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Thoughts on the future of Tibet
By Email[Tuesday, October 28, 2008 11:09]
By Wangpo Tethong

Dear Fellow Tibetans

On the eve of the special meeting of the Tibetan people in Dharamsala, it seems a timely occasion to present to you some ideas about the future course of the Tibetan struggle. The task that lies ahead of us in the coming weeks until November 22, 2008 is clear: it is of utmost importance to soberly analyse the current situation, outline a strategy to overcome the political stalemate caused by the futile Sino-Tibetan talks, revive the freedom struggle and outline to the international world a roadmap to the solution of the Tibetan issue.

A major revision of our policies is necessary and can only be successful if it is followed by concrete political actions. In some Parliamentary democracies, such situations as we are in might even call for fresh elections with immediate effect. The Special Meeting should seriously consider such a step.

We all are blessed to have H.H. the Dalai Lama as our leader who strongly and continuously stresses the importance of adhering to a holistic view of the Tibetan situation in our endeavours towards a solution for the future of our people. It is my hope that the following analysis and conclusions will meet his insistence for a holistic approach, and convey the gravity of the situation we are in and find your support for such a course of action.

We all are aware that the current leadership of the Tibetan exile government has been burdened with the huge task of finding a political solution for the future of Tibet, and it has made every possible effort to produce a “conducive atmosphere” – the cornerstone of the Middle Path approach - for the Chinese leadership to respond positively. Many among us have hoped that our far-reaching concessions would eventually result in some positive outcome. But the truth is that no substantial progress has been made so far, and instead the actual situation in Tibet has deteriorated further.

It can be safely assumed that the Tibetan government calculated that a combination of political pressure and willingness to compromise would lead to some progress. The months and years before the Olympics in August 2008 presented a unique tactical setting that we had all been hoping and working for: while the Tibetan side came up with a series of statements to create an amicable atmosphere, there had been growing international awareness about the situation in Tibet and a steadily growing pressure on the Chinese government in view of the upcoming Olympics at the time.

The international pressure visibly increased after the historic uprisings in Tibet and reached its climax during the Olympic torch relay. But instead of improvements, repression in Tibet became worse and the diplomatic initiatives of H.H. the Dalai Lama were once again bluntly refuted in June 2008 and the insulting defamations against the Tibetan leader were repeated. Knowing that business runs a great part of the world, China’s leaders were relaxed and awaited the end of the Games.

In 2007, a new Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had been elected. It is clear that when it comes to Tibet, a new leadership in Beijing simply follows old policies. Unfortunately, there is no group in the Chinese leadership in sight to initiate a political process that could lead to a solution for Tibet. On the other hand the old guard of Tibet experts in the Communist Party with some affinity to the Tibetan issue are powerless or dead. From an acting Chinese leader’s point of view there is nothing to gain while the risk of threatening national unity and losing everything, including one’s own political future, is huge.

Nor have the presidential elections in Taiwan in March 2008 brought the favourable results hoped for. The wrong candidate won. In fact, Beijing was rewarded for its tough stand on Taiwan’s independence. A Guomingdang man adhering to Beijing’s One-China policy became President.

It was wise for Tibetans to wait and observe how the new leadership of the Communist Party formed, how the Beijing Olympic Games and the Taiwan presidential elections may have changed political prospects. But now the time has come to evaluate the situation.

Why are the Chinese not responding? While some argue that it is Beijing’s lack of trust in the Tibetan position and in H.H. the Dalai Lama, personally, I don’t agree with this argument. Human or personal factors are irrelevant when it comes to nations. It is about political interests, solely.

The history of the past 20 years teaches us that the Chinese leadership’s position makes a lot of sense, as far as safeguarding their interests is concerned. And to some degree, if we put aside the rhetoric about friendship between the Chinese and the Tibetan people, we have to acknowledge the following: the Chinese have been consistent in their policies, and, above all, successful in protecting their national interests, be it guarding their territorial integrity, controlling the minorities or the sinification of the Tibetan plateau.

