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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Restless spirits

November 8, 2007

Globe and Mail
November 3, 2007

As the Dalai Lama nears political retirement, he faces one of his toughest challenges: his own people

BEIJING AND TORONTO — Tibetans prefer to hang their prayer flags at the highest altitudes. When the flags flutter in the wind, it makes them feel that the gods
are listening.

The Majnu Ka Tila refugee colony, a jumble of dusty stone buildings on the outskirts of New Delhi, doesn't get quite the same breeze as Tibet's mountain temples.
But for the past 50 years those bits of cloth, with prayers painted on them, have hung in the exile community, waiting for an answer from the gods.

These days, the prayers are beginning to sound less harmonious, and the answers less certain. New discord is emerging over whether to continue the path of
diplomacy with China. And even the moral authority of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader who visited Canada this week and made a plea to Ottawa to open its
doors to thousands of exiles, is failing to quell the restless discontent there.

The refugee settlement, like other parts of the Tibetan diaspora of more than 110,000, is divided along generational lines. The older generation, responding
pragmatically to China's implacable opposition, is willing to follow the Dalai Lama's "middle-way" strategy, which calls for diplomatic dialogue and a long-term goal
of Tibetan autonomy within China. Younger exiles, who never experienced a free Tibet, are reluctant to give up that dream.
Sherab Tenzin, 32, the general secretary of the of the Tibetan Youth Congress, stands on her family's porch in a Tibetan refugee community in New Delhi. Daniel
Pepper/Getty Images for The Globe and Mail

Sherab Tenzin, 32, the general secretary of the of the Tibetan Youth Congress, stands on her family's porch in a Tibetan refugee community in New Delhi. (Daniel
Pepper/Getty Images for The Globe and Mail)

"We believe in him and we respect him," says Tenzin Sherab, the 29-year-old general secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a group that is defiant in its call for
full Tibetan independence. "But we still say, 'Free Tibet.'" Even as he tours the world's capitals and wins plaudits from Western leaders, the Dalai Lama knows he
must keep a close eye on the growing frustration in the exile community back home in India and Nepal.

While the world sees the Dalai Lama to be locked in combat with the Chinese Communists, one of his biggest struggles is with his own people, especially the restless
young militants who are increasingly dissatisfied with his quest for rapprochement with Beijing. His biggest challenge is to preach patience to Tibetan exiles, many of
whom are losing faith in his conciliatory approach.

The Dalai Lama has admitted that he is already moving into semi-retirement. At 72, he is likely to give up his political work in the next few years, although he will
remain the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

In the winter of his years, a shift in emphasis is taking place as he seeks to ensure the long-term survival of the Tibetan diaspora, which faces an insecure future as a
stateless people in overcrowded refugee camps.

This week, when the Dalai Lama pleaded with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to accept several thousand refugees from the Tibetan exile community in India and
Nepal, it was a sign of his new strategy of emphasizing humanitarian and social issues, rather than political confrontation with Beijing.

His so-called middle-way strategy began in the late 1980s, when he gave up his campaign for Tibetan political independence and switched to a softer demand for
autonomy within China. When that failed to satisfy Beijing, he offered more olive branches. He urged his followers to refrain from boycotts and public protests
against Chinese leaders on their overseas visits. He even offered support to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, telling his followers not to boycott the games.

In 2002, he dispatched envoys to China for secret talks with Chinese officials. These discussions have continued annually, even though many of his followers are
deeply skeptical of the talks.

Yet none of these conciliatory steps have borne any fruit. China has remained as uncompromising as ever. Indeed, the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan dissidents has
escalated in recent years, and Chinese verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama have become more vociferous.

Hence the desperation of his search for help in Western capitals. He knows that his own people are losing patience. His nightmare scenario is a divided exile
community that splits further apart after his death, which would only hasten the slow decline in Tibetan culture.

"That's why the Dalai Lama is working so hard to persuade Western governments to appeal to China to give him something, some kind of olive branch, that he can
take back to his people," says Robert Barnett, a professor of contemporary Tibetan studies at Columbia University.

"This is a very critical point now. He's trying very hard to get something from China to show his base, so that he can tell his people that China is not just playing a
waiting game, waiting for him to die."

A big part of the Dalai Lama's strategy is to improve the social conditions of the Tibetan refugees, who face widespread poverty and statelessness. His fear is that an
impoverished exile community would become angrier and more radicalized, which would cripple the chances of reaching a peaceful compromise with Beijing.

Mr. Barnett calls it a "developmentalist" approach. "He's putting more and more emphasis on advanced education, for example. He's trying to create a more
professionalized and educated community. This is very much in China's interests, too. The exiles would be less likely to look for extreme solutions."

But many of the younger generation, led by groups such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, are intensifying their defiant cries for full Tibetan independence, despite the
fact the Dalai Lama has officially renounced this goal.

"We have hot blood," says Ms. Sherab, of the Tibetan Youth Congress. "We don't know what a free Tibet was like. We want to feel it."

