|q: How would you
summarize the situation regarding Tibet's monasteries?
a: Since 1994, I think China's goal is to continue to control the situation in the monasteries lest it get out of control. I think they're warier than ever that this buildup of pressure, this antagonism will erupt in the monasteries-- being the central institutions, they are viewed by the Chinese as being the locust from which organization of anti-Chinese movements is likely to arise.
Now interestingly at the same time, I think there's been a relaxation in the border areas--not in central Tibet around Lhasa --which also ought to be acknowledged. These are much less sensitive and monasteries in these areas which are of lesser significance and more out of the way, have been allowed to have much freer hand in religious ceremonies and recruiting new monks and generally leading a more normal life.
q: What should America do? What should our stance be toward Tibet and China?
a: Well this is the mother of all questions. I mean, do we care about Tibet? Should we care about Tibet? And if we decide we do, is there anything we should do about it or can do about it? I think it's answers to all these questions are very murky indeed and I think if you ask most people in Washington in the government, what should we do about Tibet ?--you will get mostly sort of vague platitudes.
q: And if I ask you? Is there a moral imperative that equates to our trade concerns?
a: I think it would be fair to say that the moral imperative of what's happened in Tibet runs headlong into the commercial imperative of trading with China and therein lies the great dilemma of American policy.
q: Which is?
a: The dilemma of American policy is - should be - care. What happens in an obscure little mountain-locked place far away that has really no commercial consequence to us.
q: Has America lost its moral footing?
a: Has America lost its moral footing? Well it depends on how you view whether -- if you think we ever had it - I mean in the Cold War it was pretty clear because we were against the Communists whatever they did we didn't like. Now that dichotomy is broken down. So we have to deal with every situation in a kind of a de facto way and the question is does Tibet matter? This relatively inconsequential place that has -- produces little. We don't have any trade with it. It is purely a moral question and to what extent are we going to allow a moral question to impinge upon a much larger commercial question namely trade with China. The boom town of the world.
q: In this dance we're doing with China, in this relationship, has America let China dictate the terms?
a: I think it would be fair to say that China has been extremely successful in setting the terms of the relationship between China and the United States. Partially because we have been unclear as to what our goals are and because we tended to backpedal when the going gets tough and I think China has learned that if it holds the line, is militant and appears to refuse to be willing to yield. The United States will yield.
q: What does China think of Tibet?
a: Tibet is basically a loss leader for China. They've spent a lot of money up there. They've actually put in a fair amount of infrastructure. Tibet has benefited in many ways by China's relationship with them. But I think China sees this very much as a matter of sovereignty and that if Tibet goes, then what about Hong Kong -- which they've just regained-- what about Taiwan? What about Mongolia? What about the Muslin areas in the west?
I think they view Tibet as an important piece in the puzzle that if it were to gain independence, even if it were to kind of force a kind of autonomy from Beijing, might set off a kind of domino effect in minority areas all around China. And China is too insecure at this point I think to think in terms of some sort of confederation.
q: But can't Tibet just be another Hong Kong?
a: Well, Tibet would like to be another Hong Kong. They've asked and in fact the Dalai Lama has said that he would be satisfied with the kind of autonomy that's actually promised Hong Kong--whether it gets it in the end or not is another question. And China said, no no.
a: Tibet's a very different place, says Beijing. They say it doesn't have a colonial history, it's always been a part of China. It doesn't need to be re integrated because it's already integrated. And so they're not willing to allow that fifty years of a high degree of autonomy of one country, two systems.
q: So if that's true, what is it that Americans need to know about Tibet--Why should we care?
a: I think Americans should care because there's a great tragedy going on in Tibet, a tragedy that's been a protracted one since the early 50s of a people that are geographically, ethnically, linguistically, culturally distinct. And in this era of self-determination--Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia are independent now-- does make one wonder why shouldn't Tibet have the right also to be, if not independent, at least politically autonomous in some meaningful way.
q: And why has it fallen to Hollywood instead of Washington to fight that fight?
a: I think Hollywood has been become enamored of Tibet because it's always looking for a good story. - I mean it is a dramatic story of this peaceful nonviolent society, that sort of runs on compassion rather than the almighty dollar sign, being overrun by this Marxist-Leninist behemoth. You add to that a whole historical fascination with Tibet, the "Lost Horizon " fantasy and you got a fairly substantial dumping ground for American projections.
