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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Opinion: Why the Middle Way Approach Failed

November 13, 2008

By Tashi Phuntsok
November 11, 2008

For the last twenty or so years, the Dalai Lama has sincerely
attempted to reach out to China to resolve the Tibet issue through
dialogues, fully committed to his Middle Way Policy. However, as a
result of lack of commitment and will from the Chinese side, the
Dalai Lama recently publicly announced that he has lost faith in the
current Chinese leadership. He appealed to the Tibetan masses to take
on greater role in deciding the future course of action. To discuss
the future course of the Tibetan movement, a special meeting
consisting of around 300 delegates representing the worldwide exiled
Tibetan community, is called on in November. This is the strongest
political stand the Dalai Lama has taken against China in recent
time. However, it is important to reflect on why the Middle Way Policy failed?

The Middle Way was based on Deng Xiaoping's false promise. In 1979,
Deng Xiaoping assured the Dalai Lama that except for the independence
of Tibet, all other questions regarding Tibet could be resolved
through dialogue. The Dalai Lama was further encouraged when the
Chairman of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, following his visit to
Tibet, recommended an immediate reform for Tibet which became basis
for many of changes that took place in Tibet in 1980s. The new
open-minded policy from the Chinese leadership swayed the Dalai Lama
to put aside his demand for independence of Tibet, and that is how
the Middle Way Policy came into being. Unfortunately the internal
conflict within the Chinese Communist Party dashed this reasonable
and promising approach for resolving the political status of Tibet.

In 1987, Hu Yaobang was sacked from his party post, accused of being
sympathetic towards the students protesting at the Tiananmen Square,
and consequently his Reform Policy for Tibet became unpopular. Deng
Xiaoping subsequently kept distance from the Dalai Lama and Hu
Yaobang's Tibet Reform Policy. What Deng Xiaoping accomplished from
his initial contact with the Dalai Lama was that he succeeded in
changing the goal of the Tibetan Freedom Movement from a struggle for
independence to a struggle for autonomy, eliminating the question of
Tibetan Nationhood in future.

The present communist leader, Hu Jintao, like his predecessor Jiang
Zemin, has no desire to fulfill Deng Xiaoping's promise to the Dalai
Lama. He feels no pressure to accept the Dalai Lama's Middle Way.
However, Hu Jintao continues to use Deng Xiaoping's astute political
tactic of luring the Dalai Lama with unpromising cryptic dialogues in
attempt to rein him under their control.

In reality, Tibetans can hold out not much hope for these superficial
talks. There is always a give and take in a negotiation. In the
Chinese leaders' view, the Dalai Lama has nothing to offer in return.
Tibet is firmly under their control and the demand for independence
was voluntarily and unilaterally forsaken with the Middle Way Policy.
The Chinese leaders knew well that the ephemeral international
condemnation of the military crack down in Tibet in March would soon
be forgiven and forgotten like the Tiananmen Square massacre, and as
the world media either get bored or find something else to get
excited about, world leaders would change their positions
accordingly. For instance, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who
was in vanguard calling for the boycott of the opening ceremony in
the EU parliament, attended the opening ceremony after all.

The greatest strength His Holiness the Dalai Lama has at his disposal
to save Tibet is not his international stature, nor is it his
compassionate overture to the Chinese, but the absolute unshakable
faith of his people in him. If His Holiness the Dalai Lama mobilized
his people behind him in this struggle like Gandhi did against the
British, the Middle Way Policy would still have a chance to work.
That is perhaps what His Holiness is trying to do when he has
appealed to the Tibetan masses to take on greater role in deciding
the future course of action.

The Chinese leaders are well aware of the danger of the Dalai Lama's
voice inside Tibet and make sure that it does not cross Tibetan
borders at any cost. They ban pictures and speeches of the Dalai Lama
in Tibet and constantly vilify him on the state run media. For
instance, they accused the Dalai Lama for masterminding the March
uprising in Tibet. Outrageous, false, baseless, whatever you call it,
their deflection strategy has worked. The Dalai Lama and Tibetan
Government in Exile, instead of condemning China, have quickly turned
defensive, actively denying any involvement in the unrest, which may
be true but it was not addressed the truth as far as the Chinese
repression was concerned. It was Chinese strategy to keep the Dalai
Lama from supporting the protests in Tibet. When the Dalai Lama
threatened to resign, the momentum of the protests inside Tibet abated.

In order to gain any ground for the Middle Way Policy, the Dalai Lama
should unequivocally encourage and support non-violent demonstrations
inside Tibet and be able to threaten China of more massive
demonstrations in future if they do not resolve the issue of Tibet
soon. And that is a real tangible bargaining chip in negotiation.
This does not compromise the Middle Way Policy, but gives strength to it.

The author is a biology teacher in a College Prep School (High
School) in Connecticut USA. He can be reached at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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