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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Thoughts on the Future of Tibet

October 26, 2008

by Wangpo Tethong
Tibet Special Meeting
October 25, 2008

On the eve of the special meeting of the Tibetan people in
Dharamsala, it seems a timely occasion to present to you some ideas
about the future course of the Tibetan struggle. The task that lies
ahead of us in the coming weeks until November 22, 2008 is clear: it
is of utmost importance to soberly analyse the current situation,
outline a strategy to overcome the political stalemate caused by the
futile Sino-Tibetan talks, revive the freedom struggle and outline to
the international world a roadmap to the solution of the Tibetan issue.

A major revision of our policies is necessary and can only be
successful if it is followed by concrete political actions. In some
Parliamentary democracies, such situations as we are in might even
call for fresh elections with immediate effect. The Special Meeting
should seriously consider such a step.

We all are blessed to have H.H. the Dalai Lama as our leader who
strongly and continuously stresses the importance of adhering to a
holistic view of the Tibetan situation in our endeavours towards a
solution for the future of our people. It is my hope that the
following analysis and conclusions will meet his insistence for a
holistic approach, and convey the gravity of the situation we are in
and find your support for such a course of action.

We all are aware that the current leadership of the Tibetan exile
government has been burdened with the huge task of finding a
political solution for the future of Tibet, and it has made every
possible effort to produce a "conducive atmosphere" ­ the cornerstone
of the Middle Path approach - for the Chinese leadership to respond
positively. Many among us have hoped that our far-reaching
concessions would eventually result in some positive outcome. But the
truth is that no substantial progress has been made so far, and
instead the actual situation in Tibet has deteriorated further.

It can be safely assumed that the Tibetan government calculated that
a combination of political pressure and willingness to compromise
would lead to some progress. The months and years before the Olympics
in August 2008 presented a unique tactical setting that we had all
been hoping and working for: while the Tibetan side came up with a
series of statements to create an amicable atmosphere, there had been
growing international awareness about the situation in Tibet and a
steadily growing pressure on the Chinese government in view of the
upcoming Olympics at the time.

The international pressure visibly increased after the historic
uprisings in Tibet and reached its climax during the Olympic torch
relay. But instead of improvements, repression in Tibet became worse
and the diplomatic initiatives of H.H. the Dalai Lama were once again
bluntly refuted in June 2008 and the insulting defamations against
the Tibetan leader were repeated. Knowing that business runs a great
part of the world, China's leaders were relaxed and awaited the end
of the Games.

In 2007, a new Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had
been elected. It is clear that when it comes to Tibet, a new
leadership in Beijing simply follows old policies. Unfortunately,
there is no group in the Chinese leadership in sight to initiate a
political process that could lead to a solution for Tibet. On the
other hand the old guard of Tibet experts in the Communist Party with
some affinity to the Tibetan issue are powerless or dead. From an
acting Chinese leader's point of view there is nothing to gain while
the risk of threatening national unity and losing everything,
including one's own political future, is huge.

Nor have the presidential elections in Taiwan in March 2008 brought
the favourable results hoped for. The wrong candidate won. In fact,
Beijing was rewarded for its tough stand on Taiwan's independence. A
Guomingdang man adhering to Beijing's One-China policy became President.

It was wise for Tibetans to wait and observe how the new leadership
of the Communist Party formed, how the Beijing Olympic Games and the
Taiwan presidential elections may have changed political prospects.
But now the time has come to evaluate the situation.

Why are the Chinese not responding? While some argue that it is
Beijing's lack of trust in the Tibetan position and in H.H. the Dalai
Lama, personally, I don't agree with this argument. Human or personal
factors are irrelevant when it comes to nations. It is about
political interests, solely.

The history of the past 20 years teaches us that the Chinese
leadership's position makes a lot of sense, as far as safeguarding
their interests is concerned. And to some degree, if we put aside the
rhetoric about friendship between the Chinese and the Tibetan people,
we have to acknowledge the following: the Chinese have been
consistent in their policies, and, above all, successful in
protecting their national interests, be it guarding their territorial
integrity, controlling the minorities or the sinification of the
Tibetan plateau.