q: And what does it say about us as Americans that we've decided that trade is king.
a: I'm not sure the American people decided that trade is king. I think the government has decided that the business community must be listened to and I think trade is important. The question is how do you integrate trade without sort of throwing the moral issues that Tibet raises--the human rights questions, religious freedom questions-- over the side.
q: What about President Clinton Where was he on this issue coming into office and where is he now?
a: I think it would be fair to say that Clinton has changed his tune substantially since campaigning against George Bush before his first term. And that he has recognized that the business community is not to be trifled with. And that the business community does not want to have these vexing issues like Tibet that really get the Chinese exercised entering into a relationship when they're in a state of dire competition with Europe, with Japan, with Southeast Asia. They don't want to have one hand tied behind their back by the United States holding trade hostage to Tibet.
q: Has China been able to politicize trade issues in a way the US cannot?
a: Well China always criticizes the United States for politicizing trade --particularly when we're debating whether to withdraw Most Favorite Nation status which gave China low tariffs in this country. But the truth is that China is the master of all time of politicizing trade and any company who does business in China knows that. If they don't tow the line ideologically-- look at Boeing. Airbus gets the contract. Not that Boeing did anything wrong, it was that the United States had a few little moral qualms about some of the things that China was doing. So China has been very astute. I mean they're tremendously agile tacticians and they're not particularly bound by moral considerations. They just want to win and they've been very good at it.
q: And what about Disney and China ?
a: Well, Disney certainly suffered the whiplash of Beijing when because of this film on the Dalai Lama's life that Martin Scorsese is directing, they were criticized and told that they might not get their amusement parks and their Mickey Mouse stores in China. Well Disney finally said that they would go ahead with this film but they couldn't say anything else. It would have been a terrible ignoramus retreat if they had thrown Scorsese's film over the side of the ship . But the message is clear to Hollywood--if you want to do business here, if you want to market your films and market your amusement parks here -- your tee-shirts, no more Tibet scripts. And everybody understands that now.
q: There's a summit coming up. What does Jiang Zemin want from the U.S.?
a: I think what Jiang Zemin wants out of this summit is for him to appear on Chinese television getting the 21-gun salute, having the official state dinner in the White House so it looks as if he's a real leader. He's running with the big guys. He doesn't want any trouble. He'll sit and he'll take a certain amount of lecturing in private from Clinton, but I think they've made it fairly clear that anything in public that might humiliate China or make it lose face or be substantially critical is going to be met with tremendous resistance.
q: And Clinton, what does he want from Jiang?
a: I think what Clinton wants is to satisfy the business community, to normalize relations and that's proper. But I think he's also probably not gonna feel free to speak publicly in a very straight fashion. To name names of political prisoners--while confronting Jiang in public to say listen -- some fundamental things we disagree about, we want to engage you but the price of engagement is actually to hear our concerns and otherwise there can't be no engagement.
q: So, how important is it for them to have this dialogue between the US and China?
a: I don't think China is particularly interested in a dialogue. What China wants is the imprimatur of being in the White House because Jiang Zemin has a struggle within China itself to maintain his leadership. There's no source of real legitimacy within China for him except insofar as the economy goes. So he's seeking to derive legitimacy outside of China by appearing with legitimate leaders.
q: And where's Tibet on this summit agenda?
a: I suspect Tibet is way down near the bottom on the summit agenda. Maybe it will garner a few quick words but I don't think that the wheels of commerce are going to grind much slower because of what has happened in Tibet over the last fifty years.
q: Didn't the Clinton Administration recently appoint a special envoy to raise Tibet on the agenda?
a: Yes, the State Department is going to appoint a special Tibet representative who will serve as liaison with the exile community. And that is an interesting step forward and I think is really in the circumstance very much the doing of Albright who does I think more than Warren Christopher understand the question of what it's like to be an exile-- having been through the experiences that her family went through in Czechoslovakia.
