Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation –
China and Tibet
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Over the last few weeks, we have all watched with concern the growing tensions in Tibet and neighbouring regions in China. Instead of succumbing to depression about these traumatic events, I believe there are solutions available which would meet Tibetan aspirations and be acceptable to China.
In November 2005, I attended the 4th World Parliamentarian Convention on Tibet in Edinburgh, Scotland. During this visit, I had the privilege, like I have on a number of occasions in South Africa, of meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom I have enjoyed a long and ongoing conversation about the promotion of non-violence as a means of conflict resolution.
I believe South Africa, with our experience in conflict resolution and cultural heterogeneity, is well placed to contribute to a dialogue between Dharamsala and Beijing. The Dharamsala Tibetan government-in-exile today no longer seeks fully-fledged independence, but is prepared to hold negotiations on genuine self-government and the demilitarisation and transformation of Tibet into a zone of Ahimsa (peace and no violence).
If such objectives seem idealistic, South Africa, with its bloody history of conquest, colonisation and oppression, has demonstrated that we can overcome the divisions of the past and live together – even if there are still some outstanding challenges.
The route South Africa’s many constituent nations, like the Zulu nation, had taken towards nation-building can be instructive to the Tibetan people, the continental Chinese, the Taiwanese, and everyone else, who consider themselves part of the broad Chinese cultural heritage. They all will, I believe, one day find a home in some broad definition of China united by cultural diversity, language and propelled by a giant economic powerhouse.
In today’s China, the signs are already there. As I have so often stated: economic liberation nearly always precedes democracy and freedom. I sincerely hope this development will eventually replicate in China.
In a few weeks time I will make my first visit to mainland China. I have always been inspired by China’s ancient penchant for trade most famously symbolised by the silk roads. As one who believes that respecting culture and tradition is the best basis upon which to promote progress, I have also been inspired by China’s unique cultural heritage and unerring sense of historical destiny.
Today China is fast emerging as the major global economic powerhouse because of, primarily, the economic ingenuity and sheer hard work of the Chinese people. Even an ardent capitalist like me cannot help but be staggered by the success of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ – a natty term coined by Deng Xiaoping.
China’s economic presence is also being keenly felt in Africa from Namibia to the Sudan, and in the continent’s economic powerhouse of South Africa.
These are some of the reasons why I am optimistic that the Sino-Tibetan debate can be resolved amicably and satisfactorily to all parties. For our part as South Africans, we must do our bit to nudge China towards adhering to international standards of human rights and recognising Tibet’s unique cultural identity. (One is especially concerned about the incentives being given to the Han Chinese to resettle in Tibet to make Tibetan’s a minority in their kingdom). This, as I have said before, is in Beijing’s long-term interests as much as Dharamsala’s.
I would go further here and say that there is a precedent – two in fact. In a deal hammered out by Zhao Ziyang and Margaret Thatcher, Hong Kong was peacefully returned to China in 1997 with guarantees of economic freedom, autonomy, a functioning rule of law and a liberal press (admittedly with limits).
Xiaoping coined another brilliant phrase: "two systems in one country" to describe this. How the Western liberals howled! The world waited with bated breath to see if the former colony’s freedoms would be snuffed out when the British left at midnight on the 1st of July 1997. What happened? Hong Kong continued to flourish and do what it does best: make lots of money. The former Portuguese colony of Macao today enjoys similar freedoms to Hong Kong.
Could a similar accommodation be made with Tibet in the future: "two systems" or "two ways of life" in one country? And let us be honest here, the ‘nation state’ everywhere is becoming somewhat illusory in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. Even a landlocked mountain kingdom cannot keep the world out in the twenty-first century. The crisp question here, in fact, must be how to manage and satisfy people’s cultural aspirations within the new global hegemony.
It is also important for us outsiders to understand that some of the issues are more nuanced than they might first appear. There are, as always, shades of grey. Many Tibetans are rightly concerned, for example, about the impact of the pan-Himalayan railway line upon their way of life. Yet the Director of Lhasa’s economic development zone, Huang Yutian said last year that 112 businesses from as far away as Beijing and Guangzhou had already signed up to use the park. These will be involved in industries such as mining, and processing Tibetan wool and dairy products.
I mention this not to pass judgement either way (I simply do not have enough information at my disposal), but to underline that sensitivity is of the essence in resolving the Tibetan question. This is not the term for armchair knee-jerk diplomacy which romanticises the Tibetan cause and demonises the Chinese.
Nor is it, I believe, what the Dalai Lama would want us to do either. He has actually criticised those who have pressed for a boycott of this year’s Olympics. Isolationism and hypocritical gestures is not the route to go – as South Africans know all too well from the apartheid era. The international community should refrain from gratuitously trying to damage China’s self-esteem and prestige. Show me a country that has not been sending trade missions, ministers, buyers and sellers desperate to do deals with the world’s fast growing economy. No country, I bet, will be boycotting trade with China.
We should also urge Tibetan dissidents to refrain from acts of violence, which has included the murder of Han Chinese shopkeepers, even if we sympathise with their frustrations. The entire life of the Dalai Lama has been devoted to the path of non-violence and has been as inspirational to post World War II humanity as much as Ghandi’s Satyagraha philosophy and Mr Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation-led leadership of South Africa between 1994 and 1999. Indeed, they all belong to the same pantheon of leaders who have transcended their time.
The influence of Ghandi’s philosophy was, of course, instrumental in guiding the founding fathers of the African National Congress to establish Africa’s oldest liberation movement upon the ideals of non-violence and passive resistance.
The first step to resolving this crisis must be a speedy meeting between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. I hope this will be held in the foreseeable future. The longer this takes, the faster extremism and violence will fill the diplomatic vacuum.
I have never wavered from the belief that "jaw, jaw, jaw" is far better than "war, war, war" to quote that 20th century British Lion, Sir Winston Churchill. I pray that "jaw jaw" will prevail upon both the snowy slopes of this ancient Buddhist kingdom and the corridors of power in Beijing.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP