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Dalai Lama's Conference May Signal an End to Tibet's Era of Protest

October 30, 2008

Commentators analyze the Dalai Lama's declaration that he has "given
up" on dealing with China, and his decision to call for a meeting of
Tibetan exiles.
by Josh Katz
October 29, 2008

The Dalai Lama's Change of Course

The Dalai Lama has arranged a five-day meeting beginning Nov. 17 at
which Tibetan exiles will speak about their policy toward China. News
of the meeting comes after the Dalai Lama essentially conceded this
Saturday that his struggle with China for Tibet's autonomy is a lost
cause, and the Tibetan people should take the task upon themselves.

The focus of the meeting is broad and Karma Choephel, speaker of the
Dalai Lama's "government in exile," said, "Anything can come up," the
Associated Press reports. He also said the gathering will take place
in the north Indian town of Dharamsala, which has been the home of
the Dalai Lama since he fled Tibet in 1959. The exiles first
established a charter in 1991, and Choephal says that this is the
first meeting of its kind since then.

The Dalai Lama has long advocated that Tibetans seek a "middle way"
when dealing with China, by not asking for lofty goals like complete
independence, but by seeking increased autonomy instead to protect
the distinctive Tibetan culture. The new meeting could a signal a
change in that tactic, according to the AP. Many younger Tibetan
activists who think a more aggressive approach is necessary have
opposed the Dalai Lama's middle path.

The spiritual leader made the surprise announcement from Dharamsala
on Oct. 25. "I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach
in dealing with China for a long time now but there hasn't been any
positive response from the Chinese side," he said. "As far as I'm
concerned I have given up," Time magazine reports.

Reactions: China comments; what's next for the Dalai Lama, and for Tibet

In a news conference on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang
Yu said that China has always been open to dialogue with the Dalai
Lama. In response to the recent developments, China called upon the
Dalai Lama to proceed with talks and "carry out the promises made in
July this year," when China and a representative of the Dalai Lama
agreed that the spiritual leader would not incite actions that would
disrupt the Beijing Olympic Games, writes state-run Chinese news
service Xinhua.

According to Choephel, the Dalai Lama had previously considered
himself "semi-retired" but now he is "almost completely retired," The
Independent writes. The article reports that many believe that the
Dalai Lama will use the November meeting to "stand down." Ogyen
Trinley Dorje, the 23-year-old spiritual head of the Kagyu order of
Tibetan Buddhism, is seen as a possible political heir to the Dalai Lama.

Opinion & Analysis: The Dalai Lama's decision

The Taipei Times of Taiwan has an editorial acknowledging the Dalai
Lama's frustration and expresses similar sentiments about Taiwan, a
country also under China's grip. "Peaceful actions are scorned and
cited by Beijing as sedition deserving of military
retaliation—whether in the form of deploying missiles in the Taiwan
Strait or cracking down on Tibetan demonstrations." The editorial
argues that China places the blame on Taiwan for the lack of any
progression in talks, when in fact China constistently refuses
conversation. "As our own government pursues a dialogue with Beijing,
it is unclear why we should expect results that are any better" than
the Dalai Lama expects, the editorial states.

John Pomfret of The Washington Post reiterates the pessimism
expressed by the Dalai Lama and the Tapei Times. Speaking of the
Dalai Lama's talks with China over the years, he writes, "at no point
was there ever really a sense that the Chinese were sincere in their
attempts to solve the Tibetan problem." He argues that China
increased its demands on the Dalai Lama at each meeting, indicating
that it never cared to reach an accord with him: "China's government
is waiting for the Dalai Lama who is 73 to die." The leader's death
would cause the Tibetan movement to divide, and eventually the rest
of the world would lose sympathy for the their fight, he claims. This
is what China wants, Pomfret claims, and "It's a grim future no
matter how you cut it."

Robbie Barnett, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University
in New York City, also claims, in a Time magazine article, that the
recent events can benefit the Chinese: "It's really very serious
indeed and a major disappointment, though not so much of a surprise.
The Chinese must have know[n] this was coming—some of the responsible
officials in fact must be very pleased that they have managed to
provoke this reaction. Now they can say that it was the other side
that broke off negotiations, and claim the moral high ground."
Barnett went on to say that China took an "aggressive" stance in its
talks with the Dalai Lama earlier this year. The "only real surprise
is that it took so long," he claims.

The BBC takes a look at what the Dalai Lama's apparent retreat means
and why he may have chosen that path. The spiritual leader may have
made his announcement as a "political ploy," the news service writes.
It does "help to push Tibet back into the spotlight. Post-Olympics,
many Tibetans feel forgotten." But at the same time, the BBC claims
that the exiled government's cause will undoubtedly be "weakened"
without the Dalai Lama's international persuasion. At the same time,
"his absence would also raise the stakes for China. Many see the
Dalai Lama as Beijing's best hope—and urge the Chinese to do business
with him while they can."
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