By Mathieu Vernerey
The perspective of the Special Meeting (17-22 November) seems to create as many inspirations as fears within the Tibetan community. Many sincerely fear that the discussions come into a confrontation Rangzen (independence) vs. Middle Way, and they worry about Tibetan unity which should be preserved as a priority. Some others are saying that Middle Way policy or autonomy proposal should not be criticized or discussed. Even they repeat the old accusations saying it would be disloyal to the Dalai Lama. But one should not be "more royalist than the king", as it is the Dalai Lama himself who called a Special Meeting to discuss the future of the Tibetan movement.
In his TCV's speech (25 October), the Dalai Lama said: "The Tibetan people should take collective initiative and take an interest based on the kind of long-term strategies that we should employ to resolve our struggle". Before concluding: "When all is said and done, it is for the Tibetan people themselves to decide about their collective future". Commenting the Dalai Lama's remarks, his spokesperson Tenzin Taklha told AFP (27 October): “He has lost hope in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not willing to address the issues. (...) His Holiness feels that other options have to be considered, and this will be done at the meeting in November". The Dalai Lama even decided not to attend the meeting as he clearly doesn't want to influence the discussions: "If I say, 'I think this is better or that is better,' then people may not express freely. (..) Now it's up to the people".
So, as the Dalai Lama often says: "The issue of Tibet is not the issue of the Dalai Lama alone. It is the issue of 6 million Tibetans". This is not only addressed to Chinese leadership or foreign observers. It also concerns Tibetans themselves, particularly those who always speak on behalf of the Dalai Lama without listening him. Anyway, all this indicates that any review of the "Middle Way policy" should be considered very carefully. But more fundamentally, and quite paradoxically, it may reveal also that Middle Way is not the problem and that it could even become the solution.
New Middle Way
People should not make confusion between Middle Way approach and autonomy. In one hand, Middle Way approach is a moral aspiration and its main objective is to achieve a mutually-beneficial solution. On the other hand, autonomy is a political proposal, which furthermore was conceptualised in a particular historical context. In 1979, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said that "except independence, all other issues can be resolved through negotiations". So the Dalai Lama based his Middle Way approach on the proposal of autonomy. But the fact is that China doesn't want to negotiate neither autonomy nor independence. However, Middle Way policy was and remains a successful way to popularize the Tibetan issue around the world and to achieve an international political support: that is its concrete and irrefutable result.
So autonomy is just a proposal and it should not be fatally identified to Middle Way, as there are not direct or immutable links between them. Fundamentally, there is no contradiction between Rangzen (independence) and Middle Way approach. Even Rangzen could become a new political proposal in this framework. Thus Rangzen should not be considered just as confrontation with China. It could be viewed in a new way, as partnership with China. Of course, the nationalist and idelogical view of Chinese over Tibet remain a big problem. But strategic considerations on a partnership could become a more pragmatic argument than just giving up independence with no strategic arrangements.
For example, China needs energies for its economic development. So Rangzen Tibetan leaders could think about the better way to rationally exploit Tibetan natural resources and about what kinds of cooperation could be possible with China: in a mutually-beneficial way. Idem for many other domains like environment, defense, diplomacy, even arts, etc.: always in a mutually-beneficial way. But more important: at this moment, Tibet remains unstable and represents a threat for China's stability, and Beijing is unable to control the situation. An independent Tibet could become, not a threat, but the promise of stability for China, as Tibet would be a new and reliable neighbour country able to guarantee its proper social stability.
Of course, all this might not convince Chinese leadership, for some time at least. But this is not the point. There are other steps before. First, it would be the best way to keep the Dalai Lama in the course, because "Rangzen partnership" proposal would not be in contradiction with his Middle Way approach. It would be also the best way to keep Tibetan unity, now on the basis of Rangzen. Even if the Chinese leadership would remain skeptical, it could show to Chinese common people that Rangzen activists are not a kind of phantasmed terrorists or fanatics, and so create a more favorable opinion within Chinese society. But above all, it would show to foreign political leaders that Rangzen leaders are serious, responsible and credible interlocutors, able to be concerned in regional stability in Asia and even in China stability. So Rangzen is possible and a combination Rangzen-Middle Way is possible as well. Tibet and China, both as independent and sovereign countries, could become good neighbours, in a mutually-beneficial way.
