Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Dalai Lama, China and Taiwan: Uncomfortable Questions.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama
is once again in the news.

On a weeklong visit to Taiwan (his first), the Dalai Lama arrived Sunday in
Kaohsiung, at the
southern tip of the island, to comfort victims and survivors of
Typhoon Manikot which has
devastated the islands southern provinces.

Almost six hundred lives were lost, with thousands made homeless and
property damage
running into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

For the most part, the regions' inhabitants welcomed the visit. Taiwan
is heavily Buddhist, and people turned out by the tens of thousands just
to get a glimpse of His Holiness as he both met with victims individually
and led mass prayer services in Kaohsiung's main soccer stadium.

And as always, the visit set off the usual round of ritual denunciation and
denial, by both governments.

The Dalai Lama stuck to his usual low-key style. Emphasizing the pastoral
and sacerdotal nature of his visit, The Dalai Lama politely declined any political
comment other than a few generalized remarks about democracy, and chose
rather to highlight the pastoral basis of his journey.

The Taiwan government, including the officials of the ruling KMT, discreetly
stayed away. No comment was made in the official KMT press, except to take a
few swipes at the opposition Democratic Progressive Party for upsetting
business as usual by inviting His Holiness in the first place.

And the Chinese government, after issuing its ritual, boilerplate denunciation
of The Dalai Lama as a "splittist", quickly downplayed the whole thing.
A few planned technical conferences between the two governments were
quietly postponed or rescheduled. The resumption of direct air services between
the two sides, which began on Monday, was moved to the back pages
of the paper with little fanfare.

Both the Taiwan and Mainland governments went out of their way to
emphasize "Business As Usual". Which is not surprising, because
authorities on both sides of the Taiwan straits have far bigger fish
to fry.

And a world-respected religious leader, if sufficiently prodded, might
well ask uncomfortable questions both Governments would prefer
not to answer.

Questions and scrutiny are not helpful for "business as usual".

The Chinese government wants the question of "autonomy" for
minority regions of the country to quietly go away. And Tibet is
not the only area of China seeking more autonomy for its native
peoples - Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia are also restless. The
Dalai Lama knows this.

And the KMT government of Taiwan has steadily been seeking
greater closeness with the mainland, to the disquiet of a great many of
its inhabitants. Less well known is the fact that the political split in Taiwan
runs largely along ethnic lines - the KMT is largely Han Chinese, while
the DPP and other minor parties draw their strength from the native,
pre-1949 ethnic Taiwanese population. The Dalai Lama knows this as well.

And uncomfortable questions about minority rights and ethnic autonomy
- in both China and Taiwan - are not useful to the powers that be.
Not while both Governments are working very closely with their respective
Corporate and Financial sectors to extract maximum economic benefit
from each other.

Taiwan seeks greater access to Mainland markets, investment opportunity,
and capital. Mainland China seeks greater access to Taiwanese scientific,
technical and managerial expertise. Both sides are well aware that greater
economic, scientific and commercial ties may make eventual political
reunification a fait accompli.

Which is why they don't want questions asked. At least not right now.
That might get in the way of a deal here, an accommodation there,
that benefits private elites on both sides.

The Dalai Lama knows all this too. But he's got a weapon as well - something
that neither government can buy, co-opt or capture.

It's called Moral Example. It's a belief that there's more to life than
the almighty pursuit of the dollar or renminbi. And the best part is
that he doesn't even have to preach it - he proclaims the power of
his Example just by showing up.

No wonder the Chinese government fears him. And, if his Example
and ideas were to catch on with more of the world's peoples,
more governments, (including possibly our own), might fear or
despise him as well.

A religious leader asking questions about autonomy,
individual rights, happiness, the nature of man, and the nature of
just and accountable governance is always a threat to an Established Order.
Because these are the very questions no government really wants asked,
lest the answers destroy them.

That might really cause problems for "Business As Usual".

But, if those questions ever did get answered, well, that might result in
Change a lot of folks everywhere could Believe In.

Political Leaders everywhere, are you listening?

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