I think the representative that will handle Tibetan affairs in the State Department is the result of Jesse Helms threatening to congressionally appoint or call for the appointment of an ambassador with full ambassadorial rank to Tibet which of course would make China go through the roof.
q: If you had Clinton's ear the night before the summit, what would you tell him?
a: Well I think if the president isn't going to use trade -- and I think it's legitimate not to hold trade hostage to political issue. I think it has to at least be rhetorically clear. In other words, I think it's very unseemly when China because of their concern with face, their concern with the historical wounds of Western intrusions can make a Western leader mince his words. I think that's the last bastion of influence in symbolism and rhetoric. I think Clinton should speak out plainly and clearly about what it is about the Tibet situation that bothers him in the United States. I think when the Dalai Lama comes to this country it is most unseemly for him to come in the back door while John Huang and Charlie Trie are coming in the front door.
I think Clinton should tell China we want to be engaged, we want to trade, we want to receive military missions and send military missions. The price of that engagement is that the United States has the right to speak out on issues that it feels are of its concern. And that part of the United States' traditional posture towards the world is to try to provide a certain kind of protection for people in other countries who have no such protection because of the posture of that government. And that has been a traditional role the United States has played throughout the century.
q: Was there a moment we lost around the time of Tiananmen - to make that point more clearly?
a: Well I think if there was ever a moment when trade sanctions would have worked it was after 1989 when China really didn't have the economic clout it has today. I think that period has ended and trade sanctions are probably counterproductive. Trade in the balance probably does lead to greater openness in the long run. Moreover it's counterproductive to antagonize American business and to make it difficult for American business to compete with Europeans and Japanese, etc. So I think we ought to -- that era is over. Now, the question is what can the United States do, what should they do by way of making representations to the Chinese that what is happened in Tibet and there are a number of other issues is really unacceptable in the civilized world.
q: How would you describe our relationship to China?
a: China loves to -- one phrase they use all the time is that when the United States comments on Tibet or something else, they say:.... (speaks in Chinese)..... It means it hurts the feelings of the Chinese people as if we were in a kind of an encounter group. And the issue is that China was wounded over the last century and thus we should pity their pain, we should feel their pain to put it in presidential parlance. But it really isn't how foreign policy should be conducted. And I think they use that as a way of silencing the United States. People in the United States feel, 'oh this is such a painful subject we better not raise it ' or China will disassemble somehow.
q: If you've look at this period from Nixon going in '72 to now what's the overview summary, from your perspective?
a: Before 1972 they were Communists, we were democrats. We didn't like them. After '72 when Nixon went , they were our new friends, didn't matter what kind of human rights abuses were going on and what other unholy phenomena were happening. They were good. '79 we recognized-- this gets even more friendly. Makes it even more friendly. '89 the Beijing massacre happens and suddenly everything is changed and the United States has a very dour and very skeptical view of China. Cach of these views is extreme and not highly nuanced and it is a problem in our own policy.
q: What's going to happen to Tibet in the short-run?
a: The race that's on in Tibet is between a solution that allows the Dalai Lama to return as some sort of a custodian of culture and religion to protect Tibet's identity as a meaningful cultural entity ---- and his death. And I think at this point China is inclined to put their money on the latter. Hope that they can wait it out and when he dies, the Tibetan movement abroad will lose its figurehead and will unravel.
q: What is the Dalai Lama's best scenario for what can happen?
a: From the Dalai Lama's perspective the best practical scenario is the one he's following -- to in effect renounce independence as an immediate concern, strive for a kind of cultural and political autonomy and for return to Tibet . And actually -- he says this. He could be an enormous help to China because he could stabilize the situation in Tibet which is now extraordinarily unstable. And I think also if he could accommodate and the Chinese would accept him, he could be a great credit to China. I mean he's after all their only Nobel Prize winner and he's highly esteemed.
