My father spent his entire life, serving the Tibetan nation, first as a common soldier guarding the borders of eastern Tibet, and then later in exile as a soldier of the Tibetan regiment in Chakrata. His dream was to see a free and independent Tibet, so that his children could live with honor and dignity. His only regret when he was in the last days of his life was that Tibet would not be his burying place.
I am not an activist representing any particular organization. I am a common Tibetan, who is simply concerned about the crisis in Tibet. Any action taken by the Chinese government in Beijing, and the response that our government in exile gives to it invariable affects me.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's recent statements that he lost trust in the Chinese government and that his hope for genuine autonomy for Tibet is thinning is a matter of grave concern for me. His Holiness has invoked the Tibetan charter to convene a special meeting of Tibetan exiles so as to discuss on what kind of strategies we must pursue in future to advance the just cause of Tibet. As a citizen of Tibet, I feel it is my solemn duty to express openly and honestly what I feel about the future course of our struggle.
We spent almost thirty years trying to unravel the mysteries of Deng Xiaoping's assertion that "except for independence, all issues concerning Tibet can be resolved through negotiations". At the time, there were huge expectations that Deng might grant Tibet real autonomy, but the fact of the matter was that Deng Xioaping was not at all interested in resolving the real issue of Tibet. He was simply talking about the personal status of His Holiness and the exile Tibetans living outside of Tibet.
For Deng and his successors, Tibetans inside Tibet were living happily and peacefully and that there was no such a thing called Tibet issue. This was made clear when the Chinese government constantly rejected the Strasbourg proposal as nothing but disguised independence. We spent another decade trying to convince the Chinese that we are very sincere when it comes to securing autonomy for Tibet and that not even in the wildest of our imagination do we consider the Middle-Way approach as a stepping stone to achieve independence for Tibet. In retrospect, we failed to grasp the simple truth that words and phrases such as "disguised independence", "semi-independence", "separatists", "splittists" "what the Dalai Lama speaks is not important, what he does is more important" uttered by the Chinese state is nothing but mere excuses to avoid resolving Tibet's problem. They are all empty words, devoid of any meaning, all polite way of saying, "NO" to our aspiration for a negotiated settlement to the Tibet issue.
The recent press conference organized by the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department in Beijing, during which the Chinese government categorically rejected the autonomy proposals of His Holiness, even denying that Deng ever made a promise to discuss Tibetan issue short of independence has proved beyond doubt that China will never grant autonomy for Tibet. We must realize that China's ultimate aim in Tibet is to fully assimilate it into the larger Chinese state.
Under such circumstances, I feel we have no choice but to change our course and once again revive the struggle for a free and independent Tibet. Tibetans inside Tibet showed us in this year's mega-protests that they have not given up their struggle. It gives us a new hope and confidence that Tibet's freedom can be realized provided we believe in it and work to achieve it.
I believe only a free and independent Tibet can genuinely secure and preserve the distinct identity of Tibet. Freedom and independence of Tibet are non-negotiable; they can not be compromised. Freedom is like the air that we breathe everyday, without which we can not survive. I believe Freedom and independence is the soul of Tibet, which must be nurtured and secured at all cost. Now I would like to present in detail why we must change the course of our struggle from autonomy to outright independence:
1. Rangzen is the existential or fundamental birth right of every Tibetan
Every Tibetan's fundamental wish is for Rangzen, for independence from China. This is their genuine wish, their existential right. This is also in accordance with the essence of Buddhism, which says dag nyig dag gi gon (You are the master of your own self). Also according to the rules and regulations of the United Nations charter, every individual has the right to decide on its own affairs and matters without any pressure from outside. Therefore fighting for one's individual right is the basis for creating a truly free and open society. This exactly is the wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when he gifted democracy to the Tibetans, so that Tibetans can express their fundamental wish, desire without any influence from above.
2. Genuine Autonomy is Impossible in the Context of Leninist and Police state, which is the People's Republic of China.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's proposal that the whole of Tibet should enjoy genuine autonomy, with a democratic system of governance featuring an elected legislature, an executive and independent judiciary is impossible in a Leninist and authoritarian regime/system like the People's Republic of China. Any one who has a slight doubt on this should realize what happened to the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. These students were asking for democracy, freedom of speech, transparency, elected leadership, freedom of speech and association for which they were brutally massacred. If the Chinese regime can massacre their own innocent students for speaking out for democracy then imagine what would happen to the Tibetans, who are ethnically and racially different from the Chinese. In short, asking for genuine autonomy with democratic governance for Tibet is akin to asking for the Communist Party in China to renounce its sole power position. It is, in other words, the biggest threat to the rule of the Communist Party in China. No wonder they have called our autonomy efforts as nothing but "disguised independence", "semi-independence", "separation", "splittists", and so on.
3. Rangzen will bring unity for the whole Tibetan population
The most pressing need of the Tibetans at this crisis moment is unity. Whether we agree or not, there is some sense of disagreement/disunity between the advocates of Middle path and Rangzen. A common goal therefore will ensure unity amongst the six million Tibetans. History is witness to the truth that China has always exploited the disunity amongst the Tibetans. They have been using the tactics of divide and rule policy. A common goal will avoid such evil designs of the Chinese and will further strengthen the movement of the Tibetan people.