In the past few years the Chinese have furthermore succeeded in playing a political game that has shaken the foundations of our polity, while projecting themselves to the world as economically successful and open to dialogue and human rights issues. Every concession we have made has caused increasing confusion within our community, and it has even raised doubts about the political leadership of the Dalai Lama and the current Tibetan Government in Exile. Tibetan activists who have come out of Tibet and many of our long time Western supporters appeared more and more puzzled when the Tibetan government requested them not to protest against China or the Olympic Games.
Have we Tibetans been successful in protecting our own interests? Are we closer to our goal of a negotiated solution?

Strategy for the Next 30 Years

More than twenty years after Strasbourg, we have to acknowledge the fact that the Chinese government is clearly not willing to engage in a process that will lead to more freedom for the Tibetan people, nor accept the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. We must be prepared to face the possibility that we may not be able to find a solution with the Chinese during the lifetime of H.H. the Dalai Lama. As a nation and people we should be prepared for this and need to adjust the Middle Path approach and agree on a solid strategy that will sustain us as a people for the next 30 or more years.

To make it clear: The overall basic strategic background has changed from finding a solution during the lifetime of H.H. the Dalai Lama to surviving politically over an undefined period, keeping the movement together and intensifying the resistance in Tibet. It would be an historic failure to proceed as before.

In fact, we are not completely unprepared and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. The will of Tibetans inside Tibet has not diminished. We have established a political system in Exile and successfully kept alive our cultural heritage and continue not only to preserve but also redefine Tibetan identity in a rapidly changing world. Finally, we have a lot of friends and even a few governments around the world who are favourable to our cause and who will concede that we have been genuine in our quest for a dialogue based on reconciliation and compromise.

The Special Meeting in November

The priority task of the November meeting is to pave the way for a policy change in order to meet the strategic challenge. It would be important to agree on a set of common goals that are inclusive, set a clear direction, reunite the different fractions of our community and reaffirm the will to keep close ties to those who are under living under Chinese rule. Finally, a revised strategy should be formulated based on principles that are internationally accepted and can sustain our freedom struggle.

It obviously would be wrong to continue with reiterating the paramount importance of producing a “conducive atmosphere” and putting aside the inspirational power of Tibetan statehood and the right to govern ourselves, as has been expressed by Tibetans inside.

On the other hand, there may be people who feel that it is now time to call for complete independence. However, calling for independence would not help to unite us and certainly would alienate the Dalai Lama, who has repeatedly made it clear that he is not asking for independence. Tibetans simply can’t afford this. We need the H.H. Dalai Lama more than ever in the future.

A resolution by the meeting in November and a separate declaration by H.H. the Dalai Lama calling for the right of the Tibetan people for self-determination as our political goal and the right to fight for it could lead out of the impasse we are in. These statements should go beyond the idea of saving the Tibetan culture, happiness of Tibetan people or cultural autonomy inscribed in the Chinese constitution and clearly refer to political rights that are universal for any nation and people. These are concepts that can even be found in the Five Point Peace plan and the Strasbourg proposal.

Redouble our political activities

I have always disagreed with the widespread perception in our community that the only way to fight the negative impacts of Tibet’s occupation by the People’s Republic of China is to have a negotiated solution of the Tibetan issue first. This would be a reasonable position if there were a counterpart on the Chinese side, not only willing but also truthfully engaged in talks. The situation is the opposite. To rely on the results of an imaginary dialogue will block those activities that can make us stronger as a movement and win new friends in the international arena.

There is nothing to gain by waiting. What hinders us in organizing continuous public protests in Tibet against the disastrous railway line, the unjust school system, the eviction of the nomads from their homelands, or the sinification of Tibet while upholding the principles of our struggle and the wish to have a peaceful solution? There are many examples of successful movements around the world that have actually led to a meaningful betterment. It is in accordance with historic examples, a way to strengthen the movement and precondition to produce the “atmosphere” for any political process that leads to negotiated solution.

