April 26, 2007

The Dalai Lama Helps Tell The Story of Tibet

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Four U.S. citizens were detained by the Chinese government yesterday after protesting the planned 2008 Olympic torch route up Mount Everest and into Tibet — a route that is politically symbolic of Chinese hegemony in that region.
Thomas Laird, journalist and author of the recently released The Story of Tibet, saw this event as a prelude to the potentially massive international scrutiny and pressure on Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. He spoke Tuesday evening and last night at the Cornell Store, reading excerpts from his book, which he wrote after over 60 hours of conversation with the Dalai Lama, and discussing Buddhist philosophy and the history of China’s relationship with Tibet.
“That is just the beginning — there will be a continual strain of protest,” Laird said in an interview with The Sun.
According to Laird, aside from the conflict over Tibet, the 2008 Olympics has also forced China’s relationship with Sudan into the spotlight.
China is Sudan’s biggest trade partner, yet it has put no pressure on the Khartoum government, suspected sponsor of the genocidal Janjaweed militias in Darfur. Laird does not believe that China will take any action against the genocide in Sudan.
“They’re exporting genocide to Darfur, to Burma. And they’re doing it not just to be bad, they’re doing it as a technique to obtain oil. Because Sudan is a genocidal government, American companies are forbidden by law to work there. 80 percent of the oil from Darfur is going to China,” he said.
Laird also drew attention to the changing political equilibrium in Beijing, which could affect the Tibetan bid for autonomy.
“After the fall of 2007, in between then and the Olympics of 2008, we have a vast window of political opportunity with [President Hu Jintao]. If China is going to respond to political pressure, in my opinion, it will happen then.”
Laird claims that the key to avoiding a U.S. war with China is a “fact-based, rather than faith-based, foreign policy.”
Also important is the end of dependence on expendable natural resources, which is the root of international animosity.
“That’s the only foreign policy that’s going to save us. It’s going to save the planet, it’s going to save India, it’s going to save China,” he said.
“I do agree that we don’t have a fact-based foreign policy right now, I think it’s very reactionary,” said Nuntica Tanasugaran ’99 in response to Laird. “I think exchange among universities is a great first step to that. I just hope it’s not too late.”
Laird’s presentation was coordinated by Ted Arnold, Cornell employee and president of the board of directors of Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist studies. Arnold said of Laird’s presentation, “It’s really great. That kind of polemical aspect that he takes is not in the book at all. It’s really a very good walk through its history.”