I support Tibetan effort for independence and freedom: Harry Wu

Harry Wu at the observation of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese annexation of Tibet, in McLeod Ganj, India, on 10 March 2012.

Harry Wu attends the observation of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese annexation of Tibet, in McLeod Ganj, India, on 10 March 2012. File photo/Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal/India

By Lobsang Wangyal | Tibet Sun

By Email, 12 April 2012

Harry Wu is one of the most prominent activists for human rights in the People’s Republic of China. Wu spent 19 years in Chinese labour camps. In 1992, he founded the Laogai Research Foundation — which gathers information about forced-labour in Chinese prisons. Wu is currently the Executive Director of the Foundation. He has authored several books including the 1996 Troublemaker: one man’s crusade against China’s cruelty. He now lives in the United States but continues to risk his life to expose Beijing’s human rights abuses. Following are Wu’s answers to a set of questions after he agreed to do an e-mail interview.

You were in Dharamshala and met with the Dalai Lama, Kalon Tripa, and many others. What’s your impression of the capital of the Tibetan Diaspora and the Tibetan community in general?

My impression of the capital of the Tibetan diaspora is that it has preserved and protected the traditional religion and culture of Tibetans. This is important, especially because Tibetan culture is being lost in the Tibetan homeland due to the Chinese government’s ever oppressive policies.

Tibetans are still suffering — even though they may not be in China. Nepal, for example, is thought by many Tibetans fleeing Chinese persecution to be a refuge. In reality, the Chinese communist government continues to hand the Nepalese national government “aid” to turn away Tibetans attempting to cross its border and to deny refugee documents to those who make it across. Even for those allowed to remain in Nepal, though, oppression follows. Tibetans in Nepal are often followed by Chinese-trained spies. Their phone calls and emails are monitored and their lives along with the lives of their loved ones are often threatened by Nepalese police officers on orders from the Chinese.

You have seen Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay speak on the Tibetan uprising day on 10 March. What’s your impression of the Kalon Tripa and his administration?

The Kalon Tripa and his administration are a new face for Tibet’s continuing struggle against oppression. He and his administration are learned and focused on freeing Tibet from oppression. I support their efforts wholeheartedly because I know they have the ability to work for a better Tibet.

Thirty-two Tibetans in Tibet and one in exile in India have self-immolated to protest against the Chinese rule. What are your views with regard to these self-immolations?

Tibet’s future and freedom depends on the lives of all Tibetans. This is why the ongoing spate of self-immolations has moved me deeply. I think it presages future unrest and marks a boiling point in Sino-Tibetan relations. These self-immolations show a Tibet exasperated and crying out for real help, not just empty promises. These self-immolations beg world leaders to take off the mask of economics and to speak truthfully about human rights. When Tibetans who have escaped China still set themselves afire, the world needs to quickly realize that the Tibet issue extends much further than “China’s” borders.

The self-immolation of Tibetans paints a completely different picture of Tibet than the one China puts forward in its propaganda. Why does China continue to ignore the reality?

China does not ignore this reality. Rather, China has worked hard to prevent this reality from becoming mainstream, and — to a large extent — China’s efforts have succeeded. Despite the more than thirty Tibetans who have set themselves afire — many severely injuring themselves or even dying &mdash ;the world remains eerily silent in the face of economic and other relations. However, China can only continue dangling their economy in front of us at the expense of human rights and at the expense of Tibet only insofar as we let them.

Why is the Chinese government not responding to calls from its own people and other nationalities such as Tibet, East Turkistan and the rest of the world for changing the system? How do you think the CCP is benefitting from keeping the current system?

The CCP views these calls for change as challenges to their rule, not as a people asking for fundamental rights. China labels these people terrorists and separatists to undermine their credibility to the rest of the world, and—when these people’s ideologies diverge from the party line—they are imprisoned, tortured, and effectively silenced. The CCP benefits from the current system in many ways, although—arguably the most prevalent way—the CCP uses the free labour provided by dissidents imprisoned in the Laogai to prop up its economy.

This, in turn, leads to a strengthening of inter-state relations, as states vie for access to the Chinese market. Human rights, on the other hand, are not forgotten, but they are also not given enough importance in the face of trade.

What are the prospects for China ever moving to democracy?

China will never know democracy until the CCP relinquishes its hold on every facet of Chinese society. However, the Chinese people long for openness and accountability from their officials now, so I think China is one step closer to democracy in this regard.

Do you have a vision of how China could take steps towards democracy?

The first step towards a democratic China is to be open and willing to change. Only then can elections, free speech, religion, assembly, petition, and other fundamental staples of democracy be realized.

In a democratic China, do you think the Tibetan issue could be resolved in a way that fulfills the aspirations of the Tibetan people?

If China were democratic, I do think the Tibetan issue could be resolved in a way that fulfills the aspirations of the Tibetan people.

After all, with democracy, Tibetans will have a say in their future and be able to pursue what the Dalai Lama has called the “the middle way.”

China has its own position about Tibet and Tibetans have a different one. What are your views with regard to Tibet and the Tibetan movement?

The world has offered empty promise after empty promise to the people of Tibet. The Tibetan movement is still alive and strong in the hearts and minds of many Tibetans, and — as always — I support their effort for independence and freedom.

China calls the Dalai Lama all kinds of bad names such as “splittist,” “demon,” “wolf in monk’s robes,” etc. You have met the Dalai Lama. What do you think about him?

I certainly do not think the Dalai Lama is a “splittist, demon, wolf in monk’s clothing,” or otherwise. The Dalai Lama is a leader only wishing good for his people, as well as the people around the world. Long live Tibet!

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