A Different View of the Tibet Riots and Chinese Response

I’ve just come back from a couple of days with our staff and selected members of the Future in Review Advisory Board, including Russ Daggatt, past CEO of Teledesic, ICO and New ICO, author of a book on international negotiation, and current founding partner of Denny Street Capital; and Sidney Rittenberg, author of “The Man Who Stayed Behind,” a book I recommend to all friends and colleagues interested in China.

Russ and his family had recently been to Dharamsala, have visited earlier with the Dalai Lama’s brother at their home in Idaho, and had the chance while overseas to talk with some of the hundreds of Tibetan refugees coming into Dharamsala from their homeland.  Russ’ wife, Gemma, was an instrumental organizer of the “Seeds of Compassion” series of meetings and talks with the Dalai Lama in Seattle just weeks ago.

Sidney had just returned to the U.S. from China a couple of weeks ago.  He has personally known every Chinese leader since Mao, whose friendship led to two terms of solitary confinement in China jails totalling sixteen years.  He (and his daughter Jenny and their sons) spends all of this time working through Rittenberg Associates to bring American and Chinese businesses closer together, and, specifically, to help U.S. tech firms gain a footing in China.

Russ’ attitude about Tibet (and I do not in any way claim to be speaking for either him or for Sidney) seems to be what most of us have heard in the Western media: that China has had a long program aimed at destruction of the Tibetan culture, and that the recent riots included the killing of many (unnumbered) innocent Tibetans.

Sidney, on the other hand, seemed to feel that China was being misrepresented in the Western media, and had acted with amazing restraint in Lhasa during the riots, with the result that perhaps zero Tibetans had been killed, while many Chinese had been killed and injured.  He seemed to think that most of this mayhem was caused by young gangs, and not by Tibetan monks (a line seemingly different from the current Government line).

Sidney had talked with the only Western journalist (perhaps accidentally) allowed into Lhasa during the riots to obtain this view.  He works for the Economist, and his story is here:


I’ve read the story. It sounds credible, and comes from a credible source. What one cannot tell, with only a single journalist on the scene, is what happened that he may not have seen, like the description of Tibetans being dragged out into the street, beaten, and driven off, with the street then covered in “something white” to cover the blood.

I thought, given the Economist’s perspective on this, that it was worth sharing. It does nothing to detract from the Tibetans’ desire for autonomy, as publicly stated by the Dalai Lama, or as appears to be the subject of discussion in just-arranged talks between the two parties in China, going on now.

The Tibetans are smart enough to understand the Chinese’ PR vulnerabilities as the Olympics approach; they are nearly invisible to the world, and to leverage vs. China, at any other time. Conversely, even if the Chinese have been restrained in their dealing with the protests, it remains to be seen if those 100+ who have been rounded up will be dealt with fairly and justly. Worse, so far the Chinese press response has been to assign embassy staff the task of going onto radio in the U.S. and elsewhere and call the Dalai Lama a “liar” (U.S. and Canada, at the least) and other things, rather than taking a more credible line – a point of view shared by Sidney.

All in all, there may be a bit more and less to the recent riots in Tibet than you may have thought.

These planning meetings are always fascinating and enjoyable, which is probably why FiRe, now in its sixth year, is, too. If you would like to hear more from Russ and Sidney on China, on how technology can implement a Rapid Response to Climate Crisis, and on the future of technology, join us in San Diego May 20-23; registration and more data are here:


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