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Why the Middle Way Approach Failed
By Email[Tuesday, November 11, 2008 09:02]
By Tashi Phuntsok

For the last twenty or so years, the Dalai Lama has sincerely attempted to reach out to China to resolve the Tibet issue through dialogues, fully committed to his Middle Way Policy. However, as a result of lack of commitment and will from the Chinese side, the Dalai Lama recently publicly announced that he has lost faith in the current Chinese leadership. He appealed to the Tibetan masses to take on greater role in deciding the future course of action. To discuss the future course of the Tibetan movement, a special meeting consisting of around 300 delegates representing the worldwide exiled Tibetan community, is called on in November. This is the strongest political stand the Dalai Lama has taken against China in recent time. However, it is important to reflect on why the Middle Way Policy failed?

The Middle Way was based on Deng Xiaoping's false promise. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping assured the Dalai Lama that except for the independence of Tibet, all other questions regarding Tibet could be resolved through dialogue. The Dalai Lama was further encouraged when the Chairman of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, following his visit to Tibet, recommended an immediate reform for Tibet which became basis for many of changes that took place in Tibet in 1980s. The new open-minded policy from the Chinese leadership swayed the Dalai Lama to put aside his demand for independence of Tibet, and that is how the Middle Way Policy came into being. Unfortunately the internal conflict within the Chinese Communist Party dashed this reasonable and promising approach for resolving the political status of Tibet.

In 1987, Hu Yaobang was sacked from his party post, accused of being sympathetic towards the students protesting at the Tiananmen Square, and consequently his Reform Policy for Tibet became unpopular. Deng Xiaoping subsequently kept distance from the Dalai Lama and Hu Yaobang's Tibet Reform Policy. What Deng Xiaoping accomplished from his initial contact with the Dalai Lama was that he succeeded in changing the goal of the Tibetan Freedom Movement from a struggle for independence to a struggle for autonomy, eliminating the question of Tibetan Nationhood in future.

The present communist leader, Hu Jintao, like his predecessor Jiang Zemin, has no desire to fulfill Deng Xiaoping's promise to the Dalai Lama. He feels no pressure to accept the Dalai Lama's Middle Way. However, Hu Jintao continues to use Deng Xiaoping's astute political tactic of luring the Dalai Lama with unpromising cryptic dialogues in attempt to rein him under their control.

In reality, Tibetans can hold out not much hope for these superficial talks. There is always a give and take in a negotiation. In the Chinese leaders' view, the Dalai Lama has nothing to offer in return. Tibet is firmly under their control and the demand for independence was voluntarily and unilaterally forsaken with the Middle Way Policy. The Chinese leaders knew well that the ephemeral international condemnation of the military crack down in Tibet in March would soon be forgiven and forgotten like the Tiananmen Square massacre, and as the world media either get bored or find something else to get excited about, world leaders would change their positions accordingly. For instance, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in vanguard calling for the boycott of the opening ceremony in the EU parliament, attended the opening ceremony after all.

The greatest strength His Holiness the Dalai Lama has at his disposal to save Tibet is not his international stature, nor is it his compassionate overture to the Chinese, but the absolute unshakable faith of his people in him. If His Holiness the Dalai Lama mobilized his people behind him in this struggle like Gandhi did against the British, the Middle Way Policy would still have a chance to work. That is perhaps what His Holiness is trying to do when he has appealed to the Tibetan masses to take on greater role in deciding the future course of action.

The Chinese leaders are well aware of the danger of the Dalai Lama's voice inside Tibet and make sure that it does not cross Tibetan borders at any cost. They ban pictures and speeches of the Dalai Lama in Tibet and constantly vilify him on the state run media. For instance, they accused the Dalai Lama for masterminding the March uprising in Tibet. Outrageous, false, baseless, whatever you call it, their deflection strategy has worked. The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in Exile, instead of condemning China, have quickly turned defensive, actively denying any involvement in the unrest, which may be true but it was not addressed the truth as far as the Chinese repression was concerned. It was Chinese strategy to keep the Dalai Lama from supporting the protests in Tibet. When the Dalai Lama threatened to resign, the momentum of the protests inside Tibet abated.

In order to gain any ground for the Middle Way Policy, the Dalai Lama should unequivocally encourage and support non-violent demonstrations inside Tibet and be able to threaten China of more massive demonstrations in future if they do not resolve the issue of Tibet soon. And that is a real tangible bargaining chip in negotiation. This does not compromise the Middle Way Policy, but gives strength to it.

The author is a biology teacher in a College Prep School (High School) in Connecticut USA. He can be reached at pytash@sbcglobal.net

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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