One interesting note about this week’s round-up: only a couple of the stories don’t have anything to do with relations between Asian nations. In addition, a majority of them involve China in some way.
A picture taken by Shiho Fukada for The New York Times of three young monks distracted by the presence of soldiers in their monastery sort of sums the past seven days up well, in that it shows us Buddhists quite literally caught in the middle of geopolitics…
* His Holiness the Dalai Lama led prayers for victims of Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan this week, and also told reporters that he, like his fellow exiles, is “always ready to go back to Tibet.
* Before leaving Taiwan, His Holiness also reiterated his willingness to negotiate with China on the Tibet issue. “Our position is very clear. We are always ready (to negotiate) as long as we get a green light from China,” he told Reuters. To date, talks between the Chinese government and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile have floundered, and Beijing has continued to label His Holiness a “splittist.” In actuality, though, His Holiness stopped calling for independence a long time ago—he has modified his position significantly over the last twenty-five years, in fact. Early on, yes, he said that nothing less than complete independence would be acceptable. Over the years, however, he has gradually revised his initiative to what it is today: achieving some measure of autonomy for his homeland. He’s on the record as early as 2003 saying, “We accept Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.” And last year, he repeated this in a press release, saying, “For the future of Tibet, I have decided to find a solution within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.” Despite frequent mischaracterization, the goal today then is for what Thubten Samphel, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile’s spokesman, refers to as “genuine spiritual and cultural autonomy, and a degree of political space.” Obviously, the Tibet situation is a very, very complicated one, but it is certainly important to be clear about what those on each side of the debate are actually saying.
* It is worth noting too that Taiwan’s political gamble in welcoming His Holiness to their country has already resulted in consequences from China: according to Taiwan’s Nationalist Party Deputy Secretary General Chang Rong-kung, the Chinese government has “canceled or postponed several events meant to highlight its rapidly improving relations with Taiwan, apparently to protest the Dalai Lama’s visit to the island.”
* The Tibet issue and its place in Sino-Indian relations made headlines this week as well: The New York Times offered a report on the Sixth Dalai Lama’s birthplace of Tawang, India—a heavily fortified community rich in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and also “the biggest tinderbox in relations between the world’s two most populous nations.”
* New Mandala points us to an article at the Inter Press Service News Agency piece about the relative silence of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the charging of political critics and others with lèse majesté in Thailand. Engaged Buddhist icon and preeminent Thai activist Sulak Sivaraksa has been arrested on this charge of insulting the country’s monarchy a few times in the past, most notably last year when he faced fifteen years in prison for it.
* Speaking of well-known engaged Buddhists, the Associated Press is reporting that Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal team has said that the country’s ruling military junta has accepted their request to appeal her recent criminal conviction for violating the terms of her most recent house arrest by giving shelter to American John Yettaw. (Suu Kyi has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.) The Divisional Court in Rangoon will hear the appeal on September 18th.
* CBS News reports that Suu Kyi also has plans to boost security at her home to deter future intruders like Yettaw.
* Following the junta’s skirmish with rebels in the Kokang region of Burma’s Shan state last week, many of the more than 30,000 refugees who crossed over into China continued their return back to their country this week. But China has been limiting the release of information about the refugees who currently remain in their custody. The UN Refugee Agency is urging China to grant it access to the border so that they may properly assess needs. Connected with all of this, a New York Times news analysis this week concluded that the Chinese government has been unable to prevent the escalation of ethnic clashes in the reason, which calls into question the influence of Burma’s closest ally on the junta.
* An Asia Times Online investigation has concluded that “the proliferation of poorly trained and lightly controlled civilian militias in southernmost Thailand has added to the controversy surrounding the government’s counter-insurgency operations in the restive region.” Author Brian McCarten further argues that “as the militias become more entrenched, the risk is rising that they will enflame already simmering communal tensions between Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim communities.”
* In better news, SEAArch – The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog directs to a Phnom Penh Post article which reports that since the resolution of the standoff between the Thai and Cambodian armies at the ancient Preah Vihear monastery, local authorities have reported “increased visitor numbers to the temple, a quarter of which are foreign visitors.”
* Lastly, SEAArch also posts about exchanges between Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhist monks at Bagan that may go as far back as the 11th century. Fascinating stuff—take a look!