Rangzen political project
We know the Five-Points Peace Plan (1987) of the Dalai Lama, as well as his Guidelines for future Tibet (1992). But what about Rangzen activists' vision of a future Tibet? What is their "Peace Plan" and what are their "Guidelines"? Rangzen activists seem to wait for a policy review of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE). At last, this will be discussed at the forthcoming Special Meeting. But we need to know also what is the political project and the alternative programme of Rangzen.
For example, what kinds of relationship do they imagine between an independent Tibet and some neighbouring countries like China, India, Mongolia, Republics of Central Asia, and even other territories presently under Chinese rule (South Mongolia and East Turkestan)? Some few other more provocative and apparently naive questions: what kinds of relations with NATO, Shanghai Group, APT, USA, Russia, European Union, etc.? And more concretely, what about political constitution, social and economic issues, diplomacy, defense, religion, etc.?
Of course, it may be too early to answer to these questions, but not to ask them. Because Rangzen has to become a credible political project to which foreign leaders could give their support and cooperation. In one word: what is the interest for other countries to support an independent Tibet? Not just by default or by comparison with China. But in a more positive way: what can an independent Tibet offer to the world? Then another important and key issue would be how to acheive independence - this question is also valid for those supporting autonomy.
So we need to know more about Rangzen political project, programme and strategies. Jamyang Norbu wrote "Rangzen Charter" in 1999 and created the Rangzen Alliance. This was a good and necessary first step. But now, which other steps have been realised by Rangzen activists since Jamyang Norbu's first proposal draft? We have to be aware of a very important point. Today, we collectively - the Dalai Lama first - acknowledge the failure of the present Tibetan policy - mostly because of the Chinese attitude. But without any concrete and ready yet alternative programme, what would be the chances of a Rangzen policy? And what would be the consequences of a premature failure of Rangzen?
The challenge of Rangzen
Rangzen activists can't be satisfied any more with just criticising the Tibetan Government in Exile, without making alternative propositions and applying them. Yes, the policy and the action of the TGiE are not perfect and now obviously come to an impasse. But they were till now the "only solution", in default of "another concrete solution". TGiE's initiatives are like a life raft, drifting but floating. And there is no use in sinking it, as it is also the legitimate continuation in exile of the Tibetan sovereignty and the symbol of the Tibetan struggle.
In fact, the TGiE is first and foremost the hostage of a situation presently unfavourable to it - precarious condition of refugee, fragile tolerance of the Indian host, pressure of foreign governments, threats of China against Tibetans inside Tibet, etc. Secondly, considering the pronounced legitimism of the present Tibetan leadership, changes will not come if the Dalai Lama doesn't take the initiative. Fortunately, the Dalai Lama himself has recently called a Special Meeting to discuss new strategies. But what lacks to each other to step forward is the horizon of a concrete alternative: this should be the job of Rangzen activists. But the construction of this alternative programme - which doesn't exist at the moment - will take a necessary time of maturation, during which Rangzen activists will have to stand and to act when the TGiE will not be able to do it. They could also take advantage of this situation.
But above all, to bring political alternation and achieve a real political change in exile, Rangzen activists will have to ensure their proper political - and not only moral or historic - legitimacy, which can be started with their parliamentary representation. And so for several reasons:
Political party representation
In spite of successive reforms since its creation in 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) persists on a strictly regional and religious system of representation. Identification is not based on political ideals, objectives or programmes, but only on traditional provinces or religious sects. Politically, the Tibetan deputy is either an individual, or the representative of his region or his religious sect, but he is never the member of a group sharing and supporting common objectives. This doesn't mean that divergence of views or conflict of interest don't exist - especially about the question of independence or autonomy - but they don't find any opportune way of expression, meaning here political way.
