His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Address to Members of the United States Congress, Washington, D.C., September 21, 1987
The world is increasingly interdependent, so that lasting peace – national, regional, and global – can only be achieved if we think in terms of broader interest rather than parochial needs. At this time, it is crucial that all of us, the strong and the weak, contribute in our own way. I speak to you today as the leader of the Tibetan people and as a Buddhist monk devoted to the principles of a religion based on love and compassion. Above all, I am here as a human being who is destined to share this planet with you and all others as brothers and sisters. As the world grows smaller, we need each other more than in the past. This is true in all parts of the world, including the continent I come from.
At present in Asia, as elsewhere, tensions are high. There are open conflicts in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and in my own country, Tibet. To a large extent, these problems are symptoms of the underlying tensions that exist among the area’s great powers. In order to resolve regional conflicts, an approach is required that takes into account the interests of all relevant countries and peoples, large and small. Unless comprehensive solutions are formulated, that take into account the aspirations of the people most directly concerned, piecemeal or merely expedient measures will only create new problems.
The Tibetan people are eager to contribute to regional and world peace, and I believe they are in a unique position to do so. Traditionally, Tibetans are a peace loving and non-violent people. Since Buddhism was introduced to Tibet over one thousand years ago, Tibetans have practiced non-violence with respect to all forms of life. This attitude has also been extended to our country’s international relations. Tibet’s highly strategic position in the heart of Asia, separating the continent’s great powers – India, China and the USSR – has throughout history endowed it with an essential role in the maintenance of peace and stability.
This is precisely why, in the past, Asia’s empires went to great lengths to keep one another out of Tibet. Tibet’s value as an independent buffer state was integral to the region’s stability. When the newly formed People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1949/50, it created a new source of conflict. This was highlighted when, following the Tibetan national uprising against the Chinese and my flight to India in 1959, tensions between China and India escalated into the border war in 1962. Today large numbers of troops are again massed on both sides of the Himalayan border and tension is once more dangerously high.
The real issue, of course, is not the Indo-Tibetan border demarcation. It is China’s illegal occupation of Tibet, which has given it direct access to the Indian sub-continent. The Chinese authorities have attempted to confuse the issue by claiming that Tibet has always been a part of China. This is untrue. Tibet was a fully independent state when the People’s Liberation Army invaded the country in 1949/50.
Since Tibetans emperors unified Tibet, over a thousand years ago, our country was able to maintain its independence until the middle of this century. At times Tibet extended its influence over neighboring countries and peoples and, in other periods, came itself under the influence of powerful foreign rulers – the Mongol Khans, the Gorkhas of Nepal, the Manchu Emperors and the British in India.
It is, of course, not uncommon for states to be subjected to foreign influence or interference,. Although so-called satellite relationships are perhaps the clearest examples of this, most major powers exert influence over less powerful allies or neighbors. As the most authoritative legal studies have shown, in Tibet’s case, the country’s occasional subjection to foreign influence never entailed a loss of independence. And there can be no doubt that when Peking’s communist armies entered Tibet, Tibet was in all respects an independent state.
China’s aggression, condemned by virtually all nations of the free world, was a flagrant violation of international law. As China’s military occupation of Tibet continues, the world should remember that though Tibetans have lost their freedom, under international law Tibet today is still an independent state under illegal occupation.
It is not my purpose to enter a political/legal discussion here concerning Tibet’s status. I just wish to emphasize the obvious and undisputed fact that we Tibetans are a distinct people with our own culture, language, religion and history. But for China’s occupation, Tibet would still, today, fulfill its natural role as a buffer state maintaining and promoting peace in Asia.
It is my sincere desire, as well as that of the Tibetan people, to restore to Tibet her invaluable role, by converting the entire country – comprising the three provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo – once more into a place of stability, peace and harmony. In the best of Buddhist tradition, Tibet would extend its services and hospitality to all who further the cause of world peace and the well-being of mankind and the natural environment we share.
