Area Studies
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THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5 - 6, 1992

October 5, Afternoon Session I.

  Environmental Issues / Environmental Security
  Economic Development and Subsidies / 
  Impact of the Reform Policies in Tibet

James D. Seymour, Moderator

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I hope all the panels will do as good a job in sticking to their 
prescribed time limit as Wang Ruowang did.  I'm expected to talk for five 
minutes, and there's really just one thing that I want to say, and it's a 
very very general sort of comment.

In the years following World War II, when I was a schoolchild (grin), 
there was a widely-held belief - it was more than a hope, it was an 
expectation - that nationalism around the world was on the wane and was 
going to be replaced by a new spirit of internationalism on the one hand, 
and democracy based upon individual human rights on the other.  Well, 
that bit of education did not really prepare me very well for what 
actually happened, at least in the course of the next few decades, 
particularly with regard to nationalism.  I would not have expected on 
the basis of what my secondary school teachers taught me that in the '90s 
nationalism would still be such a powerful force.  And here we are.  
Really the reason we're having this conference is because we have these 
two manifestations of nationalism, Tibetan nationalism and Han Chinese 
nationalism, in conflict.  These are rather emotional issues and 
ideological issues, and the problems may sometimes seem intractable.  But 
I have a sense, already, just listening to what's going on in this room, 
that we can make progress.  We won't resolve these issues at this 
conference, but we can make a little bit of progress.

The fact that these are such emotional issues - it comes up in the 
course of a lot of loaded words, and there's absolutely no escaping this.  
One of the questions from the floor, or appeals from the floor this 
morning was to "please be careful to use certain words and avoid certain 
other words."  Well, unfortunately, especially in Chinese - I don't know 
anything about Tibetan language - but these words, it's pretty hard to 
avoid loaded words.  And I'm not going to ask the speakers to avoid the 
loaded words, but just to be very sensitive when you say "minorities" or 
use the word "Han" to describe the majority race.  That comes loaded with 
all sorts of assumptions which you may or may not mean, and which may or 
may not be well-received.  And I would also ask the audience to bend over 
backwards to be tolerant and not become - well, just try to see through 
the vocabulary and beyond the vocabulary to the essence of what people of 
good will mean by the points that they are trying to make.

And, of course, the hapless interpreters have the unenviable problem of 
translating.  We have the luxury in English where we can just say the 
word "Chinese" and be very sloppy about whether it means "Chinese" in the 
ethnic sense of the word or "Chinese" in the sense of citizen of the 
People's Republic of China.  That, of course, everybody in their own 
mind, including the interpreters, have to decide which way to go on that.  
I just ask the audience to realize that these are not merely semantic 
problems, but they run to the heart of what we're talking about.  I just 
hope that we can shed a lot of light on these issues and get good 
communication going.

I'm very pleased that these very emotional issues are being dealt with 
in such a civilized manner.  And I'm pretty confident that that will 
continue to be the case, at least for this panel, because the issues we 
will be dealing with now are relatively substantive, and relatively 
non-ideological: that is to say, issues of economy and the securing of 
the environment for the people of Tibet.