This is why when some Tibetan MPs resolved in September 2004 to contest a previous resolution adopted with the majority support - about the possibility to review the Middle Way policy - they did it under the cover of their regional groups. Two regional associations (Domed and Utsang) resolved to resign from the assembly if the resolution was not withdrawn. This in political terms has no signification and incorrectly presumes the individual stand of the other deputies of these regions.
The Tibetan Parliament functions with no political party system. Although the Tibetan Charter in Exile doesn't proscribe this kind of representation, it simply doesn't deal with political party - what Tibetans often basically answer as a natural fact, without questioning this constitutional blank. At best, they refer to the Guidelines for Future Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who advocates multiparty system. But this perspective is immediately restricted to a future "free" Tibet - a distant future as unfathomable as uncertain. And so it postpones the responsibilities of today to tomorrow. Moreover, this vision could function only in an independent and sovereign Tibet - free to decide its proper way of governance - but it would be contradicted by the Chinese constitutional framework to which it doesn't refer by the way. But more significant is the top down democratic initiatives and progression, only due to the goodwill of the Dalai Lama who still confronts the many resistance: a new initiative which the Tibetans seem to find hard to take themselves, or at least just to anticipate and implement.
So, in exile, the successive reforms of the constitution brought the right to vote, the separation of powers, the election of Parliament Members and Prime Minister through direct suffrage. But having democratic institutions is not sufficient to establish a democracy if there remains a lack of any party expression relative to political ideals or objectives, to begin with the underlying - but non formalised - opposition between Rangzen and autonomy. Democracy would be an empty word if it could not allow political discussions and if it would be impossible to know who represents who or who represents what. And there is no question here of region or religious sect, but only of political ideals, programmes or objectives carried by parties sharing a common stand.
More fundamentally the question is about the mode of parliamentary representation and about the process of decision. The role and the vocation of a political party are to participate in governance and to the decision-making process - including the role of opposition. Thus to invest all the areas of decision, especially in the parliament where the policy of the exile government is voted. But till now the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the Tibetan Charter don't include this kind of political representation - although political parties are not proscribed and could function within the present structure. To be clear, this is not a question of presumed democratic model, but a question of political legibility and efficiency.
For the moment, it appears that Rangzen and political party system create a kind of unrest and even of taboo among Tibetan parliament and community. Both issues stigmatize a feeling of direct conflict or confrontation with the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach: an incorrect prejudice harmful not only to Rangzen but to the whole Tibetan struggle. Fundamentally democracy is based on difference of views, and opposition is a fundamental principle. Democracy is the only solution to leave the present political stalemate in exile, and the Dalai Lama himself did his best to bring democracy to the Tibetan community in exile. As Tenzin Tsundue says in "Mangtso: Our Democratic Vision" (2004): "Although we received our democracy as a blessing (from the Dalai Lama), we must endeavour to make it work. And we have been most unwilling to do just that; take up democratic responsibilities".
Presently, the thought process within the Tibetan parliament and community seem unprepared or not ready for political party representation. However one step at least could be realised. During the last legislative elections in March 2006, new deputies were elected and most of them, as well as former ones, are very close to Rangzen. So if political party representation may be premature for the moment, one stage exists: a parliamentary group. Then it remains with all these deputies close to Rangzen to gather - even on the sidelines of the parliament - and to form a Rangzen parliamentary group. Because ensuring the political representation of Rangzen is primordial, and representing Rangzen at the Tibetan Parliament - the ultimate decision-making body and the symbol of the Tibetan democracy - is an absolute necessity.
