Tag Archives: tibet

The lessons of failed Confederate foreign policy


I write tomorrow for The National Interest that the Confederate States of America lost the American Civil War, 150 years ago this month, in large part because its leaders failed horribly at the diplomatic level to secure allies abroad that would recognize the CSA or even provide the Confederacy with material support:USflag

Though Union forces compelled the surrender of the Confederate army in April 1865, the Confederacy forfeited, by mistake and misfortune, the one potential asset that could have turned the tide much sooner: international recognition from an initially sympathetic Europe. In that regard, the Confederacy lost the war in London and Paris as much as it lost it in Gettysburg and Appomattox.

In particular, the CSA got off to a slow start and, with no Benjamin Franklins or Thomas Jeffersons on its bench, it cycled through three secretaries of state in its first 13 months. Confederate president Jefferson Davis also erred in assuming that European merchants were so dependent on southern cotton that Great Britain and France would assist the Confederacy in its infancy — another fatal assumption.

Though few may necessarily lament the Confederacy’s demise on its sesquicentennial, its failure can still teach us important lessons about the wise conduct of foreign policy today. International diplomacy and outreach made the difference for countries like South Sudan and East Timor; conversely, lack of imagination has hampered countries like Kosovo in its early years, and has otherwise set back Palestinian statehood hopes.

You could imagine that the Tibetan independence movement would be way stronger today in the Dalai Lama hadn’t abandoned the effort in the 1970s. You could also easily imagine that Newfoundland would be an independent country today if the energetic Joey Smallwood hadn’t so strongly boosted confederation with Canada.

Catalan regional president Artur Mas, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the soon-to-be-leader of the Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau, should take note.

Read it all here.

Amid the CCP handover of power to Xi Jinping, ethnic Tibetan issue remains a thorny problem

The first thing you notice about Qinghai province is that it’s rather desolate — more Utah than Alaska, and the first thing you notice about Rebkong is that it’s a dusty town far away from even the provincial capital.  A world away from the center of Qinghai, itself a world away from Beijing.

I visited Rebkong in April earlier this year with an American friend based at the time in Shanghai, along with Xining (Qinghai’s capital) and other spots in Qinghai province, which lies in the northwest of the People’s Republic of China.  Just a couple of hours away from Beijing by air, Qinghai is indeed a world away, lying as it does on the far east of the Tibetan plateau.  With just 5.6 million people, the province contains just a handful of China’s trillion-plus population — the only province with fewer people is Tibet proper, with around 3 million.

We went to Qinghai, frankly, because getting PRC approval for the permits and guides to visit Tibet province has become such an incredible hassle since the 2008 Tibetan protests.  A kind of ‘Tibet without Tibet.’ But that was probably too twee a slogan, because Qinghai — known historically to Tibetans as Amdo — is as much Tibetan as what lies within the PRC boundaries of the Tibetan ‘autonomous region.’

The region (Amdo or Qinghai, as you like) has been under Chinese control since it was secured by the Qing dynasty in 1724.  It’s home to several important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, including Kumbum monastery (སྐུ་འབུམ་བྱམས་པ་གླིང།, or ‘Ta’er si’ in Mandarin Chinese, 塔尔寺), founded in 1577 on the site of the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, an important figure in the development of Buddhism and the founder of the Gelug (‘yellow-hat’) school of Buddhism — its importance to Tibetan buddhism is second only to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital.  Indeed, what we know as ‘Tibet’ today is really just the western part of the historic Tibetan empire, which included not just Amdo, but Kham, which is now the western part of Sichuan province in the PRC. So we were delighted to see a corner of greater Tibet not already fawned over by Richard Gere and so many others.

Xining itself is a mix of Muslims (Hui Chinese), Tibetans and Han Chinese, but outside the capital, Qinghai is indisputably Tibetan, and it’s the birthplace of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.

After a night in Xining quaffing barley wine at the local Tibetan bar, we found a local guide who agreed to show us around for the next couple of days, beyond just a quick trip to Kumbum, but a true journey into the Tibetan hinterland.  We started our days with tsampa, a high-power concoction of yak butter and barley flour (it reminded me of a buttery version of the energy gels you eat during marathons), gorged ourselves on momo (yak-meat dumplings) and snacked on fresh yak-milk yogurt in between visiting monasteries, such as Rgolung (Youning si’ in Chinese), which nestles upon a handful of ledges in the cliffs of eastern Qinghai province.

As it so happens, our young, kind guide was from Rebkong, so we spent a night there, and we saw the monastery, Rongwo (pictured above, center and bottom), where he studied as a child and young adult, and we saw the square just outside, Dolma Square (pictured above, top).

That square has become a center of the latest Tibetan protest against the governing Chinese regime when 18-year-old Kalsang Jinpa lit himself on fire [graphic photos] there, one of six Tibetans in the past week to die in a wave of self-immolations in protest of Chinese rule.  The situation in Rebkong is becoming tense, according to reports [graphic photos], with 20-year old Nyingchag Bum self-immolating Monday:  Continue reading Amid the CCP handover of power to Xi Jinping, ethnic Tibetan issue remains a thorny problem