In the past few years the Chinese have furthermore succeeded in
playing a political game that has shaken the foundations of our
polity, while projecting themselves to the world as economically
successful and open to dialogue and human rights issues. Every
concession we have made has caused increasing confusion within our
community, and it has even raised doubts about the political
leadership of the Dalai Lama and the current Tibetan Government in
Exile. Tibetan activists who have come out of Tibet and many of our
long time Western supporters appeared more and more puzzled when the
Tibetan government requested them not to protest against China or the
Olympic Games.

Have we Tibetans been successful in protecting our own interests? Are
we closer to our goal of a negotiated solution?

Strategy for the Next 30 Years

More than twenty years after Strasbourg, we have to acknowledge the
fact that the Chinese government is clearly not willing to engage in
a process that will lead to more freedom for the Tibetan people, nor
accept the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. We must be prepared to
face the possibility that we may not be able to find a solution with
the Chinese during the lifetime of H.H. the Dalai Lama. As a nation
and people we should be prepared for this and need to adjust the
Middle Path approach and agree on a solid strategy that will sustain
us as a people for the next 30 or more years.

To make it clear: The overall basic strategic background has changed
from finding a solution during the lifetime of H.H. the Dalai Lama to
surviving politically over an undefined period, keeping the movement
together and intensifying the resistance in Tibet. It would be an
historic failure to proceed as before.

In fact, we are not completely unprepared and there are a lot of
reasons to be optimistic. The will of Tibetans inside Tibet has not
diminished. We have established a political system in Exile and
successfully kept alive our cultural heritage and continue not only
to preserve but also redefine Tibetan identity in a rapidly changing
world. Finally, we have a lot of friends and even a few governments
around the world who are favourable to our cause and who will concede
that we have been genuine in our quest for a dialogue based on
reconciliation and compromise.

The Special Meeting in November

The priority task of the November meeting is to pave the way for a
policy change in order to meet the strategic challenge. It would be
important to agree on a set of common goals that are inclusive, set a
clear direction, reunite the different fractions of our community and
reaffirm the will to keep close ties to those who are under living
under Chinese rule. Finally, a revised strategy should be formulated
based on principles that are internationally accepted and can sustain
our freedom struggle.

It obviously would be wrong to continue with reiterating the
paramount importance of producing a "conducive atmosphere" and
putting aside the inspirational power of Tibetan statehood and the
right to govern ourselves, as has been expressed by Tibetans inside.

On the other hand, there may be people who feel that it is now time
to call for complete independence. However, calling for independence
would not help to unite us and certainly would alienate the Dalai
Lama, who has repeatedly made it clear that he is not asking for
independence. Tibetans simply can't afford this. We need the H.H.
Dalai Lama more than ever in the future.

A resolution by the meeting in November and a separate declaration by
H.H. the Dalai Lama calling for the right of the Tibetan people for
self-determination as our political goal and the right to fight for
it could lead out of the impasse we are in. These statements should
go beyond the idea of saving the Tibetan culture, happiness of
Tibetan people or cultural autonomy inscribed in the Chinese
constitution and clearly refer to political rights that are universal
for any nation and people. These are concepts that can even be found
in the Five Point Peace plan and the Strasbourg proposal.

Redouble our political activities

I have always disagreed with the widespread perception in our
community that the only way to fight the negative impacts of Tibet's
occupation by the People's Republic of China is to have a negotiated
solution of the Tibetan issue first. This would be a reasonable
position if there were a counterpart on the Chinese side, not only
willing but also truthfully engaged in talks. The situation is the
opposite. To rely on the results of an imaginary dialogue will block
those activities that can make us stronger as a movement and win new
friends in the international arena.