I think it would make China look tremendously more mature. It would really be a coming of age victory for China to be able to resolve the Tibet problem and allow the Dalai Lama to go home. Now why doesn't it play in China? Giving Tibet autonomy and allowing the Dalai Lama to go back don't play because in the sense China is a victim of its own propaganda and no leader is strong enough to be able to take that chance or to do anything that makes it looks as if they're yielding to forces that challenge China's sovereignty.
q: What's behind China's historical claim to Tibet?
a: You could discuss whether Tibet is a part of China until the cows come home and you would not resolve it . Because it goes over many hundreds of years and you know-- Mongols conquered Tibet and China. Tibet even once conquered the capital of China. It is so byzantine, and so complicated, that finally you just have to say well, does a country that's ethnically geographically linguistically and culturally separate have the right of self-determination if they want to? This is an era of self-determination. If Quebec can vote for independence from Canada, I mean one might imagine that Tibetans could be afforded that right. And yet American policy towards Tibet says that Tibet is a part of China.
a: Tibet is such a hot issue that the United States doesn't want to jeopardize the whole relationship with China by saying possibly Tibet should have the right of self-determination.
q: And why is China so sensitive about Tibet?
a: The one claim that the Communist Party made when it came to power that is still extant, is to unify the motherland. This is every new dynastic leader's goal. And that meant all of its constituent parts. You know all the other platforms of the Communist revolution have really fallen by the wayside but that has continued and for them to give up on this would be to undermine what is already a relatively diminished reservoir of legitimacy.
I think China views the United State's interference in the Tibetan matter as very hypocritical in that we have certainly had a similar experience-- what was the equivalent of genocide in regard to our own Native American population. So they say, 'what moral right do you have to cast judgment on how we're treating Tibetans?'
q: What's the danger if we do nothing?
a: I think the danger if we do nothing is first a sort of a danger to our own soul. I mean, do we want to become like the Japanese who just trade? There is a strong streak of American idealism from Wilson on down in American policy. To abandon that I think would be to abandon a very important part of the American identity.
The second thing is, to do nothing, I think, risks watching Tibet blow up again as it has several times in the past with riots in the street and arrests and police brutality and I think that is certainly not a welcome scenario.
q: When you say to become like the Japanese, could you explain that ...?
a: I think the United States--through two world wars, Korea, Vietnam-- has always had a sense that our involvement in the world is important and there are certain principles which yes, we're incomplete in this and there's some hypocrisy, but that the United States has a kind of a unique mission to project itself in a way that many peoples embrace and it's why the United States is revered. Why people want to be here and we have come to the rescue of many peoples in wars and many immigrants. And I think to just abandon Tibet, to just say we can't do anything, none of our business, let's just trade, forget about it would be to abandon a very important part of America's identity and the way that we have imagined we have involved ourselves in the world.
q: Do you see the hypocrisy of our coming to the rescue of a Kuwait and not a Tibet?
a: I think the hypocrisy of the United States even considering that Tibet be of no consequence is itself evident. We've come to the rescue of many countries, why not Tibet? But there is a practical question. What are we gonna do? We're not going to send in the 82nd Airborne.
q: Why don't we do more?
a: When you ask --why don't we do more?--you have to ask, what is practical? What is possible? And you know that's where morality runs into reality. And there are plenty of tragic cases in the world that the United States won't involve itself in. But I do think that at minimal , the United States should speak straight even if it continues to trade and this I think we often mince around. We forget the enormous power the United States has just rhetorically that the moral suasio.. We also forget the enormous sensitivity that China has for the way the outside world views it, which is why Jiang Zemin wants to come to Washington.
q: And, just to clarify-- what is the conflict you see between human rights on one hand, and trade on the other, with regard to Tibet?
a: The conflict between human rights and trade is a conflict generated by Beijing which has said that these are incompatible goals. If you support human rights you lose trade. Now in many countries they're not incompatible. There was some cases about human rights abuse in the Philippines. And the Philippines said, well gee, we're sorry , we should probably do more, thanks for reminding us.
China doesn't say that. China says this is a violation of our sovereignty, you're wounding the feelings of the Chinese people, it's none of your damn business, we have our values, you have your values, back off or you'll pay for it.
q: Has America had to confront that kind of market before with that kind of power?
a: America has not had to confront this question particularly in relation to a quote Communist Country because in the past there was no trade with the Communist bloc of consequence. Now we have a kind of crypto-capitalist Leninist system in China that is at once Communist and the big market. We're not used to this. We don't know how to deal with it. We have a commercial interest running headlong into a moral imperative and we do not have a model for how to integrate the two halves of American policy.
