Notes on Tibet in the Contemporary World

Professor Colin Mackerras spoke at a lunch organised by the Australia-China friendship Society at Adam’s Oriental Restaurant South Brisbane on Sunday 1st August 2010.

Prof. Mackerras is a Chinese speaker and frequent visitor to our northern neighbour.

He spoke mainly about Tibet and specifically about a visit to Dharamsala in India in April 2010. Dharamsala is the seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

A group of nine people (including Prof Mackerras) attending a conference on Tibetan studies held in Delhi met the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lama (DL)  is the Tibetans’ leading political figure in exile. Mackerras said that the DL is revered by Tibetans as being god-like. The group met the Dalai Lama talking with him for over an hour.

Mackerras said that he found the Dalai Lama to be a sincere and genial man,  politically naive  surrounded by a group of minders. Mackerras described the influence of these he called the ‘Dahlai Lama clique’ as being ‘evil’. Mackerras said that Tibet is seen from the West predominantly as a country that has been invaded by China and from China as a country that has fallen under the spell of the Dahlai Lama clique. He spoke about the pressure applied by the French President Sarkosy at the time of the Beijing olympics for the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dahlai Lama.

Mackerras analysed the proposals put forward by what he calls the DL clique.


Prof Mackerras (top right) shows slide of tourists in Dharamsala to guests of the Australia-China Friendship Society at Adam's Oriental Restaurant.

He voiced concern about the Norwegian groups like Human Rights House, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and Worldview Rights that are giving financial support to the DL.

He said that the proposals from the DL clique can be found on the Dahlai Lama’s website.

The proposals I found were called a peace plan and is at It is slightly different to the one that Colin Mackerras referred to at the talk.

Over the years there have been many 5 point peace plans put forward by the DL.

Mackerras stressed that the demands are getting bigger all the time.

The proposals I found on the DL’s website were:

  1. Transformation of the whole of Tibet, including the eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo, into a zone of Ahimsa (nonviolence);
  2. Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy;
  3. Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental rights and democratic freedoms;
  4. Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment; and
  5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese people.


Map of the provinces of China showing Tibet in the south

Regarding point (1) Mackerras said that the DL clique wish to claim 1/4 of China as Tibet. He said that they want Qinghai, parts of Sichuan and Yunnan.

In contrast it was Mackerras’s view that Tibet had been part of China for many years. He said Tibet is recognised internationally as part of China. He said that the DL clique is undemocratic and their demands are unreasonable and politically impossible.

Mackerras advocated negotiations take place on lesser proposals around culture, religion, and the environment. He doubted the wisdom of giving the DL control of the education system because Mackerras said it would be used to turn Tibetans against the Chinese government. He said that the demand for withdrawal of Chinese troops should not be left solely to the DL and his clique.

When asked what was the difference between US troops being in Afghanistan and Chinese troops in Tibet Mackerras said that the difference was that Tibet is part of China. A follow up question was put to the professor asking what gave the Communist Party of China the right to stop Tibetans from choosing a return to feudalism. Mackerras said that China should not allow modernization of Tibet to be stalled. He said that it would lay the Chinese government open to the charge that it held back education and development of the Tibetan people.

The talk by Prof Mackerras was interesting because you do not often hear an academic express such a strong point of view. A debate of the more contentious aspects of his talk would be well worthwhile.

Report by Ian Curr, August 2010


“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China, and the National Endowment for Democracy” by Michael Barker


2 thoughts on “Notes on Tibet in the Contemporary World

  1. John Roberts says:

    Does anyone remember the Franco Dictatorship in Spain and its brutal repression of workers rights?

    If so, you may be interested to know that Franco also repressed Spain’s ethnic nationalities, especially the Basques and the Catalans, denying both self-government, the ability to teach in native languages, and even prohibited wearing clothing the color of their national flags!

    This ethnic repression ended with Franco’s regime, and today the Basques and Catalans have self-government within the framework of the Spanish nation-state.

    In short, they have precisely the same autonomy the Dalai Lama wants for Tibet. This was outlined in a major speech to the European Parliament.

    If you have visited either Barcelona or Bilbao, you have been in an autonomous region virtually identical in its form of government to what the Dalai Lama wants for Tibet and China.

    If it works in Spain, why can’t it work in China? What precisely does the Chinese government fear? Read more in the book “Freeing Tibet: 50 Years of Struggle, Resilience, and Hope” which chronicles how the Tibetan fight began as a Cold War covert operation under Eisenhower, and then evolved into a counter-culture cause spearheaded in part by the poet Allen Ginsberg.

    China’s capitalistic-fascist leaders are virtually identical to Franco’s state socialism.

    The sooner we all wake up to this, the better the prospects for all of us.

    [Editor’s Note: John Roberts served in the Reagan Whitehouse as a policy advisor. I am sure Ronald Reagan had real concerns about the spanish workers, the Basques and the Catalans killed by the dictator Franco (said ironically)].

  2. Quite honestly, I don’t know what Reagan’s position was regarding the Spanish civil war and the Franco dictatorship. I would point it that it was Eisenhower who strengthened the US-Spanish relationship under Franco, a policy continued by Kennedy and Johnson.
    Truthfully, the only interaction between Reagan and Spain I can personally attest to was in 1985, when there was a summit between President Felipe Gonzalez and Reagan, which I attended, in Madrid. Philosophically, Reagan was a great champion of local self-government and suspicious of centralization. In the mid-1980s, Spain’s trend toward greater autonomy for the regions– and away from centralized power in Madrid– was flourishing, a trend which Reagan understood and appreciated as mirroring in many ways his own views regarding federalism and local self-rule. But all this is an aside. The issue is China, not Reagan, and whether the regime will relax its grasp and allow autonomy for Tibet.

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