Georgetown Hosts Former Tibetan Politician Lodi Gyari

On February 16, Georgetown University’s Asian Studies Program hosted a lunch with Lodi Gyari, former special envoy to the Dalai Lama, and Michael Green, a Georgetown Asian studies professor, to discuss Gyari’s negotiations with the Chinese government and the future of Tibetan-Chinese relations.

The lunch discussion began when Green asked Gyari about his title, Rinpoche, which translates loosely to “Precious One.” According to Tibetan Buddhism, Gyari is a reincarnation at a special spiritual level born with the duty to serve his people. This duty led Gyari to be separated from his family at an early age and raised as a spiritual leader.

Green then inquired about Gyari’s nine negotiations with the Chinese government over the course of 20 years regarding Tibet’s status within China. Gyari claimed the Chinese government desires unity and sovereignty over all its territory. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet-in-exile, was willing to find a middle ground solution without the formation of a separate state. He  sought cultural autonomy where the Tibetans would be allowed to preserve their culture and language differences. The Chinese government accepted this statement on paper and said nothing further was necessary. Gyari, however,  believes the persisting tension between the PRC and Tibet demonstrates the need for change as the Chinese government seems to not fully respect cultural autonomy for Tibetans.

“The autonomous regions have less power than Chinese provinces,” said Gyari in reference to the Tibetan lawmaking process, in which all laws must be approved by the central government in Beijing. The Chinese government’s biggest fear is that the Dalai Lama may now feel morally obligated to speak on behalf of Tibetans everywhere, who have lost their direct political voice. The Chinese government believes the Dalai Lama has a hidden agenda to claim a portion of Chinese territory with a significant Tibetan population as a separate state.

Green and Gyari then discussed the current negative state of affairs in Tibet, including the impasse in negotiations with the Chinese government, random arrests, and the protest self-immolation of monks. Gyari went back and forth between optimistic and pessimistic sentiments for future Chinese-Tibetan relations. On a positive note, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Dalai Lama have a history of mutual respect for one another. In addition, Xi’s wife was a Tibetan Buddhist. The negotiations may restart in Xi’s second term, but progress is still far off.

Gyari also shared a few anecdotes about his relationship with the Dalai Lama and their past as exiles in India. He concluded by mentioning the Dalai Lama’s old age and the significance of the desire for the Dalai Lama to die in Tibet. If this were not allowed to occur, Gyari believes that increased violence may break out in Tibet.