[Not all of it dug from the ‘Controversy’ subheader of the Wikipedia page :) – Ed.]
Via Indymedia UK, this article draws attention to the support the ‘free Tibet’ movement has occasionally enjoyed from dodgy Western organisations ever since the 1950 Chinese invasion/occupation and explores some possible reasons for this suspicious behaviour. The current main source of funding is the ‘National Endowment for Democracy’ (NED) which was apparently created during the Reagan years as a sort of CIA-in-sheep’s-clothing and has been seen in action from Nicaragua to post-Soviet Eastern Europe in the ‘soft’ imperialist role of ‘promoting polyarchy’ in lieu of ‘more participatory forms of democracy’ (as Barker sees it):
By building upon the pioneering work of liberal philanthropists (like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations) – who have a long history of co-opting progressive social movements – it appears that the NED was envisaged by US foreign policy elites to be a more suitable way to provide strategic funding to nongovernmental organizations than via covert CIA funding. Indeed, the NED’s ‘new’ emphasis on overt funding of geostrategically useful groups, as opposed to the covert funding, appears to have leant an aura of respect to the NED’s work, and has enabled them, for the most part, to avoid much critical commentary in the mainstream media.
And this piece brings the historical context up to date in a way I’ve not seen in any mainstream journalism on the subject. Perhaps you thought I was being overly & unnecessarily scathing toward His Holiness? Well I’ve got nothing on John Chan:
The Dalai Lama is attempting to use the protests to pressure Beijing for greater autonomy for Tibet. He represents a section of the Tibetan elite, who have abandoned their previous demand for independence and see their future as bound up with the expansion of Chinese capitalism through a power-sharing arrangement, along the lines of the former British colony of Hong Kong. Not wanting to overly antagonise Beijing, the Dalai Lama has denied responsibility for the violent protests. “We must not develop anti-Chinese feelings. Whether we like it or not we have to live side-by-side,” he declared in an appeal to end the violence in Tibet yesterday. He offered to resign as the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile if “things get out of control”.
The focus of the Dalai Lama’s demands is to confine opposition to the issue of preserving Tibetan culture. Underlying the protests in Lhasa, however, is deeply felt resentment at the social and economic deprivation that the urban and rural Tibetan poor share with their counterparts throughout China. Like the regime in Beijing, the Dalai Lama is terrified of a social movement that would unite the poor and oppressed across the language and cultural divide.
The analysis of the Western interest is similarly to the point:
The limited international criticism is not motivated by concern for ordinary Tibetans. The scale of unrest in Tibet is relatively small compared to the many demonstrations and strikes by Chinese workers and farmers, which are all but ignored in the international media. The reason is obvious: global corporations are dependent on the super-exploitation of workers in China, where sweatshop conditions are maintained through police-state measures. The use of heavily-armed troops, military lock downs of entire areas and mass arrests are essential to discipline the working class and protect the interests of global investors.
The extensive reporting on the struggle for a “free Tibet” serves a different political purpose. The region has been a pawn in great power rivalry going back to the nineteenth century, when Britain and Tsarist Russia engaged in the “Great Game” for influence in Central Asia. After Mao’s troops seized Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama functioned for decades as a political tool for Washington to undermine Beijing. The US only stopped financing the Dalai Lama’s guerrilla operations inside Tibet after President Richard Nixon reached a rapprochement with the Maoist regime in 1972.
For what it’s worth, this old Green Left comment piece makes pre-occupation Tibet under the Dalai Lama look decidedly feudalist in contrast to the various pristine ‘Shangri-la’ myths we’re supposed to believe, although it doesn’t suggest, as some might with the same evidence, that things are better or best under the Chinese. I like the concluding paragraphs:
There are indications that a younger generation of exiled Tibetans is now questioning the traditional leadership. In Dharamsala, the New Internationalist reported recently, young Tibetans have criticised the abandonment of the demand for independence and the Dalai Lama’s rejection of armed struggle. They openly question the influence of religion, saying it holds back the struggle. Some have received death threats for challenging the old guard. Several recently-arrived refugees were elected to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies.
The Tibetan people deserve the right to national self-determination. However, supporting their struggle should not mean that we uncritically support the self-proclaimed leadership of the Dalai Lama and his compromised “government-in-exile”. Their commitment to human rights, democracy and support for genuine self-determination can only be judged from their actions and their willingness to tell the truth.
Another old article on the ‘International Campaign for Tibet’ site (yes, they’re on the NED payroll as exposed in the Barker piece above) discloses some of the CIA’s secret history in the country while painting an unintentionally [?] revealing picture of the exiled leader and the prevailing attitude toward those who refuse to toe his line.
More also is becoming known about the Dalai Lama’s stance in the 1960s, when the US Central Intelligence Agency was arming and training Tibetans to forcibly resist the Chinese.
Ken Knaus, a now-retired CIA operations officer who worked with the Tibetan resistance leaders from 1958 to 1965, says the Dalai Lama consistently took the nonviolence position despite intense pressure from advocates of armed resistance.
