Chinese students at a California university are protesting over the institution’s refusal to adhere to the Communist Party of China’s bottom line on the Tibetan spiritual leader — the Dalai Lama.
The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has invited the exiled Tibetan leader to deliver the keynote address at this year’s commencement ceremony, and Chinese students are outraged, Inside Higher Ed reports. In a rather peculiar turn of events, these Chinese students, who would not be permitted to protest in China due to government regulations, are using the growing trend of campus activism in the U.S. to pressure UCSD to accept the Chinese government’s official position on the Dalai Lama.
Some students are protesting under the online banner #ChineseStudentsMatter.
UCSD chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla described the Dalai Lama as a “man of peace” who “promotes global responsibility and service to humanity,” but China perceives him as a separatist leader determined to divide a united China. For decades, the Dalai Lama called for a free and independent Tibet, but he has since moderated his position, calling for a “high degree of autonomy.” China firmly opposes all of the Dalai Lama’s interactions with foreign governments and institutions.
After discussing the situation with officials at the Chinese consulate, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UCSD posted a statement online in response to the university’s decision to invite the Dalai Lama to speak at graduation.
“The Dalai Lama is not merely a religious person. He is also a political exile who has long sought to divide the motherland and destroy national unity,” the students wrote, adding that the organization “resolutely rejects any attempt to slander and belittle Chinese history through provocative acts and offensive political remarks that affect China’s international image.”
“If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior,” the CSSA warned.
Repeating a common Chinese expression used in situations such as this, the Chinese students asserted that the university’s decision has “deeply hurt the feelings of Chinese students and scholars.”
“While the campus and the whole UC schools are protesting against Donald Trump and his racism and sexism, UCSD invites the ethnic seccessionism. Is that supposed to be irony or UCSD really believes that it make sense,” one student wrote on Facebook.
Some observers suspect that the Chinese students at UCSD are acting on behalf of the Chinese government.
“They are acting as an arm of the Chinese embassy or consulate,” Robert Barnett, the director of the modern Tibetan studies program at Columbia University suggested to Inside Higher Ed reporters. “Nevertheless, we have to also recognize that the university has taken a strong position here, one that many people will sympathize with, but which is a challenge to the position taken by the Chinese government and shared by some Chinese.”
The CSSA denies that it is connected to the Chinese government.
“We don’t have any relationship with the consulate,” explained John Li, a UCSD student and CSSA member stressed to reporters, “Lots of people believe that we are the consulate’s agent, but we are actually not. We are a 100% student-run organization.”
UCSD faces a difficult decision. The university can either stand up to the pressures from foreign students to adhere to the demands of a foreign government, or it can give in to preserve peaceful relations with the expanding Chinese student population in the U.S.
The Chinese students on campus have demanded that the university censor the Dalai Lama’s speech, but the university is unlikely to do so, as the university reaffirmed its position recently.
“The University of California, San Diego, has always served as a forum for discussion and interaction on important public policy issues and respects the rights of individuals to agree or disagree as we consider issues of our complex world,” UCSD explained, noting that the Dalai Lama “carries a message that promotes global responsibility and service to humanity that is of great interest to the UC San Diego community and to our students as they enter their professional lives.”
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