no guest on the show is supportive of the Chinese side and this show tries to give off a pretense of balance.

    Most of the most well respected experts on Tibet like tibetologist Melvyn Goldstein, Tom Grunfeld, and Bary Sautman would have given a much more balanced view together with prof. Shakya. Shakya is more biased towards the Tibetans (not a surprise) and the other experts on Tibet has more of a pro-China stance.

    Also, Barnnett didn’t really address one of the points raised by a caller. He tried to dodge the issue. Did anyone notice that? He said that the Khampa rebels were funded and trained by the CIA (which is also true but not what the caller brought up which was the fact that the Da-Lie Lama was paid by the US government).

    The caller mentioned that the Da-Lie Lama was on the US government’s payroll, not that the Khampa rebels were. Barnnett conceded somewhat but did not mention anything about the tibetan government in exile or the Da-Lie Lama.

    The Da-Lie Lama was paid over $180,000 a year by the CIA for some years in the 60s and his government in exile was paid over half a million per year to spread anti-communist propaganda. That’s on the CIA’s own records released through the Freedom of Information Act. even the government in exile has admitted now that they were paid by the CIA. the Da-Lie Lama use to deny that he was paid by the CIA but now we know that that is just another one of his lies.

  • Nanda


    the Da-Lie Lama’s proposals aren’t that fair. they include a demand for the ethnic cleansing of non-Tibetans from “greater tibet”. I want autonomy for the TAR and maybe some parts of greater Tibet as well but the Da-Lie Lama is not gonna get anywhere with his ridiculous proposals.

    BTW, why do most tibetans think of him as god? he’s just a human being. tibetans should learn to think for themselves. religious fanaticism and dogmatism is very dangerous. what he says is not always truth.

  • topic

    ****BTW, why do most tibetans think of him as god? he’s just a human being. tibetans should learn to think for themselves. religious fanaticism and dogmatism is very dangerous. what he says is not always truth.****

    Totally agreed.

    CIA and Dalai Lama gain mutual benefit by using each other. Dalai Lama is just another ambitious want-to-be.

    There are other people in other provinces of China have complains about China’s fast growth economy, and are these countries support “independence” going to act like separatists every time they hear some “unhappy” voices from a country??

    As far as I know there are lots of UNHAPPY Americans unhappy about our political policies and regulations that we are being forced into, are we going to march “independence” and get aids from other countries to break us away from U.S.??

    Tom, I appreciate your shows that touched versatile issues, but at times, the issues were not discussed in balanced matter. I am not if this episode of your show has brought any thing new from what most people have already heard from CNN or other western news sources.

  • topic

    Just listen to the way Tom describe Tibet and China, he made it sounded like Tibet is already a separate country from China. And most western people turn this Tibetan Buddhism into such a mysterious religion, which its core structure is very wrong.

    To me, it’s no different from any other religion, at times, even worse that they enslaved 90% of Tibetans to serve their theocrats. Shame on people for using religion to control other people, shame!!

  • redarmy

    Ya your vision for Tibet is non-comprehensible for Chinese, but only CIF backed clowns understands your pathetic struggle??
    Give yourself a break. Do not deny that Tibetan did not even have a dictionary before Chinese took over. What about the tech words and other advanced vocabulary that your noble master did not even dare to invent in your language??
    Why do you people learn English as a required course in your delusioned exile region? Because Tibetan culture does not go very far without modern input either from Anglo/French/Chinese or other more advanced culture.
    Go ahead pray your head off and do not learn and evolve…wait another two decades, let’s see if your far-fetched dream of independence will become true???

  • Tsering

    I understand that Patriotic re-education that has been imposed in your schools after 1989 Tienanmen square massacre had great effect on most of the Chinese youth. You have been taught that Dalai Lama is evil and Tibetan think him as god. Wrong, Tibetan venerate him because of his enduring altruistic vision that is extended even beyond his enemies. That is why he wants to stop Chinese leader doing anymore harm to Tibetans which ultimately results in very bad image of Chinese culture in the world.

    u believe in ‘Karma’ . if not, I suppose u believe in newton’s third law of motion.

