The Struggles of Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi

Published on March 8, 2010

The Struggles of Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The Korea Times – March 8, 2010

The politics of a nation is strengthened by the participation of the people who run the government and the opposition who checks the balance of power. A government earns credibility when it can tolerate the varied views of its citizens.

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Nehginpao Kipgen

It is fortunate that there has been no major global conflict since the end of World War II in 1945. However, it is disheartening to see that there are nations who still would not tolerate the dissenting views of its own people, especially individuals who are admired by the international community.

The struggles of Dalai Lama of Tibet (now under China) and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma are an inspiration to hundreds of millions of people around the world. Yet, the very same individuals are treated as if they are threats to peace and security by governments in their respective native lands.

Tenzin Gyatso, popularly known as the 14th Dalai Lama, has been in exile since the failed Tibetan uprising in 1959. Born on 6 July 1935, the 74-year-old Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and head of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India.

Aung San Suu Kyi, born on 19 June 1945, is the only daughter of Aung San, who negotiated the independence of Burma from the British rule. The 64-year-old Suu Kyi, after having lived years abroad, returned to her native country in 1988.

There are a number of similarities the two individuals share in common that have earned them international respect.

First, both are recipients of the much coveted Nobel Peace Prize. Dalai Lama was awarded the prize in 1989, and Suu Kyi in 1991.

Second, both are recipients of Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States of America. Dalai Lama received the award in 2007, while Suu Kyi was bestowed in absentia in 2008.

Third, both individuals are denied the chance of political leadership in their own countries. The two enjoy significant support internationally, mostly from the Western world.

Despite their popularity at home and abroad, one has spent his life in exile for over 40 years, while the other has spent 14 years of her life under house arrest.

Though Dalai Lama openly claims that his movement is for a genuine autonomy and not complete independence, the Chinese government accuses him as a dangerous separatist. His recent visit to the White House on February 18 was strongly protested by Beijing.

In his Cable News Network (CNN) interview aired on the evening of 22 February 2010, the Dalai Lama was asked what he wants from president Barack Obama and America. The Dalai Lama stated his three commitments, including the “promotion of human value in order to create a better world, a more compassionate world, a peaceful world.”

Washington’s welcoming of the Tibetan leader heightened the strained Sino-U.S. ties, which happened in the face of tensions over U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, China’s currency practices and internet censorship.

With China’s rising economic power and its critical role in international politics as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Washington needs Beijing’s partnership, especially on issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, preventing nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula, and forging a new global accord on climate change.

The United States also wants to prove to the free world that it is a champion of human rights. The 70-minute meeting between president Obama and Dalai Lama perhaps pacified many who say that Obama has focused on global issues with Beijing at the expense of human rights.

On the other hand, Aung San Suu Kyi is serving her latest 18 months of house arrest. In its ruling on February 26, the country’s Supreme Court rejected her appeal for freedom. A reason was not given for the decision.

Suu Kyi is one individual probably feared most by the military junta. For many Burma observers, the court’s ruling was not surprising. Even if the junta considers releasing her before the proposed general election this year, it is likely to come with conditions. The more likely scenario is that she will be freed after election.

One reason of Suu Kyi’s unlikely release before election is that the military learnt a lesson from the 1990 general election, in which the military-backed National Unity Party secured only 10 seats, while the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, won 392 seats in the 492-member assembly.

The military would not want history to repeat itself. Aung San Suu Kyi apparently enjoys a strong support from the peoples of Burma’s diverse ethnic nationalities. Despite the reservation of 25 percent of parliament seats for the military, the opposition still has a greater chance of winning more seats provided that there is a free and fair election.

Despite the troubles the two Nobel Peace Laureates have faced, their spirits for the freedom of their own people are unrelenting. Similarly, the support from the international community does not seem to dwindle either.

It is still, however, precarious if and when they will be given a chance to head the governments in their respective countries. Recent developments pertaining to the two democratic icons have once again caught the attention of the international community.

Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum ( He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Burma and Asia that have been widely published in five continents (Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America).