There is no reason to stop the envoys travelling to China. But we have to immediately downscale the expectations and importance of their role in a new strategy. The perception of discussing a negotiated solution in the near future should be abandoned. Future meetings should take place to exchange information and discuss concrete issues such as the fate of political prisoners, the religious and political situation in Tibet etc. The dialogue must serve our political ends and not vice versa.

I believe that it is incorrect to imply that a reorientation or postponement of the present dialogue efforts will put us in a political no man’s land. There are huge areas of political activity that we have not explored yet or have neglected in the past few years. A sentiment among Tibetan officials can be observed that any collaboration with Tibetans inside Tibet or support for political activities inside Tibet would be counterproductive for a “conducive atmosphere”. Unfortunately, the Tibetan Government in Exile have reduced contacts into Tibet to an extent that when the uprisings took place in March 2008, there were hardly any plans for activities and no contacts in Tibet to provide pictures and information about the situation inside Tibet. This has to be changed. We need to have strong and active contacts into Tibet.

New initiatives in the international arena

By putting the basic principle of freedom of people’s right to self-determination in the centre of our political demands we will use a language that connects to a political concept prevailing in the world and is rooted in the historic experience of many third world countries.

For many years the Tibetan representatives’ first and last demand was dialogue. Tibetan representatives became so fixated with the dialogue that other issues were neglected. This has to be changed. A revision as proposed would give way to long term engagement for foreign groups and governments, widening the range of issues from local rights of Tibetan people to international initiatives, including a UN guided roadmap to freedom.

This variety of issues within the framework of political self-determination open us new opportunities in the US, Europe and even in China, give us access to international bodies such as the neglected United Nation, and provide us with a consistent line of arguments and new allies. The manifold advantages of self-determination as a political framework have been discussed in the Tibetan community many times and there is no need to repeat them. But there is one noticeable point that should be mentioned. Self-determination doesn’t exclude any option on the future status of Tibet while it contains a set of legal principles that are internationally accepted and had been the stepping stone for many people to freedom.

Strengthen the movement

Imagine what would happen if the Dalai Lama would not be among us and the principles of our struggle remain as they are right now. The Beijing leadership could easily sow dissent and divisions in our community by offering some fractions of our community some favourable conditions or a separate political deal. They don’t even have to offer something concrete; it would be enough to create rumours. To withstand such threats H.H. the Dalai Lama needs to consolidate our political demands and make clear what his political legacy for the Tibetan people is.

For some inexplicable reasons the Tibetan exile administrations has stressed the importance of keeping civil society and the activities of the exile administration apart. There surely needs to be a distinction but in the past few years for some within the community this has become an issue of growing concern. The current policy became so detached from political realities that even limited or temporary cooperation between the Dharamsala administration and the rest of the exile community is viewed with great misgiving.

In future, it is our most important task to keep alive our political structures, unity and spirit as a freedom movement, clarify the succession of the next Dalai Lama and redouble our activities in Tibet. We need to empower our own people inside and outside Tibet, encourage the youth, actively support those in Tibet who fight the Chinese forces non-violently and show that our solidarity is not only lip service but genuine.

It is the democratic right of the Tibetan people to be presented political alternatives, and it is the democratic right of Tibetans to vote for a change. I personally believe in the will power of the Tibetan people and appeal to the delegates of the Special meeting in Dharamsala to free us from our self-imposed limitations and re-ignite the Tibetan people’s fighting spirit for freedom and national self-determination.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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  Readers' Comments »
Jamyang Norbu..wrong leader? (inissini)
very thoughtful view (tzigs)
An old wine in a new bottle (saber)
The Future of Tibet (Tsongi)
The Future of Tibet (Tsongi)
Self-Determination (smithw)
very interesting piece (indigenous)
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