Daniel Prinz (Hungary, AC07-09) and Justin (US, AC07-09)
The members of Students for Free Tibet (SFT) in UWCAC recently organized a hunger strike campaign. We asked Justin (United States, AC07-09), one of the participants, a few questions about the campaign, the events in Tibet and about his views concerning the present and future issues.
What is the situation in Tibet right now?
I don’t know what the situation is at the moment, partially due to the lack of foreign press coverage coming out of Tibet. But last I heard, China was cracking down on Tibetans for protesting.
Why do they protest?
They are protesting due to the Tibetan desire for independence from China. Many Tibetans feel they are oppressed within their own country by the Chinese government. They object against their children being taught Chinese, rather than Tibetan, in school, and also against a lack of education regarding Tibetan cultural heritage.
But some Chinese argue that the Tibetans don’t actually desire independence and that the Dalai Lama has given up his request for independence…
This is not true and is shown by the spread of the recent protests over the whole country. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has not “given up”. He has simply adopted what He views as a more pragmatic approach, what He calls the Middle Way Approach, which allows China to continue control of foreign policy but only in strictly political areas. The Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Government of Tibet will control all other non-political activities such as commerce, education, culture, religion, tourism, science, sports, etc.
And you were taking solidarity with His Holiness.
The hunger strike, which in retrospect I would call a “fast for Tibet”, showed our solidarity with the Tibetan people, raised awareness about the issue and promoted a petition.
SFT does not reflect the view of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We desire full independence of Tibet whereas His Holiness is proposing a Middle Way, as outlined above.
How succesful was it?
The petition is still going on, but we raised more than 100 pounds. The entire campus knew about it and the vast majority of both faculty and students supported us.
What about the students from the PRC?
When one of the members of the SFT approached one of the Chinese students to show him the appeal and ask him to read the petition he just flipped him off and walked away. Instead of using the middle-way approach, he used his middle finger.
Overall the Chinese students were quite friendly. However, one of the books from the library contained Chinese characters in the front which translated to “Tibet belongs to China, regardless of the past, present or future.”.
Is there a general tension between the Chinese students and the Tibetans or the SFT members?
There is no apparent tension, we all have several Chinese friends.
What do you think of the argument often raised by Chinese students that Tibet has been a part of China since the 12th century?
It is true that it has been under Chinese rule on a number of occasions during Tibet’s history but it is also true that at other points China was more or less under Tibetan rule.
Between 1912 (the fall of the Manchu Empire) and 1949 (the invasion of the PLA) there is no recorded involvement of the Chinese government with Tibetan affairs. Many historians consider Tibet to have gained independence during that period.
They also argue that Tibet used to be a feudal state and China made it a modern industrial state.
In regards to these arguments, it is true that Tibet was quite a feudal state but it is also true that his Holiness the Dalai Lama was starting to make reforms within Tibet. Also, saying that a country was feudal before does not justify what many regard as the oppression occurring in Tibet. One cannot justify current actions that violate human rights with this weak objection that Tibet was a feudal state prior to Chinese invasion.
Do you see any positive changes from the side of the Chinese leadership or the Western world?
I already see a positive change in regard to how other countries view the Chinese government. They see it more realistically and they are more aware of the situation in Tibet.
I am optimistic that due to pressure from the West and other countries, especially during the Olympics, the Chinese government will become more supportive for human rights and stop what I personally view as a cultural genocide. However, I still have my reservations.
So how do the Olympics come into the picture?
As far as SFT can see we believe that China is trying to use the games to legitimize its control over Tibet and to show that everybody is satisfied with the situation. SFT does not accept this and the Tibetan people do not accept it either. The route of the Olympic Torch has strategically been constructed to go through Taiwan and Tibet in an attempt to show that the country is ”united” under the Chinese. SFT objects to this and we think that the Olympic Torch should not enter Tibet as we feel it is simply a political move by the Chinese Government.
– United World College Student Magazine –