Dallying with the Dalai Lama
I had to smile when I read the New York Times editorial this morning on the honouring of the Dalai Lama in Washington. Here, it said, was a leader who has demonstrated a lifelong dedication to nonviolence and tolerance. Perhaps, suggested the Times wickedly, that dedication might rub off on some of the people he met during his stay in Washington. Might the White House perhaps ponder on one of his best-known maxims: “Through violence, you may solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.”
But the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal, the US’s highest civilian honour, to the 72-year-old spiritual leader of the Tibetans, was rather more than an opportunity for President Bush’s critics to have another go at him. It was also an opportunity for Beijing, yet again, to fulminate against a Buddhist monk who has almost single-handedly appeared to keep alive the flame of Tibetan nationalism.
Yet there’s a bit of a paradox here. Behind the scenes, the Chinese leadership has been putting out feelers to the Dalai Lama and his fellow “splittists” for years … so why shouldn’t Washington honour him? Or is Beijing right to see this as a not-too-subtle attempt by the US to put pressure on China and bolster the Tibetan leader’s negotiating hand?
I talked about all this to the Tibetan affairs scholar Robert Barnett of Columbia University last night. If you missed it, you can hear it here.