“He was in a hell of a position,” says Knaus, whose book on Tibet-US relations, “Orphan of the Cold War,” will be published next winter. “He was a Buddhist leader, preaching nonviolence, and he also was a patriot, and his people were under fire. This caused him a great deal of anguish.”
Knaus, who met the Dalai Lama in 1964 in Dharamsala, India, seat of the government in exile, says he refused pleas from Tibetan fighters and the US State Department to give his blessing to violent struggle against the Chinese.
Even Tibetans disappointed at this stance “told us he was the closest thing to God we were ever going to know,” Knaus recalls. “This is a man of integrity.”
The deference accorded the Dalai Lama in those days is wearing thin now: He faces pressure both from a new generation of would-be fighters who think his attitude of conciliation toward China has not paid off, and from a vocal band of Buddhists, many of them Western converts, who accuse him of religious persecution for banning worship of a traditional protector deity.
The latter group mounted demonstrations against the Dalai Lama during his visit to New York this week; members plan a protest at the entrance to Brandeis today.
In India, hunger strikers refuse to end their life-threatening fast despite the Dalai Lama’s request that they do so. The strike “definitely shows a growing impatience with the way the world has responded to the Dalai Lama,” says Ackerly, of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Younger Tibetans “may begin experimenting with more radical forms of protest,” Ackerly said. “So far we do not see any sign that people are turning to violence, though they certainly talk about it constantly.”
An important point is raised earlier on:
The nameless hero who stopped a row of tanks during China’s late democracy movement vanished quickly. But, 48 years after China’s conquest of Tibet, the Dalai Lama endures.
Indeed, he not only ‘endures’, but is awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, enjoys international acclaim and gets an instant spotlight on everything he says! Sorry, but popularity among those people is a powerful indication of a basic failure if you ask me. Or ask these guys:
Look at their faces nearly fifty years on and watch their reaction to the same words we’re hearing today. Do they look ‘disappointed’ and ‘deferential’ or do those features still express after all these years a deep anger and sense of betrayal – a sense they will perhaps be able to share with their grandchildren some day soon.
This is part of a BBC documentary called The Shadow Circus (uploaded in six parts here) which looked at the CIA’s brief initial sponsorship of the Tibetan resistance. I’m used to looking beyond the usual rhetoric like ‘resistance to the spread of communism’ where our covert military operations are concerned – actually more often than not it’s the ‘threat of a good example’ of independent nationalism (in its hostility to foreign capital) that is the real cause for the Western sponsorship of third world rebellions. So why were the Americans supporting a nationalist movement, albeit ineffectively as ‘a nuisance operation’ against the Chinese in Tibet? I would’ve liked the documentary to look at this more closely, but it settled for ‘The Americans, in the throes of the worst stage of communist-phobia, were happy to oblige.’ Something fishy here… Perhaps it’s a similar situation to Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation and the arming & training of the Mujahideen (again by the CIA, with help from MI6 in case you were thinking it was just those pesky Americans). Tibet, like Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala ….. is after all a country rich in mineral and natural resources.
Last words go to this synopsis of the Shadow Circus (‘Friends of Tibet (India)’ aren’t on Barker’s shit list funnily enough). Be careful what friends you make in your struggle for freedom.
The CIA cooked up a fresh operation in Mustang, a remote corner of Nepal that juts into Tibet. Nearly two thousand Tibetans gathered here to continue their fight for freedom. A year later, the CIA made its first arms drop in Mustang. Organised on the lines of a modern army, the guerrillas were led by Bapa Yeshe, a former monk.
‘As soon as we received the aid, the Americans started scolding us like children. They said that we had to go into Tibet immediately. Sometimes I wished they hadn’t sent us the arms at all,’ says Yeshe. The Mustang guerrillas conducted cross-border raids into Tibet. The CIA made two more arms drops to the Mustang force, the last in May 1965. Then, in early 1969, the agency abruptly cut off all support. The CIA explained that one of the main conditions the Chinese had set for establishing diplomatic relations with the US was to stop all connections and all assistance to the Tibetans. Says Roger McCarthy, an ex-CIA man, ‘It still smarts that we pulled out in the manner we did.’
Thinley Paljor, a surviving resistance fighter, was among the thousands shattered by this volte-face. ‘We felt deceived, we felt our usefulness to the CIA is finished. They were only thinking short-term for their own personal gain, not for the long-term interests of the Tibetan people.’ In 1974, armtwisted by the Chinese, the Nepalese government sent troops to Mustang to demand the surrender of the guerrillas. Fearing a bloody confrontation, the Dalai Lama sent the resistance fighters a taped message, asking them to surrender. They did so, reluctantly. Some committed suicide soon afterwards.
Today, the survivors of the Mustang resistance force live in two refugee settlements in Nepal, where they eke out a living spinning wool and weaving carpets. ‘The film is for the younger Tibetans, who are unaware of the resistance, as well as for Americans, who don’t know how their own government used and betrayed the resistance,’ says [film maker] Tenzing.