Rangzen parliamentary group
Except for the fact that a parliamentary group would be opportune to ensure the political representation of Rangzen - in default of a system of political party representation - it also presents some strategic advantages:
For the moment, Rangzen activists put pressure on their government in exile to change their present policy. But clearly, it would be too dangerous for the Tibetan parliament or government to become suddenly pro-independent, and it would be also premature in absence of a clear alternative strategy. However, without lowering the Rangzen cause and its highly moral signification, pragmatism and strategy are useful. Middle Way approach is not so bad for Rangzen cause. It is even the best protection for Rangzen to grow and to unify and structure its movement. As Middle Way approach is in the interest of China, it is also in the immediate and present interest of foreign nations. These will not harm a Tibetan leadership which acts presently in their own interest, and the evidence is that they desperately support "dialogue with China" and consequently Middle Way policy through its present formulation - with no political results of course. But that is not the question.
During the time of maturation of the Rangzen movement and of its political representation, Middle Way approach should remain the government policy, even on the basis of autonomy, until political alternation and Rangzen alternative strategy are ready. This time would be also useful for Rangzen activists to gain political and international support.
It doesn't mean that Rangzen activists should stop requesting their government to change their policy. Of course they should continue, but by keeping in mind the risks of a brutal change of policy. Even it remains extremely important, as Jamyang Norbu wrote in "Looking Back from Nangpa-la" (2007), to "take the Dalai Lama back". He is the keystone of the Tibetan struggle, but he is at the same time the problem and the solution - the "Dilemma" that Rangzen activists as often but respectfully speak of. The fact remains that, in absence of an alternative strategy, the present position of the Dalai Lama is the "only solution". He has no more latitude of maneuvering. And the job of Rangzen activists is to build the bridge over the precipice to "take him back".
However, in the present circumstances, "unity" may be a "trap". Of course Tibetan people are all united in their aspiration to end the Tibetan suffering and to live in freedom. This is a common and indisputable goal. But "freedom" does not have the same political signification. The Tibetan opinion is not uniform and, if a consensus seems to exist on the basis of the Middle Way policy, it is in a delicate way. As Tenzing Sonam writes in "Until the Last Tibetan" (2007): "We (can) no longer pretend that this contradiction between our loyalty to the Dalai Lama and our instinctive belief in Tibet's independence (does) not exist". Except this "morass of conflicting goals and loyalties besetting the Tibet movement", it has also many political consequences, not only by creating confusion, but also by giving opportunities to foreign governments or Chinese leadership to neutralise the Tibetan struggle. Then political unity with different and even opposite political goals is impossible and also counterproductive. As the French Rangzen activist, Francois Corona, often says: "We rather need a clever political plurality than a sham unity as claimed by some". The hope of unification of the whole Tibetan movement - including the parliament and the government - on the basis of Rangzen would be delicate for the moment and more certainly premature. The differentiation of two sides acting for their respective objectives is momentarily preferable, as well as the Middle Way approach as present policy of the Tibetan government to prevent any kind of retaliatory measures from foreign governments. In this framework, a Rangzen parliamentary group would be the best way to bring political alternation - and even convergence - and achieve a change of policy with less risks. It is of course necessary to review the policy of TGiE, as well as to restore the complete unity of Tibetan struggle on the basis of truth and justice: Rangzen. But we have to do so step by step.
First steps for a progressive policy review
So, in the present situation, reviewing the present Tibetan policy remains more than ever essential. At least, it requires some "minor" but substantive changes. For example, the TGiE could keep autonomy as a political proposal, but without giving up independence until the Chinese leadership agrees to negociate the status of Tibet. Secondly, the TGiE should stop with just looking for bilateral and informal talks with China. Now, time has come to work for a formal process of negotiations, with the support of a third country part ready to host and sponsor such meetings. The Tibetan side needs also to get a status for itself in the framework of this negotiation process. For this, one can get lessons from the Palestinian issue. Yasser Arafat was recognised as a "valid negotiator" and PLO became the "Palestinian authority". As well, the Dalai Lama could be recognised as "valid negociator" and the TGiE, in default of an official recognition as government in exile, could become something like "Tibetan authority".