Despite the holocaust inflicted upon our people in the past decades of occupation, I have always strived to find a solution through direct and honest discussions with the Chinese. In 1982, following the change of leadership in China and the establishment of direct contacts with the government in Peking, I sent my representatives to Peking to open talks concerning the future of my country and people.
We entered the dialogue with a sincere and positive attitude and with a willingness to take into account the legitimate needs of the People’s Republic of China. I hope that this attitude would be reciprocated and that a solution could eventually be found which would satisfy and safeguard the aspirations and interests of both parties. Unfortunately, China has consistently responded to our efforts in a defensive manner, as though our detailing of Tibet’s very real difficulties was criticism for its own sake.
To our even greater dismay, the Chinese government misused the opportunity for a genuine dialogue. Instead of addressing the real issues facing the six million Tibetan people, China has attempted to reduce the question of Tibet to a discussion of my own personal status.
It is against this background and in response to the tremendous support and encouragement I have been given by you and other persons I have met during this trip, that I wish today to clarify the principal issues and to propose, in a spirit of openness and conciliation, a first step towards a lasting solution. I hope this may contribute to a future of friendship and cooperation with all of our neighbors, including the Chinese people.
This peace plan contains five basic components:
- Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
- Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetan’s as a people;
- Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
- Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste;
- Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
Let me explain these five components.
One I propose that the whole of Tibet, including the eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo, be transformed into a zone of “Ahimsa”, a Hindi term used to mean a state of peace and non-violence.
The establishment of such a peace zone would be in keeping with Tibet’s historical role as a peaceful and neutral Buddhist nation and buffer state separating the continent’s great powers. It would also be in keeping with Nepal’s proposal to proclaim Nepal a peace zone and with China’s declared support for such a proclamation. The peace zone proposed by Nepal would have a much greater impact if it were to include Tibet and neighboring areas.
The establishing of a peace zone in Tibet would require withdrawal of Chinese troops and military installations from the country, which would enable India also to withdraw troops and military installations from the Himalayan regions bordering Tibet. This would be achieved under an international agreement which would satisfy China’s legitimate security needs and build trust among the Tibetan, Indian, Chinese and other peoples of the region. This is in everyone’s best interest, particularly that of China and India, as it would enhance their security, while reducing the economic burden of maintaining high troop concentrations on the disputed Himalayan border.
Historically, relations between China and India were never strained. It was only when Chinese armies marched into Tibet, creating for the first time a common border, that tensions arose between these two powers, ultimately leading to the 1962 war. Since then numerous dangerous incidents have continued to occur. A restoration of good relations between the world’s two most populous countries would be greatly facilitated if they were separated – as they were throughout history – by a large and friendly buffer region. To improve relations between the Tibetan people and the Chinese, the first requirement is the creation of trust. After the holocaust of the last decades in which over one million Tibetans – one sixth of the population – lost their lives and at least as many lingered in prison camps because of their religious beliefs and love of freedom, only a withdrawal of Chinese troops could start a genuine process of reconciliation. The vast occupation force in Tibet is a daily reminder to the Tibetans of the oppression and suffering they have all experienced. A troop withdrawal would be an essential signal that in the future a meaningful relationship might be established with the Chinese, based on friendship and trust.
The population transfer of Chinese into Tibet, which the government in Peking pursues in order to force a “final solution” to the Tibetan problem by reducing the Tibetan population to an insignificant and disenfranchised minority in Tibet itself, must be stopped.