There is nothing to gain by waiting. What hinders us in organizing
continuous public protests in Tibet against the disastrous railway
line, the unjust school system, the eviction of the nomads from their
homelands, or the sinification of Tibet while upholding the
principles of our struggle and the wish to have a peaceful solution?
There are many examples of successful movements around the world that
have actually led to a meaningful betterment. It is in accordance
with historic examples, a way to strengthen the movement and
precondition to produce the "atmosphere" for any political process
that leads to negotiated solution.

There is no reason to stop the envoys travelling to China. But we
have to immediately downscale the expectations and importance of
their role in a new strategy. The perception of discussing a
negotiated solution in the near future should be abandoned. Future
meetings should take place to exchange information and discuss
concrete issues such as the fate of political prisoners, the
religious and political situation in Tibet etc. The dialogue must
serve our political ends and not vice versa.

I believe that it is incorrect to imply that a reorientation or
postponement of the present dialogue efforts will put us in a
political no man's land. There are huge areas of political activity
that we have not explored yet or have neglected in the past few
years. A sentiment among Tibetan officials can be observed that any
collaboration with Tibetans inside Tibet or support for political
activities inside Tibet would be counterproductive for a "conducive
atmosphere". Unfortunately, the Tibetan Government in Exile have
reduced contacts into Tibet to an extent that when the uprisings took
place in March 2008, there were hardly any plans for activities and
no contacts in Tibet to provide pictures and information about the
situation inside Tibet. This has to be changed. We need to have
strong and active contacts into Tibet.

New initiatives in the international arena

By putting the basic principle of freedom of people's right to
self-determination in the centre of our political demands we will use
a language that connects to a political concept prevailing in the
world and is rooted in the historic experience of many third world countries.

For many years the Tibetan representatives' first and last demand was
dialogue. Tibetan representatives became so fixated with the dialogue
that other issues were neglected. This has to be changed. A revision
as proposed would give way to long term engagement for foreign groups
and governments, widening the range of issues from local rights of
Tibetan people to international initiatives, including a UN guided
roadmap to freedom.

This variety of issues within the framework of political
self-determination open us new opportunities in the US, Europe and
even in China, give us access to international bodies such as the
neglected United Nation, and provide us with a consistent line of
arguments and new allies. The manifold advantages of
self-determination as a political framework have been discussed in
the Tibetan community many times and there is no need to repeat them.
But there is one noticeable point that should be mentioned.
Self-determination doesn't exclude any option on the future status of
Tibet while it contains a set of legal principles that are
internationally accepted and had been the stepping stone for many
people to freedom.

Strengthen the movement

Imagine what would happen if the Dalai Lama would not be among us and
the principles of our struggle remain as they are right now. The
Beijing leadership could easily sow dissent and divisions in our
community by offering some fractions of our community some favourable
conditions or a separate political deal. They don't even have to
offer something concrete; it would be enough to create rumours. To
withstand such threats H.H. the Dalai Lama needs to consolidate our
political demands and make clear what his political legacy for the
Tibetan people is.

For some inexplicable reasons the Tibetan exile administrations has
stressed the importance of keeping civil society and the activities
of the exile administration apart. There surely needs to be a
distinction but in the past few years for some within the community
this has become an issue of growing concern. The current policy
became so detached from political realities that even limited or
temporary cooperation between the Dharamsala administration and the
rest of the exile community is viewed with great misgiving.

In future, it is our most important task to keep alive our political
structures, unity and spirit as a freedom movement, clarify the
succession of the next Dalai Lama and redouble our activities in
Tibet. We need to empower our own people inside and outside Tibet,
encourage the youth, actively support those in Tibet who fight the
Chinese forces non-violently and show that our solidarity is not only
lip service but genuine.

It is the democratic right of the Tibetan people to be presented
political alternatives, and it is the democratic right of Tibetans to
vote for a change. I personally believe in the will power of the
Tibetan people and appeal to the delegates of the Special meeting in
Dharamsala to free us from our self-imposed limitations and re-ignite
the Tibetan people's fighting spirit for freedom and national


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