By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet celebrated His 76th birthday today, July 6, in Washington, DC. Born in 1935 in the Amdo region of Eastern Tibet, Lhamo Dhondup was recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama in 1937 and received the name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (usually shortened to Tenzin Gyatso). His Holiness was enthroned and received full temporal authority in November 1950, at age 15, while Tibet was already under invasion by the People’s Republic of China. After a rebellion broke out in Tibet against Chinese rule, His Holiness was forced to flee into exile in 1959 in order to avoid being made a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party. His Holiness has remained in exile since then and attempted to negotiate a resolution to the plight of the Tibetan people, but so far the Chinese Government has rejected all offers by the Dalai Lama and refuses to discuss the political status of Tibet or even the issue of human rights for the Tibetan people.
In Washington, DC today, thousands of people came out to celebrate His Holiness’ birthday and honor His many achievements. These included not only Tibetans living in North America but thousands of other people, including American citizens, Mongolians, Indians (South Asians), Nepalese, Kalmyks, Bhutanese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and even Chinese. Across the globe, Tibetans celebrated His Holiness’ birthday with long life prayers, cultural shows, and lively celebrations. The birthday of the Dalai Lama is an extremely important and auspicious date in Tibetan culture. However, the only places where public celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s birthday are expressly not permitted are Tibet, China, and Nepal (the latter due to strong Chinese influence).
HH the Dalai Lama with Mr Arun Gandhi (L) and Mr Martin Luther King III (R)
at the Verizon Center, Washington, DC (OHHDL/Tenzin Choejor)
The Chinese Government does not allow Tibetans inside Tibet to publicly celebrate His Holiness’ birthday. In fact, Tibetans have been imprisoned for celebrating His birthday, saying long life prayers for the Dalai Lama, displaying the Dalai Lama’s image and spreading His Holiness’ teachings. For now, Tibetans inside Tibet must celebrate His Holiness’ birthday in secret or only in their hearts. China has branded the Dalai Lama as a separatist criminal and made any showing of reverence or respect towards His Holiness a serious crime (incongruously, China has also said the Dalai Lama is welcome back if he gives up independence and recognizes Tibet and Taiwan as part of China).
Since the 1980s, His Holiness has attempted to negotiate a resolution of the issue of Tibet that would allow for Chinese sovereignty over Tibet but with internal autonomy for Tibetans. China has ignored and then outright rejected these offers from the Dalai Lama. Indeed, China has said that all talks with His Holiness’ representatives have not been about the political status of Tibet but merely about the conditions in which the Dalai Lama may return and the Dalai Lama’s private status. China refuses to consider any offers from the Dalai Lama to allow genuine autonomy for Tibet and steadfastly claims Tibetans are happy under Chinese rule, despite evidence to the contrary. However, China ignores the Dalai Lama and the situation in Tibet at their own peril.
Since the 1950s, the Tibetan people have time and time again risen up in defiance against Chinese occupation. The most recent major uprising was in 2008 when thousands of Tibetans from many different walks of life demonstrated throughout the Tibetan Plateau against Chinese repression and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibet. Demonstrations for Tibetan freedom and for the Dalai Lama’s return continue in Tibet to this day, with the most recent disturbances having been in Amdo Ngaba (Ch: Aba) and Kardze, Kham, (Ch: Ganzi), both in Eastern Tibet and outside the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). These Tibetans are not calling for autonomy but for Tibetan independence. The more China represses the Tibetan people and the more they verbally attack His Holiness and prohibit Tibetans from revering Him, the stronger is the Tibetan desire for full separation from China. It is a vicious cycle where repression leads to resistance which leads to more repression and even more resistance.
While millions of people around the world respect His Holiness as a spiritual leader and while six million Tibetans consider His Holiness their spiritual and temporal leader, China vilifies the Dalai Lama in their media and in government circles. China’s actions only increase the distrust Tibetans have of the Chinese Government and inflame the Tibetan desire for freedom. Many experts believe China’s plan is to wait for the 14th Dalai Lama to pass away, appoint their own puppet Dalai Lama, and hope the Tibetan problem will die with the Dalai Lama. Ironically, His Holiness is probably the only one who can truly negotiate on behalf of the Tibetan people and obtain a peaceful resolution. China’s failure to view His Holiness as the source of a resolution, rather than as a problem or an obstacle, will mean Tibet’s suffering will continue for many years to come and consequently, instability in Tibet will only increase and uprisings will continue until Tibet is truly free.