THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5 - 6, 1992
SINO-TIBETAN RELATIONS: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
October 5, Afternoon Session I.
ENVIRONMENT & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Environmental Issues / Environmental Security
Economic Development and Subsidies /
Impact of the Reform Policies in Tibet
James D. Seymour, Moderator
+ + + + + + +
JAMES D. SEYMOUR
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
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.