Columbia Magazine interviews three China and Tibet experts at the university — Andrew Nathan, Robert Barnett, and Robert Thurman — about the current situation in Tibet:
China’s hosting of the Olympics this coming August was an opportunity for Beijing to present the world with a new, more benign image of China as a modern superpower. Instead, in March, Tibet erupted and protests spread over an area of the Tibetan plateau that encompasses almost one-quarter of China. Troops were sent in, arrests made, reporters expelled, and imprisoned monks ordered to undergo patriotic reeducation. These actions didn’t help China’s attempts to appear tolerant and transparent. A few weeks later, the journey of the Olympic torch across the globe was disrupted by pro-Tibetan and human rights demonstrations. Politicians in the West threatened to boycott the opening of the Olympic ceremonies and urged the Chinese politburo to reopen talks with the Dalai Lama. Beijing has reluctantly agreed to do so, but some experts see the move as cosmetic. The leaders in Beijing continue to put the full blame for the Tibetan turmoil on the Dalai Lama, labeling him a separatist and a terrorist supported by hypocritical Western governments. The Dalai Lama, for his part, has accused China of oppressing the Tibetan people and producing a “cultural genocide” in Tibet. None of the underlying issues has been resolved, and instead, the argument has become a question of national pride.
We spoke to three leading Columbia University experts on Tibet, China, and Buddhism — Andrew James Nathan, Robert Barnett, and Robert Thurman — and asked them about the root causes of the conflict, the state of Tibetan culture, and the chances of a Chinese-Tibetan rapprochement.