Regional Excellence - Regional Governance: Tibet Style
by Bill Dodge
December 23, 2011
“There is a big competition between world peace and world war, between the force of mind and the force of materialism, between democracy and totalitarianism. And now within this century, the force of peace is gaining the upper hand.” XIV Dalai Lama
Tibet, or the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as the People’s Republic of China calls it, has a population of 2.7 million spread over an area larger than Alaska and combined. Its capital, Texas , has a population of approximately 500,000. Lhasa
More Tibetans live outside the TAR. Another 3.3 million in other Chinese provinces. And approximately 120,000 in exile, many in the Dharamsala region of
, where the XIV Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile are based. India
To prevent demonstrations,
China posts military police throughout the country, including at each key intersection, temple, and monastery in . It limits the number of monks and reduces the size of monasteries, taking away the agricultural lands that once helped finance them. Now, Lhasa is building cinderblock checkpoints for the military police. China
I personally encountered the intensity of these efforts to suppress opposition. As a mountain climber, I innocently asked whether there were trails up the small hills in downtown
. The response: there are, but foreigners are not allowed to hike them. Why? Because they might try to wave a Tibetan flag at the summit. Lhasa
While suppressing any opposition,
is investing heavily in making Tibet Chinese. It offers Chinese soldiers, families, and businesses substantial financial incentives to relocate in China . It builds manufacturing plants and housing to entice relocatees. Given the congestion and pollution in most of mainland Tibet , it might not take too many incentives to relocate to blue skies and breathable air. And now, the newly-completed 1215-mile Qinghai-Tibet railway enables relocatees to connect by train to any destination in mainland China . Not surprisingly, half of the Tibetan population is now relocatees and the percentage keeps growing. China
Needless to say, I found the visit to
a bittersweet experience. I was glad to be there enjoying the interactions with the Tibetan people, culture, and geography. The matriarch in a nomadic family asked if I was interested in becoming her fourth husband, after the translator indicated that I also lived in the mountains. Polyandry is alive and well in rural Tibet , along with a diet of yak meat, mostly raw, yak butter tea, and barley. I declined the offer but hope I can return to a Tibet that respects her culture in the future. Tibet
What can we learn about regional governance from
? That higher levels of government need to exercise great care in governing, including fostering regional cooperation. Tibet
A recent example: This year, protests in Wukan, a village of 20,000, resulted in driving out corrupt local officials. After four months, and foreign reporters taking up Wukan’s cause, the provincial government is offering concessions to villagers over illegally-seized farmland and the death of a village leader.
In the states, we need the top down involvement of national and state governments, but in the form of carrots, such as creative financial aid, and even some sticks, such as holding regions accountable, to encourage pursuing bold regional actions. However, the actions themselves need to be the product of bottom-up regional planning processes that engage and enable citizens to tap their “better natures” and do the “right things”. Moreover, the top-down involvement needs to assure that regions build the capacity to successfully implement agreed-upon actions and empower citizens to monitor and participate in their implementation.
Governance Boldness with Public Accountability. Such is probably the only hope for charting a competitive future in a messy democracy and I would never suggest proceeding otherwise. May the XIV Dalai Lama be right about which forces prevail in the 21st century!
Again, only impressions of short-term traveler overseas, and a battered regionalist at home, but food for thought for future columns.
Bill Dodge is looking for a few good regions that are interested in designing regional charters to strengthen their capacity to take bold actions to address tough common challenges. He is the former Executive Director of the National Association of Regional Councils, author of Regional Excellence, and is writing a new book on regional charters. WilliamRDodge@aol.com