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Benedict Rogers

It’s in the world’s interests to stand with Tibet

Although the Dalai Lama is no longer traveling internationally, governments should stop being afraid to meet him
Published: August 25, 2023 03:11 AM GMT

Updated: August 25, 2023 03:36 AM GMT

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama (center) is assisted as he arrives to attend an event celebrating his 88th birthday in Dharamsala, India, on July 6

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama (center) is assisted as he arrives to attend an event celebrating his 88th birthday in Dharamsala, India, on July 6. (Photo: AFP)

As China conducts new military drills around Taiwan in response to the visit by the island’s vice president to the United States, the eyes of the world are understandably on Beijing.

Meanwhile, China’s property market and currency collapses, youth unemployment rises and the economy risks implosion.

What happens in China’s markets and across the Taiwan Strait will impact the entire globe.

Yet as we watch the situation and the response from China’s leaders, there is a corner of the world currently occupied by China that is in danger of being forgotten: Tibet.

For a time it was a cause celebre among Hollywood stars like Richard Gere and Brad Pitt, the star of the movie Seven Years In Tibet. But when China started taking over Hollywood, pro-Tibet actors were sidelined.

For many years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met world leaders, addressed universities and filled stadiums — but now, he is too elderly to travel. World leaders are too preoccupied with other matters and universities are too dependent on China’s funding.

"It is a starting point for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s repression and Beijing’s laboratory for atrocities"

Indeed, Pope Francis is the first pope in decades to decline a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

While the eyes of the world have understandably shifted to the genocide of the Uyghurs, the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms, the repression within China, and the threats to Taiwan and the free world, Tibet is in danger of becoming a footnote.

But Tibet must never be a footnote — instead, it is a starting point for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime’s repression and Beijing’s laboratory for atrocities.

Within a year of the Communist victory in China and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched into Tibet, occupying a previously independent territory.

The brutal invasion, occupation and expansionism of China’s regime extended shortly after to East Turkistan, and decades later Hong Kong.

Let’s never forget that Beijing’s most severe, intense policies of torture, repression and cultural assimilation which have been applied across the territory it controls were first tested in Tibet.

It is no coincidence that the architect of the Uyghur genocide, Chen Quangguo, former CCP party secretary in Xinjiang, previously served as party secretary in Tibet.

China’s invasion of Tibet represents an extraordinary land grab. In landmass, Tibet is the world’s tenth largest country.

"They want the world to hear their cry. They want their homeland back"

I have never visited Tibet, but earlier this year I traveled to Dharamsala, in northern India, to meet the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles. In the office of the Sikyong (Tibetan prime minister), I looked at a large map of Tibet on the wall — and was amazed by its size, about five times the size of France. I could feel the determination among the exiled Tibetans. They want the world to hear their cry. They want their homeland back.

One Tibetan who offers hope and deserves to be remembered is the jailed singer and songwriter Lhundrub Drakpa. In May 2019, this popular musician was arrested for his patriotic song “Black Hat.”

The term “black hat” is a well-known Tibetan phrase that means a false or unfounded allegation. A common aphorism in Tibetan is “don’t put a black hat on an innocent person.”

The song includes lyrics criticizing the CCP regime’s policies, referring to the fact that “the voice of the six million Tibetans is gagged” and lamenting the “sorrow of the people of the Land of Snow.”

Drakpa was denied a legal defence and fair trial and in June 2020 he was sentenced to six years in prison in Driru County. He has not been seen or heard from since.

In February 2022, six United Nations experts spoke out about his detention. In an important letter to the Chinese government, UN special rapporteurs for cultural rights, the right to education, the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and minority issues, together with others, raised concern over the physical well-being of Lhundrub Drakpa, as well as two other Tibetan prisoners — writer Lobsang Lhundrub and school teacher Rinchen Kyi, who were arrested and disappeared “in connection with their cultural activities in favor of the Tibetan minority language and culture.”

Of course, Drakpa is just one of many Tibetan prisoners. According to the US State Department, there are anywhere between 500 and 2,000 Tibetan political prisoners, subjected to horrific torture and mistreatment, including electric shocks, attacks by dogs and sexual violence.

Let us never forget the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was abducted by the Chinese regime in 1995, at the age of six, just three days after he was recognized by the Dalai Lama. He has been held in an undisclosed location ever since and his well-being and whereabouts are unknown.

“Your movements are monitored, your thoughts corrected, and your rights confiscated, snatched, crushed”

When Nyima Lhamo was just 13 years old, her uncle, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a respected Tibetan Buddhist monk, was arrested at his monastery and eight months later sentenced to death on completely fabricated charges of terrorism. A month later his assistant, Lobsang Dondrup, was executed.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche spent 13 years in prison and was denied medical treatment and family visits. “We know that the police beat him a lot, took his clothing, threw him on the floor, pushed him under hot water,” Lhamo — now in exile — told me when I interviewed her for my book, The China Nexus.

“He always said he had committed no crime. He was arrested because he loved Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” she said.

On July 12, 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died. The family believes he was poisoned and killed.

Today’s Tibet “is a prison,” says Wangden Kyab, a Tibetan activist whom I met in Dharamsala. “Your movements are monitored, your thoughts corrected, and your rights confiscated, snatched, crushed.”

But despite 73 years of brutal repression, Tibetans have not lost hope. “They cannot kill all the Tibetans. So long as there is a single Tibetan on this earth, their spirit will remain for generations. One day, we can have our own country,” Kyab said.

Lhamo echoed that belief. “Our hope is driven by the fact that the truth always prevails, truth is on our side,” she said. “That is why Tibetans are hopeful, because truth always wins.”

There are several steps we can take to support Tibet.

"It would go a long way to make up for his silence on human rights in China and his refusal to meet the Dalai Lama"

For a start, we should speak about it and make sure that the Tibetan struggle is not forgotten. World leaders should talk about Tibet. Although the Dalai Lama is no longer traveling internationally, governments should stop being afraid to meet him.

At the G20 summit in India next month, leaders of the free world should take a day to go to Dharamsala to meet His Holiness.

Mongolia is perhaps the most important center for Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet and India. Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama recognized a small Mongolian boy as the tenth reincarnation of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, the third highest spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism.

When Pope Francis becomes the first pope to visit Mongolia at the beginning of next month, he would do well to meet the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu and the Tibetan Buddhist community in the country. It would go a long way to make up for his silence on human rights in China and his refusal to meet the Dalai Lama.

Lastly, we should campaign for those who have disappeared or are in prison. Lhundrub Drakpa is halfway through his prison sentence.  On Aug. 30, which marks the International Day of the Disappeared, we should remember him. We should support Free Tibet’s new free Lhundrub Drakpa campaign. No one should be imprisoned simply for writing a song.

The Dalai Lama told me that he feels “a strong responsibility to protect Tibetan culture which, with its focus on compassion and doing no harm, has a huge potential to contribute to peace and understanding in the world.”

Peace and understanding are in short supply today, so it is in all our interests to stand with Tibet.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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