How Do China’s East Asian Neighbors Feel About Tibet?

Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prof. Tommy Koh
I watched an interview with Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew by China’s well known TV Talk Show Host Yang Lan on her show “One on One.” In the course of their discussion about China’s approach to issues, the matter of the “riot” in Tibet last year and how China could have handled it better came up. Minister Lee’s contention is that it would have been in China’s own interest not to have closed Tibet but to let the journalists report from there. I think he referred to the Economists’ correspondent who was there and said that his report showed that the “Tibetans started it.”

That let me to think about the following report by the Straits Times of an interesting dialogue that took place in April this year during an event organized by Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Prof. Tommy Koh is Ambassador-At-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singpaore.

While I do not agree with Minister Lee’s conclusion, his views are certainly food for thought.

Tussling over Tibet issue

April 10, 2009

The Straits Times

THE issue of Tibet, which is claimed by China, became a bone of contention between Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, who chaired yesterday’s dialogue, and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday. An edited extract of the exchange:

MM Lee: I don’t see the Chinese giving one inch away. During the Olympics they said: ‘Yes, let’s begin talking.’ I was absolutely confident that you will never shift them from their basic position, which is, Tibet is ours, let’s not argue about it, it’s off the table.

Prof Koh: So you’re very pessimistic about the possibility of arriving at a negotiated settlement.

MM Lee: This is their unshakeable and immoveable position. Whether it’s a communist or a KMT government, (they will say): ‘Tibet belongs to us and it is going to be part of our western border. That’s that.’

Prof Koh: The Dalai Lama does not question that.

MM Lee: But they say that’s not his true position…(The Chinese) are long-term players. They’ve outlasted the ups and downs for thousands of years and they write their own history. They always write up the history of the last era. So they’re doing things in order that the next dynasty that takes over from them will write that they are Chinese patriots…

No Singaporean Chinese is going to say that Tibet is not a part of China. We’ve never said so. We’ve never received the Dalai Lama. We know that this is going to be a bone of contention.

Prof Koh: The Dalai Lama has been here in his private capacity.

MM Lee: Anybody can come here who has a visa.

Prof Koh: But I fear that when His Holiness passes on, the Chinese may not find a better interlocutor.

MM Lee: They need no interlocutors. They need time to bring up a new generation (of Tibetans) speaking Chinese and thinking like them.

Prof Koh: I think that will never happen.

MM Lee: They’re prepared to wait.


One thought on “How Do China’s East Asian Neighbors Feel About Tibet?

  1. Mr. Lee seems overwhelmed by the sheer number and size of Chinese population and culture. If one would have asked him how Singapore would look 100 years from now, he would have said something similar, that is eventually everything will become Chinese.
    Maybe even most of the small islands and nations in the South East Asia.
    Maybe then there will be no more conflict in much part of Asia.

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