Wednesday, February 24, 2010

China reacts to Dalai Lama talk with CNN

China was already reeling after the Dalai Lama met with President Barack Obama last week. But other than releasing of statements there was no direct action. The White House website remained online and pictures of the Dalai Lama with the American president remained accessible on the Chinese mainland. But the Dalai Lama's only television interview with CNN chat show host Larry King was highly restricted for those attempting to tune in across China. According to some reports the television broadcast via satellite was not interrupted, but those attempting to access online content found blank screens.
CNN radio which broadcasts a live audio feed of the US news channel was silent on many ISPs and third party websites which rebroadcast the CNN video feed returned blank screens. Throughout the interview, which was aired at 18:00 Beijing time Tuesday, the CNN website was slow to load and the video page was inaccessible for many users. By Wednesday morning the CNN site was almost completely screwed by the Great Firewall with graphics stripped and only basic text and links showing.

It is of course to be expected that China would attempt to stifle any free debate concerning Tibet, the Dalai Lama and issues of human rights. But the pettiness displayed showed by Chinese censors shows that the Chinese Communist Party has a long way to go before it becomes a part of the global community. While it plays an important part in the global economy, the behaviour of Chinese censors in respect to free debate and expression of ideas places the country alongside despots such as Iran, North Korea and others.

As for the interview [transcript] with the Dalai Lama, most of the world were able to view it freely. In opening, Larry King asked the Dalai Lama how his controversial meeting with Barack Obama went.  "Very good. Of course, when he was a new senator and on the Foreign Relations Committee or something... I met him once. A very impressive young politician. Then during the election, he telephoned me and inquired about Tibet. As soon as he became president, he said we'll have some -- some contact and was very sympathetic," the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said.

He acknowledged that an earlier meeting with the president would not have been advisable due to Obama's intended visit to Beijing in November last year.
He went on to speak about three commitments. "The number one commitment, the promotion of human value in order to create a better world, a more compassionate world, a peaceful world. For that, technology -- economy is not the ultimate source of peace. The real source of peace is inner peace. Inner peace comes through a more compassionate heart. So that's my number one commitment I always say wherever I go."

His second commitment was "the promotion of religious harmony." And he said hoped Obama could make effective contributions in these fields. Tibet of course came up in discussion and he spoke of contacts with the Chinese government. "We are carrying various kinds of work for preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhist tradition, like that," the Dalai Lama said. He said his so-called'middle way approach was fully supported by the American administration.

But in respect to the Chinese administration he laughed and said, "Now, you know, the Chinese government (are) denying there is sort of a problem... They say Tibetans are very happy prosperity and much, much, much better than previous Tibet. But we received information that some, in some of some material development, but culture side or religious faith or all these fields, there's so much suppression or control, restriction."

"So, for example, just a few years ago, I met one Tibetan who come from Tibet -- one profession, a professional person. He told me his own salary, accommodation and also the education for his children, no worries. Everything is good. But then he mentioned, but being as a Tibetan, mentally, emotionally, some kind of overwhelming sort of -- what's the feeling? Then when he mentioned that, tear. So that has a Chinese -- some of these hard-liner Chinese do not understand.

Will there ever be greater autonomy for Tibet? Larry King asked. "Actually, we are not seeking independence," the Dalai Lama said, "No. We are -- you see, that's why we call the middle way. We -- we complain that the present sort of policy in Tibet, it's actually very much damaging about the Tibetans' religious freedom and also culture, heritage and also, very bad for environment. But, on the other hand, we also, you see, do not want separation from China, because the Tibet, landlocked country; materially is backward. Every Tibetan wants a modernized Tibet."

"So for that reason, remain within the People's Republic of China. It is our own interest, as far as materials development is concerned. But meaningful autonomy, self-rule in the field of the culture, education, religion -- in these fields, where the Tibetans can handle better -- a better way. So in these fields, Tibetans should have full sort of authority. So that's what we call middle way. So, firstly, we are not seeking independence. So, therefore, there's some people among Tibetans and also among our supporters, our friends, also are a little critical we are not sort of fight for independence."