Ms. Sherab, who has been imprisoned four times since 1998 for her pro-Tibet protests, says the youth congress has been increasingly active in recent years, holding
as many as 10 protests a year, compared with two or three annually in the past. And this year has been the group's most active. None of this is sanctioned by the
Dalai Lama. But these days, the younger Tibetans are less willing to follow his wishes on political tactics.

In his visit to Canada this week, the Dalai Lama tried to promote the middle way by lending his presence to a dialogue between young Tibetan and Chinese people
in Ottawa. The meeting went almost unnoticed in all the controversy over his meeting with Mr. Harper, but the youth dialogue is a perfect example of the conciliatory
approaches that the Dalai Lama still favours.

The meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes, but ended up lasting more than an hour. It is believed to be the first such Tibetan-Chinese youth dialogue anywhere in the
world, and it could become a model for future talks to bridge the gap between the two communities, according to Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese
Canadian National Council, who attended the meeting.

At his meeting with the young people, the Dalai Lama acknowledged the "frustration" of Tibetan young people, Mr. Wong says. Yet he remained loyal to the
middle-way strategy. "He's very committed to dialogue," Mr. Wong says.

The resettlement of Tibetan refugees in Canada and the United States is another example of the Dalai Lama's efforts to ease the pressure points in the exile
community. Canada accepted 250 refugees from Tibet in the 1970s, and another 1,000 were accepted by the United States in the early 1990s. (The Tibetan
population in Canada is now estimated to be about 5,000). Now the Dalai Lama wants to resettle 5,000 refugees in the United States and several thousand in
Canada, a huge increase from the earlier waves of refugees.

The resettlement is an indirect acknowledgment of the success of China's unyielding stance on the Tibet issue. The exiles know that they are unlikely to be returning
to their homeland in the near future, and they need to find a long-term solution outside Tibet.

"We've outgrown the land given to us in India," said one exiled Tibetan leader. "We're bursting at the seams. We need to deal with this because it's directly affecting
the livelihood of the exiles."

The Tibetan refugee camp near New Delhi has existed for nearly 50 years. Over the decades, the tents have yielded to concrete blocks, while the residents have
graduated from fruit and vegetable stalls to computer shops and travel agencies.

But now India's much-vaunted generosity toward the Tibetan refugees is being tested. The Indian government is pressing the refugees to remove their homes from
the banks of the Yamuna River, which is prone to flooding. Already scores of Hindu temples have been razed and citizens relocated. If the Tibetans are forced to
abandon their homes, schools and monasteries here, it will be difficult for them to maintain their sacred sense of tradition.

"We are going to stay," Ms. Sherab vows. She is joining a Tibetan delegation in court to fight the government's demands.

These kinds of frictions are what the Dalai Lama is trying to avoid with his middle-way strategy. For a time, he thought he had a chance at reconciliation with Beijing.
The first five rounds of talks between his envoys and Chinese officials seemed to be making some modest progress, with the two sides respectfully exchanging
views. But the sixth round of talks, held in late June and early July this year, was a discouraging setback. Tibetan sources say China revived its accusations that the
Dalai Lama is seeking political independence for Tibet, after earlier seeming to accept his statement that he wants only autonomy within China.

"We feel that we're back to square one," says one Tibetan source. "It feeds the skeptics on both sides. They can say, 'Look, we told you so, it was just a waste of
time.'" The setback at the envoy's talks was soon accompanied by further signs of Chinese hostility to any notion of rapprochement. In August, China introduced
new rules to strengthen its grip on Tibet, including a ban on the reincarnation of any senior monks without the government's permission. (Reincarnated lamas are
highly influential in Tibet because of their key role in the training of monks.) This was followed last month by a verbal assault on the Dalai Lama. In a lengthy
commentary in China's state-controlled news agency, the Tibetan leader was accused of supporting "evil cults" such as the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which killed 12
people with deadly sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995.

Within Tibet, Chinese repression has intensified in recent years. Dissidents have been severely punished, and Chinese soldiers have shot at Tibetan refugees
attempting to flee to Nepal. At the same time, China seems confident in the effectiveness of its long-term tactics: installing its own Panchen Lama (the second-highest
Tibetan spiritual leader, who plays a key role in choosing the next Dalai Lama) and flooding Tibet with thousands of Han Chinese migrants to strengthen its control of
the territory.

Faced with this hard-line stand from China, the exile community is divided on whether to keep trying the middle way that the Dalai Lama has advocated for more
than a decade.

Gelek Badheytsang is typical of many young exiles, agitating for a free, independent Tibet, while acknowledging the Dalai Lama's moral and political authority over
the community as he guides the exiles down the middle way.

"I'm sure there are some kids out there who might have militant tendencies or aspirations or whatnot, but the point of the fact is, it is His Holiness the Dalai Lama
who is holding all of the Tibetan refugees; he is the one uniting factor," says Mr. Badheytsang, 22, a board member of the Toronto chapter of Students for a Free
Tibet. "And until His Holiness says otherwise, we are obliged to follow his policy, which is about non-violence, about dialogue and about finding a middle-ground

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