As we linger around the 17th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre, human rights abuses continue to be standard practice in that country, even as it nurtures capitalism and attempts (often successfully) to manipulate a positive image in the press.
Capitalism does not equal democracy; and there are still those on this curve of the globe who continue to fight the good — that is, a nonviolent — fight to build awareness of the reality of China’s persecution of those who fall out of lockstep with the government’s agenda. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Tibet, the country China took over after a bloody uprising in 1959, resulting in the hasty departure of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader, and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.
While the Dalai Lama hasn’t been back since, rumor has it China’s government has invited His Holiness for talks, and according to Larry Gerstein, president of the International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM), based here in Indianapolis, “We just don’t trust China’s motivations for inviting the Dalai Lama to Tibet. We’re really concerned that they’re going to force the Dalai Lama into an agreement that compromises all of Tibet.”
So ITIM is taking to the streets for another March for Tibet’s Independence. The march will take place June 2-11, a 115-mile trek that begins in Charlottesville, Va., and ends at China’s Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Gerstein, who has tirelessly worked for the Tibetan cause since 1989, sees the walk as a way of building awareness for Tibet’s plight, and, by extension, the economic dangers for Americans of doing business with China.
“The other part of the walk, and what we do here in Indianapolis, is we try to educate people about China’s agenda, how China’s economy is negatively affecting America,” Gerstein points out. Specifically, according to the global news source Epoch Times (www.theepochtimes.com/index10.html), “The trade deficit with China is soaring and China’s pockets are getting fuller, while America’s pockets are getting leaner. Beginning of 2006, the trade deficit with China was more than $32 billion.”
Zheng Yichun, a jailed Epoch Times journalist and scientist, is one of many Epoch Times journalists imprisoned in China for speaking out. He was awarded the Human Rights prize in January but remains incarcerated. Google is one of many U.S. corporations making Faustian business deals with China, in this case agreeing, as a condition of doing business there, to block access to certain Web addresses, among them the Tibetan government in exile (www.tibet.com) and the International Tibet Independence Movement (www.rangzen.org). And Indiana, as it turns out, counts China as one of its top 10 trading partners.
The Charlottesville-D.C. walk, which coincides with the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, is intended also to build awareness for the predicament of The Panchen Lama, the second most important religious figure to Tibetans — second only to the Dalai Lama himself. Marking another tragic anniversary, 11 years ago, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima (The Panchen Lama) and his family disappeared and have not been heard from since. He was only 6 years old at the time. China’s government will not reveal his whereabouts; shortly after the disappearance, China appointed its own Panchen Lama — who, Gerstein reports, presided over another recent China effort, the first Buddhism Conference in China since Mao took over in 1949. “Religion is sort of outlawed in China,” Gerstein says, implying this “meeting” was somewhat of a farce, perhaps held in order to allay growing criticisms of its religious intolerance.
To put it another way, China has decided that if religion is to exist, it will be on its own terms. And not just Buddhism; Christianity is manipulated as well. It was widely reported that China recently chose two of its own Catholic bishops without consulting the pope. Needless to say, the Vatican was not happy, stating in an AP news report, “… bishops and priests have been subjected — by institutions outside the church — to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience.”
But if the Dalai Lama does indeed visit China and his Tibetan homeland, could his enlightened, compassionate nature be his — and Tibet’s — downfall? Or will his peacemaking stance pay off in the end, if only in terms of presaging and contributing towards more tolerant days to come, much like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi?
TIME was granted an exclusive interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, posted online April 15, in which the Dalai Lama reiterated his position that his exiled government is not seeking independence; rather, they are seeking autonomy, a decidedly less hardball position — one that should make it easier to win favor, or at least an audience, with China’s leaders. But many Tibetans have grown impatient with this approach as the number of imprisoned, tortured and dead adds up. Why autonomy?
“Tibet is a landlocked country, a large area, small population, very, very backward,” the Dalai Lama explained. “We Tibetans want modernization. Therefore, in order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People’s Republic of China. Provided Chinese give us a full guarantee of preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan environment, Tibetan spirituality, then it is of mutual benefit.” And if that doesn’t work?
Those interested in learning more about ITIM and Tibet, and who would like to follow the June March for Tibet’s Independence online, visit www.rangzen.org.