The massive transfer of Chinese civilians into Tibet in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a distinct people. In the eastern parts of our country, the Chinese now greatly outnumber Tibetans. In the Amdo province, for example, where I was born, there are, according to Chinese statistics, 2.5 million Chinese and only 750,000 Tibetans. Even in so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (i.e., central and western Tibet), Chinese government sources now confirm that Chinese outnumber Tibetans. The Chinese population transfer policy is not new. It has been systematically applied to other areas before. Earlier in this century, the Manchus were a distinct race with their own culture and traditions. Today only two to three million Manchurians are left in Manchuria, where 75 million Chinese have settled. In Eastern Turkistan, which the Chinese now call Sinkiang, the Chinese population has grown from 200,000 in 1949 to 7 million, more than half of the total population of 13 million. In the wake of the Chinese colonization of Inner Mongolia, Chinese number 8.5 million, Mongols 2.5 million. Today, in the whole of Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers have already been sent, outnumbering the Tibetan population of 6 million. In central and western Tibet, now referred to by the Chinese as the “Tibet Autonomous Region”, Chinese sources admit the 1.9 million Tibetans already constitute a minority of the region’s population. These numbers do not take the estimated 300,000 – 500,000 troops in Tibet into account – 250,000 of them in the so- called Tibet Autonomous Region. For the Tibetans to survive as a people, it is imperative that the population transfer is stopped and Chinese settlers return to China. Otherwise, Tibetans will soon be no more than a tourist attraction and relic of a noble past.
Fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms must be respected in Tibet. The Tibetan people must once again be free to develop culturally, intellectually, economically and spiritually and to exercise basic democratic freedoms.
Human rights violations in Tibet are among the most serious in the world. Discrimination is practiced in Tibet under a policy of “apartheid” which the Chinese call “segregation and assimilation”. Tibetans are, at best, second class citizens in their own country. Deprived of all basic democratic rights and freedoms, they exist under a colonial administration in which all real power is wielded by Chinese officials of the Communist Party and the army. Although the Chinese government allows Tibetan to rebuild some Buddhist monasteries and to worship in them, it still forbids serious study and teaching of religion. Only a small number of people, approved by the Communist Party, are permitted to join the monasteries. While Tibetans in exile exercise their democratic rights under a constitution promulgated by me in 1963, thousands of our countrymen suffer in prisons and labor camps in Tibet for their religious or political convictions.
Serious efforts must be made to restore the natural environment in Tibet. Tibet should not be used for the production of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste.
Tibetans have a great respect for all forms of life. This inherent feeling is enhanced by the Buddhist faith, which prohibits the harming of all sentient beings, whether human or animal. Prior to the Chinese invasion, Tibet was an unspoiled wilderness sanctuary in a unique natural environment. Sadly, in the past decades the wildlife and the forests of Tibet have been almost totally destroyed by the Chinese. The effects on Tibet’s delicate environment have been devastating. What little is left in Tibet must be protected and efforts must be made to restore the environment to its balanced state. China uses Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and may also have started dumping nuclear waste in Tibet. Not only does China plan to dispose of its own nuclear waste but also that of other countries, who have already agreed to pay Peking to dispose of their toxic materials. The dangers this presents are obvious. Not only living generations, but future generations are threatened by China’s lack of concern for Tibet’s unique and delicate environment.
Negotiations on the future status of Tibet and the relationship between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples should be started in earnest.
We wish to approach this subject in a reasonable and realistic way, in a spirit of frankness and conciliation and with a view to finding a solution that in the long term interest of all: the Tibetans, the Chinese, and all other peoples concerned. Tibetans and Chinese are distinct peoples, each with their own country, history, culture, language and way of life. Differences among peoples must be recognized and respected. They need not, however, form obstacles to genuine cooperation where this is in the mutual benefit of both peoples. It is my sincere belief that if the concerned parties were to meet and discuss their future with an open mind and a sincere desire to find a satisfactory and just solution, a breakthrough could be achieved. We must all exert ourselves to be reasonable and wise, and to meet in a spirit of frankness and understanding.
Let me end on a personal note. I wish to thank you for the concern and support which you and so many of your colleagues and fellow citizens have expressed for the plight of oppressed people everywhere. The fact that you have publicly shown your sympathy for us Tibetans has already had a positive impact on the lives of our people inside Tibet. I ask for your continued support in this critical time in our country’s history.