  • redarmy

    Well prayer does work? I left China well before 1989. Your so called education did not enlighten me a bit.
    It looks like you are speaking on behalf of Tibetans, well in exile. What about people inside Tibet? Is your struggle having any impact on them? You should let people know there are numerous branches within Tibetan Budduism. Even Dalai can not represent the whole population of Tibet. Why are you people and Dalai imposing your single branch of religion on others?
    In a legal point of view, the exile regime has no legal ground to negotiate with the Chinese government. They are talking to Dalai’s rep about his and recoverable citizens future, not about legality and future of Tibet. That topic has been cemented and will never be open again.
    Is there a translation of Newton’s theory in Tibetan language?? Just curious…

  • Tsering

    I am not a bit impressed by your “i know all, I am superior” materialistic view of the world. Law and rule books are made and reassessed for humanity to live free of subjugation, oppression and cruelty.

    Of course Tibetan Buddhism is vast thus generated many school of thoughts.

    I am sorry If I have hurt your integrity, all I want is peace for the Tibetan living inside Tibet. So that they dont have to suffer under the decaying ideologies of CCP.

  • Nanda

    Tsering, please,

    Tibetans *DO* worship him as a god and that’s sad and dangerous. Take a look at this video with Tibetans saying that he is a god and “the living Buddha”. Even the MP of the Tibet Government in exile Tsultrim Tenzin said that Tibetans worship him as a “superhuman” and a “god”.


    Go to 4:40 and 5:40.

    I think you’ve been seriously brainwashed by the Da-Lie cult. Please think for yourself. Just because the Da-Lie Lama says something doesn’t make it the truth. Question everything.

    I did not go to school in China. I went to school in the US and I know how to think for myself. Many Chinese also know how to think for themselves because they don’t trust anyone who claims to be god. If anyone tells me he’s god and that everything he says is truth, I always question it.

  • redarmy

    decaying ideologies of CCP?
    Only your master Daila and your mystic yet misleading religion can uplift people’s spirits? Then why not become a Tibetan evangelical to spread your sermon to Christians/Muslims and beyond??
    Talking about Muslims in Tibet? Would your master and you people stop killing them?? They are suffering like in the hell in Tibet. I know your CIA clowns hate Muslims…

  • sou joh

    i am chinese and beleive in human right.i always think that our gov. should treat them good.last spring protest in tibet shows that gov. is too much oppressed to ethnic minority.
    China’s problem with Tibet is not the Dalai Lama. The greater threat is the increasing appeal of active resistance in Tibet to Chinese rule. A successful negotiation with him is the only way to ensure a peaceful outcome to the stand-off. China should understand this.
    now china call off from EU meeting.that is shame.
    i feel shame myself being a china citizen.

  • sou joh

    dear dedarmy,
    please don’t discuss on religion and racial.i am han chinese and i have to live with tibetan side by side.we chinese shouldnt label them terrorist.anything can happen.lets me ask you one simple Q.why did tibetan in tibet peacefull protest againg our Gov.?our gov. developed so many thing on materials thing.still why they did protest.???

  • Frank Y

    Attention! you exile tibetans, which only 100,000, you guys are not born in Tibet and are not really tibetans. And for 6,000,000 tibetans in China, they do not want violence of independence, they want to have a good life with economic development. At least 95%, or even 98% Tibetans want to keep the status quo.

    For the history, it is useless to talk about right or wrong. Also attention, Tibet has been part of china for 5 centuries. Even after 1911, tibet never officially declare independence and do not have diplomal relations with other countries in the world, Tibetan also took part in the Republic of China government meeting. So it is wrong to say Tibet is independent in 1911- 1949.

    The most of important thing is 99.9% of Chinese(including Han, Miao, Tibetans…) all believe Tibet is definitely a part of China. If some riots happened, soldiers would come immediately

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