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April 19, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright April 19, 2010. Used by permission.


In the aftermath of last week’s earthquake in Qinghai, Brice Pedroletti of Le Mondeinterviewed (via e-mail) Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University. (Read the interview, and a related story, at Le Monde’s website.) Below, an unedited English version of their interview, which is posted here with permission of both Brice Pedroletti and Robert Barnett.

Interview with Robert Barnett on Yushu’s earthquake political implications (April 16th)

Brice Pedroletti: What can we expect the political mood to be in the Tibetan population as well as among the monks, towards the Chinese authorities, over one year after the dozens of demonstrations that happened in Qinghai (and other bordering Tibetan regions)?

Robert Barnett: Generally, there is likely to be normal gratitude from Tibetans for any help they receive from the Chinese government or Chinese people whatever the past history has been, and this is likely to happen. This is seen as an important opportunity for China, and both the government and ordinary Chinese are seizing this opportunity very consciously to try to repair past wounds. ThePeople’s Daily even called me yesterday just to point this out and to check that I recognised Chinese goodwill. But this relationship is very fragile and if there is any error or cultural insensitivity, the situation could change very easily. And to be honest, the history of modern Chinese-Tibetan relations is basically a history of cycles of extreme generosity by the Chinese side, as they see it, followed by sometimes extreme tension when there is any criticism or perceived lack of gratitude. First the Chinese gave Tibetans autonomy in 1951, then demanded that Tibet’s prime minister be sacked, leading to major tensions; in 1959 China gave Tibetan peasants land, but then withdrew their rights to practice religion and culture; in 1980 China gave all Tibetans modernization but then said since 1994 that they could not pray to the Dalai Lama or in many cases practice Buddhism at all. So it is not that one should doubt Chinese generosity at all — the problem in the past has been how the Party and the Chinese people respond if there is any criticism.