King referred to a previous statement made by the Dalai Lama in which he said the middle way approach was failing. The prominent Buddhist responded. "Yes. After the 10th of March crisis in 2008, I publicly expressed now our effort -- one aspect of our sort of effort, that's to bring improvement inside Tibet. Now that aspect failed. But that does not mean complete failure. On the other hand, our approach brings a lot of support from Chinese intellectuals or writers. And then, also, you see many of government now in -- I mean, clearly, including the United States government and, also, the Indian government, fully support -- support our way of approach."

It was over 50 years since the Dalai Lama left Tibet. So did he feel homesick? "Occasionally, I remember my experience of childhood in Potala and also the Summer Palace in Norbulingka. Sometimes I remember these things. But otherwise, the last 50 years, now the portion of my life spent in India. And my body supported by Indian rice and Indian dal...So I -- I don't much sort of concern. But, you see, our concern is six million Tibetan people's basic rights and their culture and Tibetan environment. These are the main issue."

Moving on to other issues, the Dalai Lama spoke of his involvement with Whole Child International. "My number one commitment is to build a healthy world, a compassionate world, so these young children are the future generation. So they cultivate or nurture about compassion from -- right from the beginning. It's very, very essential," he told King, "Then, now, this organization is taking special care of these vulnerable children, who I felt like helpless children."

Sexual inequality was also discussed and the Dalai Lama broached the situation seen in many countries where a girl was seen as inferior. "I heard through BBC that one Chinese -- a Chinese woman who carries some research in China proper, she had one interview with the BBC, a reporter with her. And he -- she mentioned a terrible sort of story. So -- and then, India, also, sometimes the villagers and farmers, you see, they consider the son is more useful, daughter is (not)"

On the recent disaster to hit Haiti, leaving at least 100,000 dead, the Dalai Lama described it as "really terrible." But he focused on the humanitarian response, as seen following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 which left a similar number dead. "The response from the rest of -- the rest of the world is immense...Now, similarly, .. the response is very good."

It was important though to move on, however. "The Haitian people should think forward, not just to worry or sad, but work hard and utilize all these funds properly, then build a new nation, new buildings, a new nation. That's my feeling," the Dalai Lama said. "So from bad can come good?" Larry King asked. "Yes, that's right," the holder of a Nobel Peace Prize said.

Despite some health concerns in the past the Buddhist monk said he was "very fit". He also remained optimistic despite the many troubles in the world. "Oh, future is open. And then still, we are in this planet. So now I think, one, I think the practical reason is judging, even in the 20th century -- I think the later part of the 20th century basically much more healthier than the early part of the 20th century."

"Now for example, I think the concept of peace, reconciliation and also the concept of love and compassion, I think, these are -- and also the environment issue. I think human beings -- I think better awareness of all the reality. And I feel in 20th century, through a lot of pains, killing. I think some -- according to some experts, the 20th century more than 200 million people killed through warfare. So such a painful experience, you see, helped humanity thinking more mental. So I'm optimistic." 

Even when it came to his Chinese adversaries he spoke of love. "You love the Chinese?" King asked. "Certainly. We have to practice that. Sometimes you see some of these hard liners of a policy, ruthless policy. Sometimes I got some irritation, but a short moment," the Dalai Lama responded, "I have to make effort to keep love."

Sadly for the Dalai Lama, there was no such sentiment displayed by the Chinese government. Following the broadcast, the Chinese Embassy sent a message to CNN.

"What Dalai Lama has said and done in the past decades have fully shown that he is not a pure religious figure, but a political figure in exile who's long engaged in activities to split China and undermine ethnic unity in China under the cover of religion," the statement began.

The strongly worded statement carried all the usual rhetoric to be expected from the CPC. "Tibet has never been a country in history, but an inalienable part of China from ancient times," it said. "We urge the U.S. side earnestly abide by the U.S. Government's committment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and not supporting "Tibet independence", take measures to undo the damages caused by Dalai's visit, stop providing convenience or platform for Dalai and pro-Tibet independence forces."

Few Chinese would have seen the interview nor the statement issued by the Chinese Embassy. There was also no mention of the interview on Xinhua's website. But that's the nature of free debate in China.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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