4. Living with the Chinese nation will never ensure the preservation and protection of Tibetan culture and religion.
China has no genuine respect for Tibetan culture, language and religion. For them Tibetan religion and culture is nothing but superstition and backwardness. As such it is the sacred duty of every Chinese to bring "civilization" to the Tibetans by bringing in Chinese language, culture and "civilization". In a nutshell, Chinese civilization and modernization in Tibet is nothing but to SINICIZE the whole Tibetan population. Only when Tibetans can adopt Chinese culture and mannerisms, can they be considered as enlightened, modern and educated. Clinging to Tibetan culture, religion, language, according to the Chinese state, is clinging to backwardness. This is the attitude of not just the ruling Communist Party, but of the Chinese people themselves. Of course there are Chinese who show some interest in Tibetan Buddhism, but they are on the fringe, very miniscule, like the proverbial drop in the ocean. Therefore, if Tibet were to preserve and maintain its distinct identity it has to be completely free and independent of China.
5. Genuine Autonomy for Tibet is not the ultimate and only wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Many Tibetans have a sort of misperception or misunderstanding that genuine autonomy for Tibet through the Middle Way is the only and ultimate wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is not true at all. His Holiness the Dalai Lama's aspiration for autonomy for Tibet occurred only after 1979, when Deng Xiaoping promised him that he would discuss all issues of Tibet, except for independence. Before 1979, His Holiness was fighting for Tibet's independence. The only thing His Holiness can't compromise on is the non-violent approach of the Tibetan movement. As far as Tibet's goal is concerned, whether the Tibetans want autonomy or independence, His Holiness has clearly pointed out that ultimately the six million Tibetans will decide this. Therefore asking for Tibet's independence doesn't means going against the wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness wants to seek the genuine wish of Tibetans through this conference. Ask your self, what do you truly want: Rangzen or autonomy?
6. Seeking Rangzen will have more options for the Tibetans in their fight against the Chinese.
When we seek autonomy, we have to accommodate China's "concerns and demands", such as not organizing demonstrations against Chinese leaders' visit abroad, such as not using words like independence, colonialism, genocide in our literature and documents. Not using all these words are in essence compromising on truth, in the name of diplomacy and protocol. Seeking autonomy thus ties our hands and restricts our options and strategies. When we say that we want to resolve Tibet's issue within the framework of Chinese constitution, then it becomes very difficult for us to stop the increasing Chinese migration to the Tibetan plateau. Because the Chinese government gives the argument that in accordance to the Chinese constitution Chinese citizens can move freely to all areas of China, including Tibet. Seeking Rangzen or independence will free our hands; give us more options and strategies, to confront one of the biggest threats to the survival of Tibet: migration of Chinese settlers to Tibet. Regarding this issue, at least we can invoke the Geneva Convention, which says an occupying country (China) has no rights to encourage mass migration or colonialism to an occupied country (Tibet).
7. Seeking Rangzen will give us more allies in our fight against the Chinese.
If we seek complete independence from China, or in other words if we clearly express our genuine desire that it is impossible for us to live with the Chinese regime, we will get more allies in our fight against the Chinese. These allies include people of East Turkistan, Inner Monglia, and Taiwan. Seeking autonomy for Tibet or endorsing the PRC constitution will alienate all of these allies, since the PRC constitution recognizes all these countries as territorially an integral part of China.
8. Rangzen and Autonomy both are not supported by any government, but Rangzen has more chances of genuine support.
Again there is (mis)conception that autonomy for Tibet is supported by the international community and not Rangzen. As one noted Tibetan intellectual said, the only thing that the international community, including the US leadership and Secretary of the UN, support or say is that they call for dialogue and talks between China and His Holiness' representatives. They have not come up with an open statement that they support the unification of the three provinces of Tibet having a genuine democratic autonomous system. As said before they have simply urged for talks between Dharamsala and Beijing. Such an urging is the norm in the global world politics, whenever there are conflicts in any part of the region. The truth is that the only support that we have for Tibet is popular support, whether it is in the west or in India. Not a single government of any country has publicly supported the autonomy proposals of the Tibetan government in exile. In fact they don't even recognize the exile Tibetan government, leave alone recognizing or supporting its efforts for genuine autonomy in Tibet. The popular or mass support for Tibet will continue no matter whether we fight for autonomy or Tibet's independence. In fact from the strategic point of view, only an independent Tibet has the chance to secure support from Tibet's neighbouring countries like Russia, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. All these countries are threatened by the Chinese hegemony. For them it would be a great strategic asset if Tibet were to regain its independence and once again serve as buffer state between themselves and China, thus further strengthening and ensuring their territorial integrity and sovereignty.
We believe in democracy. So all Tibetans have full right to express their opinions freely. They have every right to express what sort of status they want to gain for Tibet, autonomy or independence. As far as I am concerned, one thing is proven beyond doubt, that the People's Republic of China, even if it has the desire, will never ever grant the kind of autonomy we are demanding from them, for the simple reason that it threatens the very "core" of the Leninist state, which is "Democratic Centralism". I, therefore, believe this special conference is a very good opportunity for every Tibetan to realize, not just in words, but in deeds, that the genuine autonomy as proposed by His Holiness in his Strasbourg proposal is impossible in the context of the People's Republic of China. Hoping for such an autonomous status for Tibet is a pipe dream. Not a decent Tibetan in Tibet wants to live under/with the Chinese, as shown in this year's protests. This is the truth we must live in.
The writer is a former Tibetan government official. He worked in the publication section of the Department of Information and International Relations as a translator. He is currently the Managing Editor of Tibet Journal, a publication of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.