More and more, China reminds me of a certain wealthy British couple living in the Dordogne, who likes to irrationally throw its money around in lieu of using actual power.
French President Sarkozy met with the Tibetan exiled leader, the Dalai Lama yesterday in Poland, and he’s paying for it. China is threatening to boycott trade deals and pulled out of the China-EU summit in France. Yet, in his direct, calm but forceful manner, Sarkozy told China not to make things “tense” and mentioned that their actions were not based in reality. In the coming weeks, we will see if China is just full of hot air or if they’ll make good on their threats.
As Sarkozy accepted the traditional white scarves, a symbolic Tibetan offering (which he promptly took off his neck and lay awkwardly in a pile to the side) he became the first EU president to challenge China’s threats and meet the Tibetan leader. But where’s the pay off?
As a fervent Tibetan supporter, I will always hold hope that Tibet will one day be free, just as the thousands of exiled natives wish for every day in their new homes in India, New York, Minnesota and beyond. But after the Beijing Olympic Games, where throngs of Tibetans were killed in protest, with no positive outcome, one wonders where the light at the end of the tunnel will be.
It is obvious to me that China is waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass on.
Dalai Lamas are chosen at a young age by Senior Tibetan monks, who use meditation to find the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Then the children, often as young as two years old, are given a series of tasks to perform (like identifying the former Dalai Lama’s personal belongings) before one is selected.
While Tibetan Buddhism is broken into multiple branches, the Dalai Lama is considered the spiritual leader of Tibet, and unofficially holds the highest position in the Gelugpa sect. Throughout the country’s history, the Dalai Lama has exercised varying degrees of political power, depending largely on the country’s level of turmoil. Alongside him are two other spiritual leaders, the Panchen Lama – the second highest member of the Gelugpa sect, but without civil authority – and the Karmapa, the head of the Karmapa sect.
With the abundant challenges posed by China, the current Dalai Lama is taking on an increasingly important political role, one that many Tibetans worry will not be easily replaced if he should die in the next few years (he is already 73). This sentiment has prompted the Dalai Lama to suggest that he name a successor before his death, straying away from the normal selection process of choosing the next Dalai Lama after the previous one has passed.
For if tradition were upheld, the new Dalai Lama would be but a young boy, without any knowledge of the suffering his people have been through over the past decades. China would finally be able to take full control of the powerless country, as they would have no visible leader for several years.
So while China appears to be in a constant state of “armed and ready to fight,” they are simply biding their time, hoping to throw off Tibet and its supporters until His Holiness meets his final day.
France’s latest ploy to knock China off its haunches will be brief, at best. The two countries will have words, a few more threats will be thrown around, and then everyone will forget about the meeting. If thousands of Tibetans launching rocks at Chinese store windows in Lhasa won’t open up Sino-Tibetan dialogue, I seriously doubt a few white scarves between friends will do the trick.
So, Mr. Sarkozy, the next time Chinese leaders send you menacing messages, don’t let yourself be put on the defensive. Make sanctions against the communist country first so that they are forced to react – and not the other way around.
Unless we pressure China politically, we will never manage to crush their ideology, which is determined to blow out the already dwindling flame of the Tibetan spirit.