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Agenda for the Special Meeting in Dharamsala: By Dr. Lobsang Sangay
Phayul[Wednesday, November 12, 2008 23:57]
By Dr. Lobsang Sangay

A few years ago, a well-known liberal Chinese intellectual told me that the Communist Party of China is so shrewd that even if an official smiles at you, he was told to do so a month prior to your meeting. Everything is calculated and nothing is left to chance.

Recalling this advice, I have an uncanny suspicion about the timing of the vitriolic press conference, a week prior to the Special Meeting in Dharamsala, by the very Chinese officials engaged in dialogue with the envoys of HH the Dalai Lama. I fear it could be an entrapment or bait to provoke Tibetans, especially those attending the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Their main accusation is that the failure of the dialogue is the fault of the envoys and HH the Dalai Lama, because they were not sincere and have a hidden agenda for independence in the guise of autonomy.

Now if the Special Meeting resolves to cut off the dialogue and pursue independence, then the Chinese side could claim a Kodak moment and say We told you so! See: the Dalai Lama and his envoys are finally revealing their hidden agenda! They have been pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community: they sought independence all along! Of course, I cannot conclusively say this is the case, but given the hardliners' policies in Tibet up to now, anything is possible. Hence it is very important that attendees preserve a cool, collected and calm approach both in their rhetoric and in their recommendations at the Special Meeting.

Let me be clear about where I stand on the issue: the allegations made by the Chinese officials at the press conference are unacceptable and utterly irresponsible. I always believed, spoke, and wrote that the lack of progress in dialogue is entirely attributable to the hardline policies of the Chinese government. I was misquoted in an article that appeared in Phayul and was repeated by Jamyang Norbu, so let me clarify by citing an article published in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Journal of East Asia and International Law http://yijuninstitute.org/journal/index.html. Based on columns by Nicholas Kristof in New York Times on August 7 and 14, I surmised that

It is amply clear that the Dalai Lama is willing to accept the present reality of socialism as an ideology and the Communist Party as the governing system in Tibet. In fact, the Dalai Lama simply wants the Chinese government to effectively implement its Constitution and laws that impact the Tibetan people. From a negotiation point of view, this is the most conciliatory position the Dalai Lama could take.

This is the same quotation I shared at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC on October 27th and in the Paris conference, and will share it in my upcoming visits to Tokyo, Dharamsala, Melbourne and Sydney. HH the Dalai Lama has been as flexible as he could and he cannot go any lower, the ball is squarely in the court of the Chinese government. If interested, the proceeding of the Woodrow Wilson Center will be available in video soon at: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_summary&event_id=477711

Now let me share my thoughts on what we could discuss and humbly recommend at the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Experts have concluded that any non-violent movement must adhere to three principles in order to succeed: unity, planning, and discipline. Without these three pillars, any movement is bound to fail. With them, one can't be sure of success but one can improve one's prospects. But ultimately the success of any movement depends on the global environment, and timing. This interestingly is akin to the concept of Leh, or Karma, in the Tibetan Buddhist lexicon.

Let me explain these concepts before applying them to Tibet and the Special Meeting in Dharamsala.

On the importance of the global environment and timing, let me begin with Gandhiji and Nelson Mandela, who are often cited as examples of leaders who led non-violent movements to success. It could be argued that though they played important roles, their success was partly determined by the global environment and timing. Gandhiji led a movement for equal rights for Indians in South Africa but failed. He returned to India and successfully led the Indian Freedom Struggle. However, if Gandhiji's leadership is the sole factor in achieving Independence, then India should be an exception in Asia; yet Burma and Sri Lanka also became independent around the same time (in 1948), primarily because of anti-colonialism sentiments all over the world and because the British empire was stretched too far to maintain colonies. If individual leadership is the determining factor, then Gandhiji should have been as successful in South Africa as in India; but he wasn't.

Someone who is regarded as successful in South Africa is Nelson Mandela. Though Nelson Mandela initially led the African National Congress and even formed the militant wing in the early phase of his involvement, he became more of a symbol than an executive leader because he was behind bars for 27 years, some of which time he passed in solitary confinement. However, he lived long enough to witness changes in the global environment and the timing of the anti-apartheid wave, which culminated in his release and election as the first President of democratic South Africa. This incomparable historical figure did not personally contribute much in the African National Congress, but his symbolic leadership and long life had an impact when aligned with the global environment and timing.

The point is simple: If the global environment and timing are ripe and Tibetans implement the three cardinal principles, then Tibetans will attain their objective. However, if the timing and environment do not favor us -- or, in the Buddhist sense, if we don't have Leh/Karma -- then it will continue to be a long hard climb to the mountaintop.

In this context, it will be unfortunate if the Dharamsala meeting ends up rehashing the old debate between Rangzen (Independence) and Umey Lam (Middle Path). Tibetans have debated this for several decades, and a few more decades will not settle the issue. Again this is not an exception with Tibetans, other movements in the past and in the future will have similar discourse. As stated earlier, one's objective is not the most important part of the movement, as the success of the latter will be determined by global environment and timing. No matter what objective Tibetans decide to pursue, if the environment and timing is not ripe, they will not succeed.

