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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

After 30 years of frustration, Dalai Lama seeks fresh answers

November 17, 2008

Jeremy Page in Dharamsala
Times Online - UK
November 15, 2008

Karma Choephel was 9 years old when he heard on the radio that the Dalai Lama was fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remembers his father gathering the family and leading them by horse and yak over the Himalayas to Nepal, and then to India.

It was 1959 and at the time he and the 100,000 other Tibetans who followed the Dalai Lama thought that they would be gone for a few months or maybe a few years. Five decades on they are still in India – mostly in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama established his government-in-exile.

"Due to our passivity and compassion, we’ve got good PR," said Mr Choephel, now 59 and speaker of the parliament-in-exile. "But at the end of the day, people are still dying and we are still refugees. The sacrifice has been tremendous but was it worth it?” He is not alone in his frustration.

The Dalai Lama shocked his followers last month when he said he had failed in his efforts to negotiate a "middle way" with China by asking for real autonomy, rather than independence. “As far as I’m concerned, I have given up,” he said.
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He also called for a six-day conference of 600 Tibetan exiles to discuss their movement’s future in the light of the violent anti-Chinese protests in Tibet this year. That meeting, which begins on Monday, could ultimately lead to the Dalai Lama taking a more hardline stance and resuming his calls for independence for the first time in 30 years. Some fear it could encourage younger Tibetans to adopt violent tactics, despite the Dalai Lama’s opposition, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Others worry that, whatever the result, it will play into the hands of the Chinese Government, which is intent on dividing the exiled community.

"The Tibetans are caught in a pincer movement," said Robbie Barnett, who teaches Tibetan history at Columbia University in New York. "This seems to be a major part of Chinese strategy: to undermine the Dalai Lama by building up the radicals.”

At the heart of the issue is the question of Tibet’s status before Communist troops took control in 1950. The Chinese Government says that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, while the Dalai Lama says that it had been de facto independent for hundreds of years. He abandoned his calls for statehood when Deng Xiaoping, the late Chinese leader, sent word in 1979 that if he did, a negotiated settlement was possible. Soon after talks began on a Chinese proposal to grant Tibet more autonomy, and allow the Dalai Lama to return. “We should have accepted it then,” said Kungo Juchen Thubten, 79, who participated in three rounds of talks with China in the early Eighties. Those talks foundered as has every other round since.

When the Dalai Lama’s envoys were in Beijing this month for the latest round of negotiations, he said: "My trust in the Chinese Government has become thinner, thinner, thinner. I have to accept failure.” China responded by hardening its position, apparently ruling out a middle way.

Zhu Weiqun, of the Communist Party’s United Front, said that China would "never allow ethnic splitting in the name of genuine autonomy" and he accused the Dalai Lama of plotting “apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.

Experts say that China’s strategy is to sideline the Dalai Lama and wait for him to die in the hope that the Tibetan movement disintegrates soon after. But although he underwent surgery last month to remove kidney stones, the Dalai Lama, 73, is still in good health.

He is hoping that the conference will provide him with fresh ideas, a new mandate to deal with China and relief from the burden of decision-making. The problem is that many Tibetans are still reluctant to criticise him or his policies, and the government-in-exile is loath to renounce the middle way.

The most radical proposal is likely to come from the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which calls for independence and reserves the right to use violence. “If we sit back and hope it’s going to be delivered on a silver platter, that’s not going to happen,” said Tsewang Rigzin, the group’s president. Although support for groups such as the TYC appears to growing, they will be in a minority at the meeting, with more than half of the attendees coming from the government-in-exile.

The most likely result is a statement of support for the Dalai Lama. Yet by allowing public debate on a matter long his private concern, the meeting could prepare Tibetan exiles for something bolder in the future, and for life after he passes away. “We are too dependent on the Dalai Lama,” said Dawa Phunkyi, a member of the parliament-in-exile. “We have to take more responsibility. At 73, even the head of a family needs some rest.”

Autonomy or independence?

Dalai Lama Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, below. He wants an open discussion about how to deal with China

Samdhong Rinpoche Prime Minister of Tibetan government-in-exile. Wants to continue the push for autonomy rather than independence

Jamyang Norbu Independence activist who fought with CIA-trained Tibetan guerrillas against China in the Sixties

Students for a Free Tibet Claims to have 30,000 Tibetan and foreign members. Wants independence but no violence

Tibetan Women’s Association Claims to have 15,000 members and supports the middle way. Wants to raise public awareness of abuses faced by Tibetan women

Tibetan Youth Congress Claims to have 30,000 Tibetan members. The group wants independence and reserves the right to use violence
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