“Is the Dalai Lama Bad for the West?”
A Roundtable Discussion with Dr Dibyesh Anand (University of Westminster), Dr Shao Jiang (Researcher), Dr Martin Mills (University of Aberdeen), Jonathan Mirsky (journalist), Dr Tsering Topgyal (University of Birmingham)
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster
Is the Tibetan cause a luxury that the West can ill afford in times of economic crisis? Is good relation with China a reward that necessitates silence about Tibet? Do the efforts to reassure and engage with China on this matter promote a democratic country’s overall interests? Should economic imperatives trump political morality and security priorities? Could it be that the Dalai Lama being bad for Western economy is itself a myth that is generated by Chinese public diplomacy and uncritically accepted as common sense by international media?
In recent years, governments in democracies including in the UK, USA, India, Canada, South Africa, Japan and in continental Europe have sought to balance their purported commitment to human rights in Tibet with their desire to work closely with rising economic powerhouse of China. Chinese pressure on the leaders of foreign states to distance themselves from the Dalai Lama is well known. However, there is a new phenomenon that raises serious questions about the efficacy of sovereign democratic states to stand for principles of human rights. This phenomenon is the widespread notion that the empathy for Tibetans is a liability, that the Dalai Lama is bad for business. Foreign leaders seeking a share of Chinese economic growth not only reiterate their acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, but also go to great lengths to assure Beijing of their desire to prioritise economic cooperation over everything else.
The Tibet question is politically sensitive and complex. At the heart of it lies the fate of millions of Tibetans currently living under Chinese rule while their leader the Dalai Lama and several other key religious figures are exiled. A source of hope for the Tibetans has been the international profile of their cause and global image of the Dalai Lama. Their hope is that one day, China will realise that it is in its interest to negotiate sincerely with Tibetans for a mutually acceptable resolution. How does the rise of China and democratic states’ approach toward it affect the Tibetans?
Dibyesh Anand is a Reader (Associate Professor) in International Relations at the University of Westminster and the author of books including Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination, Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics and Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of Fear. His research interests include Tibet, China-India relations, the Himalayan region including Kashmir. He is often found on www.facebook.com/dibyesh
Shao Jiang is an independent researcher, research interests including the relation between politics and media, comparative study of electoral systems and development models, public sphere, civil society and democracy, international human rights mechanisms, transformation of authoritarianism. He blogs on http://shaojiangmedia.blogspot.co.uk
Martin A. Mills is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen and co-founder of the Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research and authored Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism: The Foundations of Authority in Gelugpa Monasticism and several papers based on his anthropological study of Tibetan communities, in particular its religious and governmental institutions. He blogs on http://www.tibetprotests.wordpress.com/
Jonathan Mirsky is a distinguished journalist who is a former East Asia editor of The Times and contributes regularly to various international publications including New York Review of Books. He has travelled to Tibet six times and taught Chinese and Tibetan histories in the past in the USA. A recent relevant article on the subject is http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/…
Tsering Topgyal is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Birmingham. He secured his PhD from the London School of Economics in 2012. In 2012-2013, he was a Teaching Fellow in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Tsering’s research and teaching interests include Chinese foreign and security policy with special attention to its ethnic conflicts, Asia-Pacific security and politics, Sino-Indian relations and the Sino-Tibetan conflict. He has published articles in Pacific Affairs, Religion and Politics Journal, Journal of Contemporary China, China Report and Tibetan Review.