There is a fear that these two groups are starting to resemble political parties with opposed agendas and fierce emotions. It is unfortunate that some pro-Rangzen people claim that they are the more patriotic and accuse Umey Lam of sacrificing more than a million Tibetans who died for independence. On the other hand, some pro-Umey Lam people accuse pro-Rangzen people of being disloyal and in fact anti-Dalai Lama. To claim superior patriotism and loyalty is inherently divisive, as we observed in the recent American Presidential campaign. To avoid this scenario, we must avoid labels, factions and vitriolic rhetoric against each other.

The most disturbing trend is for each side to cherry-pick evidence from the recent uprising in Tibet as support for their side. Advocates for Rangzen note that some protesters were carrying the Tibetan national flag and shouting Bo Rangzen, and infer that Tibetans in Tibet are for Independence. Umey Lam people point out that many Tibetans were shouting 'Long Live the Dalai Lama' and carrying his photograph, and therefore, the uprising was intended to support Umey Lam.

The lesson Tibetans should learn from the recent uprising in Tibet is not whether they are for Rangzen or Umey Lama, because Tibetans in Tibet have divergent views, as is the case in exile. It is as a united front that Tibetans in Tibet demonstrated, with protesters from all walks of life and the three regions of Tibet. Though divergent in their views, united they protested and sacrificed their lives. One didn't hear anywhere that some Tibetans were allowing or forbidding the shouting of certain slogans, or dividing into competing groups. Admirably, they did not bicker over who is for Rangzen or Umey Lam, but protested in unity and now suffer collectively. The Chinese government is not differentiating whether protesters are for Umey Lam or Rangzen; they all are harshly and equally punished. The sacred lesson Tibetans should learn is that unity is first and foremost. It is also verified and concluded by experts that without unity, movements are doomed to fail. Woeser also concurs that unity is paramount at this critical juncture. The choice is clear: Unity or Failure.

It is paramount that the Dharamsala meeting focus less on ideology and objective than on planning. Planning has two categories: Strategy and Tactics. For Strategy, three actors and factors interact to determine the outcome of the movement. These three actors/factors are: a) one's own people, both in exile and in Tibet, b) the opposition, that is, the Chinese government, and c) the international community. Any strategy should take account of these factors and actors and lay out a plan of action based on them. Tactics will be events and activities organized at the local level, such as conclusive hunger strikes, creative protests, productive dialogue, etc.

Tibetan planning should address three strategies which Chinese hardliners may pursue:

1) Wait for the passing of the Dalai Lama,

2) Divide the exile Tibetans from those inside Tibet, and

3) work for the demise of the exile government. We should adopt a three-pronged counter-strategy:

I) Appeal to HH the Dalai Lama to appoint a Fifteenth Dalai Lama:

The Chinese hardliner strategy is to wait for the passing of HH the Dalai Lama (whom we all hope lives very, very long into the future) but the appointment of the Fifteenth Dalai Lama could foil their strategy. Of course the Chinese government will try to raise political objections but they will do that even if Tibetans follow the traditional protocol of reincarnation. To settle the Fifteenth Dalai Lama, the Chinese government will spend billions of dollars, because to legitimize their candidate would fatally wound the Tibetan movement.

To prevent such exploitation, as mentioned in interviews by His Holiness himself, it would be wise for HHDL to appoint a young man of fifteen or twenty years of age, perhaps with part Monpa heritage in view of the importance of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the dispute between India and China.

It is universally accepted that the present Dalai Lama is a major asset during this tragic phase of Tibetan history. What could be better than to have a Fifteenth Dalai Lama similar to the present one, and this possibility increases if the next one is educated and groomed by the present one, thereby enhancing his credibility and leadership skills.

There are religious precedents for the appointment of a successor, including a teacher of the Dalai Lama himself. More importantly, Tibetans believe that the reincarnate lamas upon death are reborn through the womb of the mother. However, being born through the womb of the mother is only a process: what is crucial is the capacity of incarnate lamas to transfer their soul/consciousness through the womb of the mother. If so, the same spiritual mystical capacity could be utilized to transfer the soul/consciousness to an adult of the lama's own choosing. The exile movement will immediately gain an adult Fifteenth Dalai Lama to lead it, avoid past historical messy transition between Dalai Lamas, and effectively foil Chinese hardliners' expectation that the exile movement will weaken with the passing of the Dalai Lama.

The Fifteenth Dalai Lama should be the constitutional head and spiritual leader akin to the King of Thailand, but responsibilities of government and day-to-day administration will be solely in the hands of the democratically elected Prime Minister. This would give Tibetans a dual legitimacy under the rubrics of both spirituality (for traditional Tibetans, including inside Tibet) and democracy (for democratic countries around the world). These dual ideologies will stand as a counter-thesis to the Communist one-party system of China.

