In a historic turn of events in China’s policy towards the Tibetan people, two members of the Dalai Lama’s envoy – Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen – were recently invited for talks in Beijing and in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. This is the first time exploratory talks with the Chinese government have been held since 1984.
These talks come just a few short months after political prisoner and Middleberry College Fulbright scholar Ngawang Choephel was released from Chinese prisons. Choephel’s imprisonment inspired hundreds of thousands of petitions through organizations like Amnesty International – including the signatures of 500 GW students and a U.S. Congressional resolution calling for his release.
The envoy of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa demonstrates the incredible success of mounting pressure globally by concerned citizens, non-profit organizations like International Campaign for Tibet and various governmental officials in support of a fair solution to the Tibetan plight. Having worked in support of the Tibetan movement since high school, which later inspired me to travel across China and Tibet visiting labor factories, I find it gratifying that dissenting voices of the Chinese government and its attempted genocide of Tibetan culture are inciting a constructive response from the Chinese government.
Because the Chinese government invaded Tibet in 1949, 1.2 million Tibetans, roughly one-fifth of the country’s population, have died as a result of China’s policies and many more languished in prisons and labor camps. In addition, more than 6,000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historic buildings were destroyed and their contents pillaged.
Currently, as a result of decades of forced abortions and Hun Chinese settlers immigrating throughout the region, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country. The overall impact of the influx is devastating because the Chinese not only control the political and military power in Tibet, but also the economic life and even cultural and religious life of the people.
While in Tibet, it is impossible not to feel the after-effects of Chinese oppression and the destruction caused by the Cultural Revolution. I witnessed young Tibetan girls working 14 hours in unlit carpet factories and I met Tibetans, at risk of jail sentences or torture, secretly telling me and informing other Westerners of their desire for independence from China. Many Tibetans daily and nonviolently risk their lives in faith that concerned individuals will join in the chorus of dissent that has brought the free Tibet movement to the forefront, impeding Chinese foreign diplomacy.
It is critical that our children do no look unto us, as we look unto our ancestors for the Holocaust, asking why we remained silent in the wake of the attempted annihilation of the Tibetan people and their culture. Taking action for Tibet has already inspired great changes in China’s foreign policy making it vital that students continue to engage this issue.
Often the Free Tibet movement brings to mind celebrities like Richard Gere, Brad Pitt and the Beastie Boys. While these celebrities have all been powerful advocates and helped educate others by generating awareness, it is important to recognize the success and fortitude of thousands of students joining and starting Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) chapters.
SFT, a non-profit organization currently active on 400 American colleges and high schools, including GW, and in over a dozen countries internationally, has truly imprinted the Tibetan struggle on the American consciousness. SFT has offered a venue for active engagement and presented a context for students inspired by the Tibetan Freedom Concerts and movies like Seven Years in Tibet to express their disgust.
Establishing this initial dialogue is critical in forming a solution to this important issue. Both sides can appreciate the benefits of constructive dialogue and mutual cooperation. This is a powerful step in the right direction, and while the talks themselves may yield no considerable changes, they offer hope that within our lifetime the injustice in Tibet will end.
-The writer, a graduate student in the School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist.