Jetsun Pema: A threat to Thailand?
This weekend Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of the Dalai Lama, was due to give a speech at the Festival of Tibetan Spirituality, Arts, and Culture in Bangkok, Thailand. Although giving visas to another thirty-odd Tibetans, she was denied a visa request by the Thai Foreign Ministry. She was due to give a talk provisionally entitled 'Tibet: My Story.' The reason given by the Ministry for turning down the visa request was that her presence in the Thai capital might be seen as a political statement by the Thai government with regards the situation in Tibet. This, it feared, might offend the Chinese government, which could affect relations between the countries, including the growing trade between them.
It seems that the Thai government values its friendship with a tyrannical communist dictatorship (and the money that comes from this relationship) over allowing a Buddhist woman from telling her life story. In holding such a position, the Thai government is not unique of course, but the Thais do claim to be 'the most Buddhist nation on Earth,' citing ninety-five per cent of Thailand's population as followers of Buddhism. This claim seems an empty boast when someone like Jetsun Pema is turned away because her older brother is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, a Buddhist people cruelly subjugated by the atheist regime of the People's Republic.
Now, the Thai authorities are presumably not claiming that their decision regarding Jetsun Pema was taken from a Buddhist point of view; it was influenced by political and economical factors. But, as most (if not all) of the present administration would claim to be Buddhist, this ruthless attitude towards the Dalai Lama's sister doesn't come across as particularly compassionate. The thought arises as to what would happen if the Dalai Lama was somehow to make his way to Thailand - would he be arrested as an enemy of Thailand's big pal China? In contrast to 'Buddhist' Thailand, the US recently welcomed the Dalai Lama to the White House, albeit in as hush-hush a manner as was possible, so's not to offend the Chinese dictatorship. Nevertheless, by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the US at all, the American authorities were surely braver and more highly principled than their Thai counterparts.
As Buddhists, albeit from a different branch than the Dalai Lama and his sister, presumably most Thais would see themselves as having much in common with them, not least shared values based on goodwill, peace, compassion, and wisdom. Where are such values when Jetsun Pema is barred from sharing what happened to her and her homeland? It does appear that modern Thailand holds more in common with a violently repressive regime like the Chinese People's Republic than with the Buddhist-centered Tibetan Government in Exile, its leader, and his sister. (The former advocates and uses lethal force to suppress the Tibetan population, whilst the latter is wholly peaceful in its aims and actions.) So, was Thailand correct to bar Jetsun Pema from the country? And, furthermore, what do you think should be the Buddhist response to a dictatorship like China's? Please leave your thoughts by clicking on the comments link below.