II) Division between Tibetans inside and outside Tibet:
To show solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet, it is not enough to have lofty words to describe their sacrifices. Exile Tibetans must actively demonstrate their respect and provide humanitarian aid. Exile Tibetans should observe a Day of Solidarity and Unity. They should create a Solidarity Fund to educate children of people who died during the recent uprising in Tibet. For nomads and farmers, perhaps providing Dri and Sheep could go a long way toward replacing the income of breadwinners who were killed or have been imprisoned. Tibetan associations around the world could thus shoulder their responsibilities in raising fund, and individual Tibetans could form groups to sponsor a child or two in their own familial communities.

Even though funding could be marginal and might not be able to help as much, this act would raise a sense of solidarity among Tibetans inside Tibet, to see tangible evidence that their brethren in exile care about them. Such a sense of solidarity would go a long way in sustaining bonds between two divided families. When Tibetans from Tibet come abroad, they will see that exile Tibetans observe a Day of Solidarity in remembrance of their compatriots in Tibet, which could be quite moving for them. At present, we don’t have a single day celebrating Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. It is time we have one. Just as Jewish people say after their Passover meal, 'this year in exile, next year in Jerusalem,' we would end the Day of Solidarity with a similar saying: this year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa. Such ceremonial practice would help make emotional connections between younger and older generations as well as between Tibetans in exile and those inside Tibet.

III) Preventing the demise of the exile government
Since the exile government is the center of the movement, it is vital to preserve and sustain it, without which the movement will fizzle away. However, we lack both the kind of natural resources and the kind of large ethnic constituencies around the world which have helped other peoples garner support. It is reported that there are 500 million Buddhists in the world, with 200 million in China, but given China's influence over these Asian countries, it is difficult to gain access and form alliances. Those with religious affinity and ethnic kinships like Bhutanese, Kalymks and Mongolians are small and weak and so couldn't provide much support even if they wanted to. Consequently, the responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of every Tibetan, and it is especially important for the younger generation to step up to share the honor and burden of the future of the Tibetan movement. To strengthen and sustain the exile government, like other constituencies, Tibetans need a thousand millionaires and possibly billionaires who will provide funding, a thousand professionals providing technical support, and know how, a thousand Ph.Ds providing political and strategic expertise on every aspect of Tibet, in the context of China, Asia, Europe, North America and the rest of the world.

Fourthly-and this is my favorite -- we should have a thousand lawyers who will advocate, file law suits, fight defamation, and provide leadership to the Tibetan movement. It is not an accident that great leaders of successful movements were lawyers, such as Gandhiji, Nehru, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln, who ended the slavery system in America. Barack Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer made the impossible possible by becoming the first Black President in a country with a white majority. Even in China, Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Le Keqiang, who are touted as the next top leaders, both have legal diplomas.

It is paramount that Tibetans train themselves as lawyers if they want to lead the Tibetan movement. A degree in law opens the door to a financially stable career with flexibility to switch to government, NGOs, Multinational corporations, international organizations, or private practice. A law degree is a win-win proposition. The days of college-degree leadership will soon be over and we must try to become like the Jewish and successful Asian minorities in America: the most educated, affluent, and now powerful constituencies in the most powerful country in the world. Tibetans mantra should not be simply get a degree and make a living rather get an advanced degree, make good living and serve the cause effectively.

It is time we aim high and be able to stand tall on our own feet. Finally we must continue the strategy of pursuing dialogue with Chinese people, and for some of us, with Chinese scholars and students. This is simply because if one studies most of the successful non-violent movements, one finds that one of the key factors has been dialogue, through which understanding and support for your cause can develop. Gandhiji met with British people from all walks of life seeking support, including the famous actor of the time, Charlie Chaplin. Of course Miss Slade, the daughter of Admiral Sir Edmund Slade, nicknamed Mirabai for her fierce devotion to Gandhi, functioned as his secretary in foreign correspondence and stayed with him in his Ashram. Similarly Nelson Mandela and the ANC actively sought and received support from Afrikaners in South Africa, while Martin Luther King, Jr. enjoyed the support of many White Americans and walked side by side singing “we shall overcome,” and they did.

It is important to remember that it was White Afrikaner F.W.D. Clark who signed the release of Nelson Mandela, negotiated and shared the transition power and handed over the Presidency to Mandela. Similarly, it was the White President Abraham Lincoln who ended the Slavery system in 1860, White President Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965 which allowed African Americans to vote and it is the White majority who voted Barack Obama to be the President of the United States of America. So dialogue, understanding and cooperation are tested tactics of successful non-violent movements.

Also remember 150 years ago, there was slavery system in America but every slave who defied and escaped the cruel clutches of their masters, made a living, fought for their dignity and rights, send children to schools, asserted generation after generation for right to vote and get elected, cumulatively contributed towards the election of Barack Obama as the President of America. Similarly, if every Tibetan asserts and participates in the movement with determination, dedication and due diligence, combined with unflinching unity, sound planning and discipline on non-violence, Tibetan movement can be as strong, sustainable and successful as many other movements. If the environment and timing are right, we shall overcome, one day soon!!! Looking forward to more ideas, substantive dialogue in the Special Meeting. This year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa!

The author is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the twenty-five Young Leaders of Asia as selected by Asia Society, a global organization based in New York.

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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