If we let trade dominate other values I think it suggests that where our values actually are. Which we are a commercial society who places most emphasis on that kind of a relationship to the exclusion of you the projection of democratic values.
q: What's the irony of "Seven Years in Tibet," not shooting in Tibet?
a: Well "Seven Years in Tibet "and "Kundun" both wanted to shoot in Tibet. Then they both wanted to shoot in Ledoc which is administered by India and of course they couldn't shoot in Tibet and India finally got cold feet because they are too worried about China and the China market and wouldn't give them permission.
So they had to go Argentina to the Andes for "Seven Years in Tibet "and Martin Scorsese went to Morocco to recreate Lhasa. It was a very bizarre situation because each employed scores of real Tibetan Buddhists monks and Tibetan Buddhists who in a sense went home to Lhasa, but in the Andes, in Morocco, and had these very emotional experiences on the sets of the movies. They felt like they were home in front of Jokhang in front of you know the Potala. It was a very touching but strange spectacle to behold.
q: Tell me what you found there--remind me where you were.
a: Well, I arrived in Argentina in this nowhere little town in the Andes to find 150 Tibetan Monks and Tibetan Buddhists. They were having this sort of amazing kind of a gathering, it was like a convention. They had never had an experience like this. They came from all over the world and were flown into play bit parts and larger parts. I actually felt I was in some strange errant piece of Tibet and of course all enhanced by the sets which were very convincing when you looked at them the way a camera did.
q: The Chinese say they are saving and civilizing Tibet.
a: Well China views themselves as liberators of Tibet. And they had the experience of liberating the Chinese peasants from the landlord oppression. So they brought their liberationist theology in a political sense to Tibet and Marxism is dialectical materialism but what was happening in Tibet was sort of spiritualism and their notion of liberation was up here. You know, even though they were serfs and they had aristocrats and monasteries controlling vast estates, there were never rebellions, there were never famines. I mean it was society that somehow in spite of its inequities worked because of its spiritual dimensions and the way that everybody had some sort of satisfying relationship to that.
So China came in it was like it was like they just were going by each other in the dark. Tibet really didn't appreciate China's notion of liberation and China had no capacity to understand the sort of spiritual dimensions around which Tibetan society and Tibetan monastic life was built. The-, these were people without religion. They were practical revolutionaries. They wanted to change the world. Tibetan Buddhism wants to change your mind.
q: What about those Tibetans who say that the Dalai Lama through his accommodation is more part of the problem than the solution?
a: The Dalai Lama is an incredibly reasonable man. I couldn't imagine if I was trying to negotiate a thorny problem anybody who I'd rather negotiate with than the Dalai Lama. He wants to compromise. He wants to work it out. He wants to give a little, get a little. The Chinese don't want to give anything and so the Dalai Lama is criticized by people in his exiled government and in exile movement as being too willing to capitulate, too willing to give away. And the argument is you know you give a little to the communist, they'll take the whole thing and the way to deal with them is to be tough.
There's virtue to that argument but I think that the Dalai Lama is acting in the only way he knows how. He is acting as he acts best which is somebody who is reasonable, compassionate and seeking some sort of a humane compromise but this isn't the way China negotiates best. They negotiate best brute strength, they'll use deception, they'll use power, pressure, whatever to get what they want and it could be that the Dalai Lama will lose much credibility within his own movement if he gives away too much and that's a great danger.
q: What do you think will happen in Tibet?
a: I suspect that what will happen in Tibet is very little unless there's a radical change in the Chinese leadership but we don't have anyone around like Deng who could make a decision and muscle it through because he's got the sovereignty to do it. And until such a person arises, I think Tibet's going to be too hot an issue for any Chinese leader to deal with in -- a forceful and imaginative way.
q: And the impact of that for Tibet is?
a: If there is no solution in Tibet, we could reach a point where there's just another blowup and-- there'll be more international attention, there'll be more odium heaped on the Chinese, more sensitivity and more, more intractability.
q: And the impact for us in the US?
a: Well the impact for the US is relatively minor except , as Richard Gere said, that by trying to save Tibet, he saves himself. And I think in a certain sense that's true for the United States -- that by helping Tibet insofar as we can, we do in a certain sense save an aspect of ourselves. The part that tries to care what happens to other countries and when other people are abused and set upon . We don't just turn away.
New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/Frontline