But time has come also to seek an international recognition of the Tibetan Government in Exile. Till now, because of the informal talk process with China, the TGiE refused any such recognition. Now, Tibetan leadership should not only accept it but manage to seek and to achieve it. There are opportunities for this. For example, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in July 2000. By this resolution, EP called on governments of the Member States "to give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the Tibetan Government in Exile have not, through negotiations under the aegis of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, signed an agreement on a new status for Tibet". Till now the so-called "renewed dialogue" with Beijing since 2002 and the present Tibetan policy have only helped China to wriggle out of EP ultimatum. But if the three years deadline has now passed for a long time, at the grassroots, EP engagements remain as well as the obligation to implement this resolution that is still and more than ever justified by the lack of any China-Tibet agreement.
In the medium term, the major review of the Tibetan policy should be to rethink the Middle Way approach on the basis of Rangzen, as suggested in the first chapter. But it supposes that Rangzen activists have first worked and advanced on this alternative proposal, and that they are ready to ensure political alternation. Because it is not the present Tibetan leadership that will bring a pro-independent policy. This is the duty of Rangzen elected people to implement themselves their programme: they can't wait for someone else to do their proper job. This is why the political and parliamentary representation of Rangzen is so important. Thus a major review of the Tibetan policy will depend on the maturity of the Rangzen movement to initiate and to implement such change.
Special Meeting agenda
All this could and should be discussed during the Special Meeting. "Minor" changes, as suggested above, could be easily decided without any traumatic "revolution". Then, technically, the formation of a Rangzen parliamentary group could be planned as soon as possible - since there are several Tibetan deputies close to Rangzen. Furthermore, a Rangzen political party could emerge - why not a revitalised NDPT (National Democratic Party of Tibet) - and campaign in view of the next Tibetan legislative elections, in 2011. Discussions on a major review of the Middle Way policy could be immediately opened with including a possible combination with Rangzen. But any decisions on this crucial question may be premature at the moment. Because a such "revolution" needs to be further discussed and to be accepted by all parties. Its supposes also a solid Rangzen support movement ready to bring political alternance, which doesn't exist at the moment and has to emerge.
Of course, as always, Chinese may repeat their accusation about a "hidden agenda". But this is not new and it started at the very time when the Dalai Lama introduced his Five-Peace Plan. And there is no more "hidden agenda" today. Tibetan people are just looking for possible solutions in a situation unfavourable to them. They should not care too much about any Chinese accusations as these will always exist in any circumstances.
During the discussions, unity should not become an obsession or even an obstacle to explore new strategies. As mentionned before, unity of the Tibetan people already exists as a common aspiration to freedom and the Dalai Lama is the indisputable symbol and protector of it. No one should be afraid about democracy and pluralism that allow and formalize differences of views. As far as the national unity is preserved, the differentiation of strategies may be in the interest of the whole struggle, especially when opposite objectives - like independence and autonomy, each as legitimate as the other - cannot be mingled against nature without creating confusion, frustration and division. An artificial and forced consensus would be counterproductive at a moment when Tibetans have to make choices. As well, one should take care not to make any abusive equation "Middle Way = autonomy" that unjustly implies an opposition or an incompatibility between Rangzen and Middle Way approach.
To finish, it remains to say that Rangzen is not the threat of division and of conflict within the Tibetan community and their supporters. Rangzen is the promise of reconciliation and a door to exit out of present political crisis. Rangzen is also a very inspiring promise: to become sooner or later a reality. Democratisation in exile, diplomatic policy, activist strategies, international support and Rangzen are highly connected and very close to each other. And today, the time is to connect these. Yes, Rangzen is possible, but without getting ahead of schedule: step by step.
The writer is the editor of French-review Alternative tibétaine (Tibetan Alternative)
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.