On Sept. 15, the Dalai Lama, the most notable international religious leader other than the Pope, spoke at a congregation of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. He has dedicated his life to the religious and political freedom of his homeland, Tibet, which has been under Chinese occupation since 1950.
It is important to note that under a communist government, the word “occupation” does not accurately describe the oppression the Tibetan people endure under the Chinese regime. I would describe the Chinese occupation of central Tibet as nothing less than an ethnocide, in which traditional religious and cultural practices are tremendously limited.
The variance in religious liberty between central Tibet, which is the birthplace of the Dalai Lama (and the epicenter of his political movement) and eastern Tibet, which is not heavily regulated by the Chinese, is immense. The Cultural Revolution arrived in Lhasa, the nation’s capitol, in 1966, during which monasteries were destroyed en masse, in addition to the most famous temple, Jokhang, which was as significant to Buddhists as Mecca is to Muslims. However, despite this massive destruction of cultural monuments, the Chinese continue to exploit the remaining monasteries for the purposes of national and international tourism, while causing significant environmental damage to the surrounding landscape in search of existing natural resources.
Remarkably, the Dalai Lama has spent his life peacefully protesting the Chinese occupation, staying true to Buddhist philosophies which profess that maintaining compassion for your enemies is the only way to understand the nature of conflict. Ironically, the Dalai Lama is considered by the Chinese government, in mitigating terms, a “separatist,” though he has been falsely accused of acts of terrorism in the past by Chinese authorities.
According to the Daily Mail, when the Dalai Lama spoke in the presence of European leaders on Sept. 19, China expressed “strong opposition” to the talk, claiming that: “China absolutely cannot remain indifferent, and we will make the correct choice in accordance with our judgment of the situation.” Many foreign leaders will not meet with the Dalai Lama today in fear of facing economic and political repercussions as a result of China’s severe hostility to his movement for Tibetan freedom.
To this day, Beijing claims that the Chinese occupation of Tibet has brought nothing but prosperity to the “once backward region,” even though cultural decline is visibly evident. Mountainsides once covered in prayer flags are now bare, many monasteries have been reduced to rubble, and severe punishments are enforced for citizens who dare speak the name of the Dalai Lama.
Unfortunately for the United States, we rely so heavily on China economically that it would be politically detrimental to involve ourselves in bureaucratic absurdities such as this. However, this has not stopped him from giving several speeches in the United States this year. As long as we remain second-hand sponsors of the Chinese communist regime, Tibet will continue to suffer, and their torment will remain our responsibility.