Tibet is Lost But Not Forever

The following remarks were delivered by Bhuchung K. Tsering, VOC’s 2023 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom recipient.

Under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (and his North America Representative Dr. Namgyal Choedup is here among us today) all Tibetans are nurtured in an environment where the Tibetan struggle is part of our daily lives. In Tibet, our Tibetan brothers and sisters are not in a situation to reveal their true thinking openly, but those of us outside of Tibet are contributing in our respective ways to the fulfilment of His Holiness’ vision. This is one of the reasons for the Tibetan issue still being alive even after six decades of Tibet being under Chinese Communist occupation.  

Therefore, I have not felt for a moment that I was doing anything out of the ordinary, whether during my school days when I first began my activism or when I was working as a professional journalist for an Indian newspaper before joining the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, which Paula mentioned.  

After joining the International Campaign for Tibet (and our new President Tencho Gyatso is here) in 1995 and in my task of supporting the work of Mr. Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Executive Chairman of the ICT Board, I have been fortunate to not only be able to spread greater awareness of the Tibetan situation but also be a part of the team that worked on encouraging policy initiatives on Tibet by the United States and other governments. Today, we are proud to see that fundamental support to Tibet in the United States is not only bipartisan, but has been institutionalized through different legislations. We are hopeful that a new bipartisan and bicameral legislation, the Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Conflict Act, which is before Congress will become law soon so that the US can ensure support for Tibet now and in the future. 

Therefore, the honor that you bestow on me today is really an acknowledgement of the strength of the Tibetan people and their struggle. I remain grateful.  

I should point out here that I personally did not suffer any physical persecution under Chinese Communist rule. My parents were among the few Tibetans who were able to escape to India soon after the invasion and occupation. I was only a few days old when I was carried over the mountain pass into freedom.  

Nevertheless, like my fellow Tibetans both in Tibet and outside, I, too, have become a victim of Chinese Communism; they have deprived the entire Tibetan people of our identity and sense of belonging. Tibet is seen more as a possession by the Chinese Communists who prefer to call it “China’s Tibet” rather than being allowed to survive as a country with a living and distinct culture. On account of Chinese policies, the survival of Tibetan identity, culture, language, religion, way of life, etc., has been threatened. Therefore, the Tibetan people refer to Chinese Communists as Tenda Gyamar, meaning “Red China, Enemy of the Faith.”  

It might interest you to note that the period in which the two presidents for whom this medal is named have been significant in Tibetan history.  

It was during the time of President Harry S. Truman in the late 1940s that Communist China began its invasion of Tibet. In the initial decades of their occupation, the Chinese communists launched a policy of physical destruction of Tibet. This included killing of Tibetans considered enemies and destroying Tibetan religious and cultural centers.  

There certainly are Tibetan victims of Chinese Communism among the 100 million people who have suffered under Communism that was mentioned earlier. By your action today, you are honoring the memory of the 1.2 million Tibetans who, according to information compiled by the Tibetan leadership in Dharamsala, have died under Chinese occupation between 1949 and 1979. This figure includes at least 430,000 who were killed in the fighting in the 1950s and thereafter, 340,000 who starved to death, 56,000 who were executed, 90,000 who died in struggle sessions, 170,000 who died in prison, and at least 9,000 who ended up committing suicide. 

During President Ronald Reagan’s term, in the 1980s, Tibetans in Tibet were able to show their resilience. During a short period then when Tibetans experienced a comparatively liberalized policy, they were able to reveal their continued devotion to their faith, culture and identity. A subsequent ruthless and far reaching Chinese Communist policy of control eventually becoming one of assimilation made such displays impossible. However, I have no doubt that the resilience of the Tibetans in Tibet will continue to be displayed in other ways.   

Today, you are also putting the spotlight on the 159 Tibetans who have committed self-immolations since 2009 to highlight the plight of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. They made the highest sacrifice, namely giving their lives, even while ensuring that in the process no others were harmed. 

I take this opportunity to pay my homage to the Tibetans in Tibet, who, through their determination and courage, continue to stand up to the assault from the Chinese Communists.  

In exile, the Dalai Lama adopted far-sighted policies aimed at preserving Tibetan identity and cultural heritage on the one hand while working towards a peaceful resolution to the Tibetan issue on the other. He has established a democratic system of governance for the Tibetans in exile, including devolving all his political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership.  

Despite the fact that historically, Tibet was independent, the Dalai Lama has been looking for a non-violent mutually satisfactory solution to Tibet that takes into consideration Chinese interest, too.   

His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to escape to India in 1959 and has since been unable to return to his homeland. He will be 88 years old this coming July. The Dalai Lama continues to be a symbol of the Tibetan nation and people. The strong bond between His Holiness and the Tibetan people is the primary reason for the Tibetan struggle not becoming violent. Tibet occupies a strategic position in central Asia and it is important that it does not become another flashpoint like the Middle East. It is for this reason that the international community needs to support the non-violent struggle espoused by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership.   

But the world needs to be concerned about the survival of Tibet not merely out of sympathy for the Tibetan people. Tibetan culture, whether Buddhist philosophy, science or medicine, has much to contribute to the development of world civilization. Therefore, the survival of Tibetan culture is in the interest of the international community. Also, no one in the world desires war and violence, and at a time when we are concerned with violent conflicts, it is imperative that peaceful movements like that of the Tibetan people receive strong support. 

At this point, may I say that for any political system to continue to exist, it has to be relevant and beneficial to the people. The Chinese Communist Party has failed the people in China and as H.H. the Dalai Lama said it has to change according to the reality of the situation. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has been playing an important role in reminding the international community about communism and its misuse in different parts of the world. VOC’s consistent and continued focus on the plight of those who are being persecuted by Communist regimes and highlighting of them in the international community is a source of hope and encouragement to those communities.  

In Tibetan Buddhism, dedicating any positive deeds, like this honor today, for the common good has an important role in one’s spiritual practice. Therefore, may I have the permission to recite a dedication prayer. 





By this merit, may all beings attain omniscience 

And defeat the enemy of wrongdoing 

May they be freed from this worldly sea’s  

Waves of birth, old age, sickness and death 

I would like to conclude by saying that the people of Tibet have not lost their hope despite over six decades of Communist control. In 1959 soon after the Chinese communists occupied Tibet, one Indian political leader by the name of Jayaprakash Narayan said, “Is Tibet lost forever? No. A thousand times no. Tibet will not die because there is no death for the human spirit. Communism will not succeed because man will not be enslaved forever.