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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."

Opinion Tibetan Demands -- Minimal Conditions for a Sustainable Agreement

November 3, 2008

Tsering Topgyal
WTN
October 31, 2008

Tibetan officials are in Beijing for another round of talks. The
Dalai Lama, however, recently said that his faith in the Chinese
government is "diminishing."

Beijing, its apologists and other uninformed Westerners on the other
hand, blame the Dalai Lama for the stalemate. They rely on the work
of the Tibetologist Melvyn Goldstein who cast the Dalai Lama's
demands as the "greatest stumbling blocks" in his 1997 book, Snow
Lion and the Dragon, and put the burden of compromise on the Dalai Lama.

Despite Professor Goldstein's other contributions to the study of
Tibet, there are some problems with his analysis-not least in his
arbitrary attribution of rational security interests to the Chinese
and unreasonable nationalist interests to the Tibetans-but one
example will suffice. His "solution" to the Sino-Tibetan conflict is
this: the Dalai Lama should return to "Tibet/China" and accept
Chinese sovereignty, abandon political autonomy for some linguistic
and religious relaxation to be phased in at the CCP's pleasure, and
abandon the Tibetans in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, or the
Eastern Tibetans.

As John Powers put it, it is a "wild gambit." What has China done to
inspire such Tibetan trust without the slightest guarantee of
compliance? Why are Tibetan security fears ignored? Are they not as
justified as the Chinese Party-State's security concerns? Clearly
insights from security studies and ethnic or intra-state conflicts
literatures are sorely lacking from the said analysis.

The Dalai Lama's demands, watered-down even more from the 1980s
compromise-"meaningful autonomy" and unification of Tibetans under
one Chinese jurisdiction-are crucial to the sustainability of any settlement.

In any case, the Dalai Lama's demands have been steadily moderating
since the 1980s when he controversially gave up independence for a
demilitarised and liberal democratic autonomous Tibet.

Especially since 2002, Dharamsala has further scaled down its demands
to placate Beijing. Meaningful autonomy means political autonomy for
Tibetans through the honest implementation of the Chinese
Constitution and Autonomy Law. Currently, the minority rights
enshrined in these documents are merely cosmetic, thanks to numerous
limiting clauses and institutional and political obstacles.

Dharamsala has also moderated its position on the unification issue.
Whereas it was concerned with reunifying Tibetan territories in the
1980s, today it seeks to integrate Tibetan people under one
administration, signalling more flexibility on the territorial issue.
Dharamsala wants to avoid Inner Mongolia's fate, which regained
territory but committed demographic suicide.

Beijing has never reciprocated in kind, choosing only to nit-pick
Dharamsala's proposals. Commentaries in China's official press
recycling the same content with different authors and dismiss the
Dalai Lama's proposals as negating the PRC constitution and being
"independence in disguise" and so on.

One might ask why "meaningful autonomy" is the only way forward.
Barbara Walter, an expert on intra-state conflicts at the University
of California, San Diego, found that 62% of the civil wars between
1940 and 1992 were settled with agreements, but 43% of those
settlements failed at the implementation stage. The culprit: a
persistent fear of post-agreement exploitation, which can be
addressed through two forms of security guarantees: third party
intervention and power-sharing. Since third party mediation is
anathema to Beijing, power-sharing in the form of political autonomy
is the only plausible guarantee.

It is also true that any settlement that does not include the Eastern
Tibetans will be unsustainable. We need not look far back. The
signing of the "17-Point Agreement for the Peace Liberation of Tibet"
in 1951-which did not cover Eastern Tibet-and its break-down in 1959
is evidence enough. The major cause of that collapse was Beijing's
imposition of different policies on the culturally and ethnically
homogenous Tibetans.

For political purposes, Beijing used the legalistic distinction of
whether or not they were ruled by Lhasa at the time of the Chinese
invasion of Central Tibet in 1950. Those under Lhasa experienced the
"gradualist" terms of the 17-Point Agreement, while those in the East
were subjected to radical communist reforms, which provoked a violent
rebellion that spread to Lhasa. It culminated in the March 10, 1959
uprising in Lhasa. The 17-Point Agreement collapsed.

Unification is neither a new demand nor one cooked up by exiled
Tibetans. In the early 20th century, some Eastern Tibetans considered
resurrecting a united Tibetan state through force and revolution.
Both Lhasa and Eastern Tibetans proposed unification in the 1950s. In
1980, Tibetan cadres from Qinghai and Gansu proposed forming one
Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan intellectuals attributed
Tibet's political fragmentation to a Chinese divide-and-rule
strategy. In 2004, veteran Tibetan communist Phuntsok Wangyal warned
Hu Jintao of the "grave mistake" of implementing different policies
on the same nationality. A cursory observation of contemporary
popular media reveals strong integrationist sentiments in all Tibetan
regions. This year's protests, which took place largely outside TAR,
drive home this point.

A settlement that does not include political autonomy for Tibet and
excludes the Eastern Tibetans will merely prolong the vexing problem
of Tibet into the future.

Tsering Topgyal, a Tibetan, is writing a PhD dissertation on the
Sino-Tibetan conflict at the London School of Economics.
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