Dalai Lama and UMass students agree Tibet should be free from China
Although President Barack Obama hosted the Dalai Lama in the Map Room of the White House last Thursday, this meeting does not represent United States support for Tibetan independence. The U.S. officially supports the People’s Republic of China’s self-proclaimed territory, which includes Tibet.
This visit was intentionally kept low-key in order to show support for human rights issues, while blatantly trying not to anger China. Relations between China and the U.S. are already strained after the announcement last month of arms sales to Taiwan in excess of six billion dollars. China feels that the U.S. is flouting its authority by dealing directly with its two most internationally contentious areas.
Normally U.S.-Chinese relations are pretty good. Considering that China is one of our biggest trading partners, the U.S. usually doesn’t want to create bad feelings between the two countries, but U.S. officials have said that the relationship is going through a rough patch.
Currently, what is most important to the U.S. is very different from what is most important to China, and so it has been difficult for the two nations to reach an agreement on anything.
Because of this, China took the Dalai Lama’s visit extra hard, but the U.S. did inform China last November that he would be visiting. China has still released several outraged articles in its national newspaper “Xinhua” and has spoken to the American ambassador on this matter. China is very sensitive about territorial issues, and it has good reason to be.
There have been protests to “Free Tibet” all over the world, and many Americans support Tibet’s desire for independence from China, including many UMass students. Usually about once a semester students at UMass launch a protest to “Free Tibet.” This issue, like the issues of democracy and censorship in China, are considered major problems by the American people.
But here’s the thing, would anyone contend that California should be its own country? Of course not. There is certainly less difference between Californians and people from the rest of the U.S. than the peoples of Tibet and those of the rest of China, especially considering that there are officially recognized national minorities in China that live only in Tibet. However, the two cases are not so dissimilar.
History lesson. For those of you who have forgotten, over the course of the 19th century U.S. citizens moved west to California, Oregon, Washington and the Midwest states in between the West Coast and Louisiana. This began around mid-century with the California Gold Rush and the Oregon Trail, and it was called Westward Expansion. Since then the states formed have become important and fully integrated parts of the United States.
In addition, the U.S. added its 49th and 50th states as recently as 1959, but no one is protesting to “Free Alaska.” Although China had held control over Tibet since the 13th century, China reasserted its control over Tibet in 1951, and China took control of what it believes to be land that has historically been a part of China.
In addition, Tibet is an autonomous region in China, which means it has a certain degree of autonomy. Laws like the One Child Policy, which apply to the vast majority of the Chinese population, do not apply to the Tibetan peoples. Tibet has its own local leadership, but this hasn’t been the Dalai Lama for a very long time.
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet. His escape to India in 1959 after revolts against the Chinese government have sparked most of the current controversy over whether or not Tibet should be its own country. What would have happened if he had stayed no one knows, but according to his own website, the Dalai Lama left because the Nechung Oracle told him to leave, not because the Chinese government forced him to leave.
Although he has been in exile for 50 years, he is still a strong symbol of hope for Tibet and many people around the world. The Dalai Lama is also an important enough global leader that President Obama, and the three presidents preceding him, entertained the Dalai Lama. They have not done so in protest of China’s policies, but rather, because of the hope he stands for.
This visit to the White House may not have changed anything for Tibet, but it certainly won’t be the Dalai Lama’s last visit.
Whether or not Tibet should be freed, many definitely believe it is a cause worth fighting for, and it will continue to be supported by many, from the Dalai Lama to UMass students.
Sara Crossman is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.