JAPAN SHOULD TAKE LEAD IN MULTI-NATIONAL SUPPORT FOR TIBET
Last week in Tokyo, I had the good fortune of hearing the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile discuss his vision for the future of his nation.
Mr. Lobsang Sangay, re-elected for a second five-year term last April, was visiting Tokyo to address a group of Japanese parliamentarians at the Diet. He was accompanied by his wife Kesan Yangdon and their ten-year-old daughter Menda Rewa. His topic: “Tibet and Religious Liberty.”
For the Tibetan people, religious liberty is at the very heart of their struggle with the Chinese, who have subjected Tibet to repressive rule since 1959.
Sangay was guest of the non-partisan Japan-Tibet Parliamentary League (hereafter the League), headed by Hakubun Shimomura, a veteran member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His deputies are Shu Watanabe of the opposition Democratic Party (DP) (acting head); Nobuyuki Baba of the Japan Restoration Party (secretary-general); and Takashi Nagao of the LDP (head of the secretariat). The League has so far attracted a total of 86 registered members from the three parties above as well as the Party for Japanese Kokoro.
Sangay last spoke before Japanese parliamentarians at the Diet nearly five years ago, when the forerunner of today’s DP, the Democratic Party of Japan, was in power. This time, too, his message was loud and clear.
In the brilliant 45-minute address, Sangay explained the harsh reality of the Chinese oppression of the Tibetans, appealing for support to those countries that value freedom and humanrights—especially Japan, which has a deep history with Tibet and has the power to do something about the current situation.
Nagao said the members of the League were able to predict what Prime Minister Sangay would say the minute they learned the topic of his speech. In that sense, all the more credit must be given to the League for inviting a speaker like Sangay.
Starting off with a reference to America’s policy towards Tibet, the visitor noted:
“The US government has officially backed Tibet since 1991. They have invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the White House and rendered solid support for Tibet’s middle-of-the-road policy while also honoring Beijing’s ‘one China’ policy.”
98% of Monasteries in Tibet Demolished by China
Past US presidents have made it a rule to invite the Dalai Lama to the While House. The American mass media harshly criticized Obama in October 2009 for his failure to receive the Dalai Lama ahead of his imminent state visit to China. In point of fact, the US government has worked out a category in its budget securing an annual US$10 million for various aid to Tibet.
Tibet’s “middle-of-the-road” policy is about, so highly valued by the US, recognizes Tibet as part of China, leaving diplomatic and security matters entirely to the Chinese government, while demanding that their rights to their indigenous Buddhism, language, culture, and way of life be safeguarded. Sangay had this to say about this policy:
“We Tibetans are striving to attain a truly high level of autonomy. The US and Japan have formed a firm relationship under which we believe they can work hand-in-hand to significantly influence the international situation. Like the US government, I believe the Japanese government will be able to honor both the ‘one China’ policy and our ‘middle-of-the-road’ policy. I sincerely hope it will materialize.”
Sangay spoke candidly to the Japanese lawmakers, noting that Japan is a “great power” in the democratic camp of the world and expects it to play a leadership role in promoting freedoms of speech and religion, human rights, and democracy.
He then spoke about the dark shadow that China has cast on Tibetan history, explaining:
“Tibet was once a huge empire reigning over a wide expanse of territories spanning Central and South Asia. Having been occupied by China, however, Tibet has been suppressed and subjected to economic exploitation, social discrimination, and environmental destruction. Culturally, too, Tibet has been forced to assimilate into China.”
Sangay cited China’s brutal demolition of the Larung Gar Monastery treasured over centuries by Tibetans, explaining:
“In September 2016, the Chinese started demolishing Larung Gar, one of the largest monasteries in Tibet. Some 12,000 monks and nuns had for generations lived in the monastery, leading ascetic lives, but the Chinese government has been forging ahead with plans to reduce their number to just 5,000, expelling the rest of them by September this year. Government security forces have been deployed to demolish their residences and other buildings attached to the monastery.
“The constitution of the People’s Republic of China advocates freedom of religion, but from what they have been doing to the Larung Gar Monastery it is absolutely clear that the Chinese government is out to destroy Tibetan Buddhism.”
As Sangay points out, the content of the constitution itself is magnificent, advocating not only respect of the cultures, religions, and languages of racial minorities, but including provisions for environmental protection. At its face value, the Chinese constitution appears far more advanced than Japan’s, but the actual policies of the Chinese government are almost completely contrary to what the constitution calls for. Remarked Sangay:
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama can visit Japan at any time he wishes. As a matter of fact, he has been given many chances to visit Japan and lecture at its Diet. Whereas in Tibet itself, one runs the risk of being arrested or imprisoned for simply carrying a photograph of His Holiness.”
Side by Side with Tibet
The policy of oppression towards Tibet is nothing new for China. “The Chinese destroyed 98% of all the monasteries in Tibet between 1959, when they occupied Tibet, and 1962, expelling 99.9% of monks and nuns,” Sangay notes, adding:
“China’s oppression has not been limited to religion alone. They have banned our culture, customs and manners, and even our traditional clothes, forcing us to wear jackets with a stand-up collar like those Mao Zedong and others loved to wear. By steadfastly depriving us of our joy and pride as Tibetans in all of the traditional areas of our lives, the Chinese obviously thought they had succeeded in completely destroying our culture by the 1970s.
“Luckily, however, under the wise leadership of His Holiness, after we fled to India, we started laboriously rebuilding our culture from scratch—putting one brick upon another, one stone upon another, as it were. We have thus succeeded in reconstructing in Dharmsala all of the three major Tibetan monasteries obliterated by the Chinese.”
There are three elements that I believe have helped the Tibetans grapple tenaciously with resuscitating traditional values centering around Tibetan Buddhism: (1) they have had the Dalai Lama to guide them; (2) highly talented people like Sangay have rallied to the Dalai Lama with united hearts; and (3) nations like the US and India have continued to support Tibet without being hindered by Chinese protests. I believe Japan should more earnestly join this group of nations and start playing a more proactive role backing Tibet.
Sangay expressed grave concern about China trying to name a successor to the present Dalai Lama now that he is getting on in years. It is ridiculous for the atheistic Communist Party of China to even attempt to nominate the highest monk in Tibetan Buddhism. However, China believes it can crush the spirit of the Tibetan people by controlling the Dalai Lama.
Japanese lawmakers have set up their non-partisan group as a symbol of Japanese political support for Tibet second to no other nation, endeavoring to help create a world in which the Tibetan people can live as they are entitled to. It is inspiring indeed to think of what Japan might be able to help accomplish one day—an independent and free Tibet. It is a dream well worth struggling for.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 743 in the March 2, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)