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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."

Memorandum On Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People

November 17, 2008

Central Tibetan Authority
November 16, 2008


Since the renewal of direct contact with the Central Government of
the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 2002, extensive discussions
have been held between the envoys of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
and representatives of the Central Government. In these discussions
we have put forth clearly the aspirations of Tibetans. The essence of
the Middle Way Approach is to secure genuine autonomy for the Tibetan
people within the scope of the Constitution of the PRC. This is of
mutual benefit and based on the long-term interest of both the
Tibetan and Chinese peoples. We remain firmly committed not to seek
separation or independence. We are seeking a solution to the Tibetan
problem through genuine autonomy, which is compatible with the
principles on autonomy in the Constitution of the People's Republic
of China (PRC). The protection and development of the unique Tibetan
identity in all its aspects serves the larger interest of humanity in
general and those of the Tibetan and Chinese people in particular.

During the seventh round of talks in Beijing on 1 and 2 July 2008,
the Vice Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference and the Minister of the Central United Front Work
Department, Mr. Du Qinglin, explicitly invited suggestions from His
Holiness the Dalai Lama for the stability and development of Tibet.
The Executive Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work
Department, Mr. Zhu Weiqun, further said they would like to hear our
views on the degree or form of autonomy we are seeking as well as on
all aspects of regional autonomy within the scope of the Constitution
of the PRC.

Accordingly, this memorandum puts forth our position on genuine
autonomy and how the specific needs of the Tibetan nationality for
autonomy and self-government can be met through application of the
principles on autonomy of the Constitution of the People's Republic
of China, as we understand them. On this basis, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama is confident that the basic needs of the Tibetan
nationality can be met through genuine autonomy within the PRC.

The PRC is a multi-national state, and as in many other parts of the
world, it seeks to resolve the nationality question through autonomy
and the self-government of the minority nationalities.  The
Constitution of the PRC contains fundamental principles on autonomy
and self-government whose objectives are compatible with the needs
and aspirations of the Tibetans.  Regional national autonomy is aimed
at opposing both the oppression and the separation of nationalities
by rejecting both Han Chauvinism and local nationalism. It is
intended to ensure the protection of the culture and the identity of
minority nationalities by powering them to become masters of their own affairs.

To a very considerable extent Tibetan needs can be met within the
constitutional principles on autonomy, as we understand them. On
several points, the Constitution gives significant discretionary
powers to state organs in the decision-making and on the operation of
the system of autonomy. These discretionary powers can be exercised
to facilitate genuine autonomy for Tibetans in ways that would
respond to the uniqueness of the Tibetan situation. In implementing
these principles, legislation relevant to autonomy may consequently
need to be reviewed or amended to respond to the specific
characteristics and needs of the Tibetan nationality. Given good will
on both sides, outstanding problems can be resolved within the
constitutional principles on autonomy. In this way national unity and
stability and harmonious relations between the Tibetan and other
nationalities will be established.


Tibetans belong to one minority nationality regardless of the current
administrative division.  The integrity of the Tibetan nationality
must be respected. That is the spirit, the intent and the principle
underlying the constitutional concept of national regional autonomy
as well as the principle of equality of nationalities.

There is no dispute about the fact that Tibetans share the same
language, culture, spiritual tradition, core values and customs, that
they belong to the same ethnic group and that they have a strong
sense of common identity. Tibetans share a common history and despite
periods of political or administrative divisions, Tibetans
continuously remained united by their religion, culture, education,
language, way of life and by their unique high plateau environment.

The Tibetan nationality lives in one contiguous area on the Tibetan
plateau, which they have inhabited for millennia and to which they
are therefore indigenous. For purposes of the constitutional
principles of national regional autonomy Tibetans in the PRC in fact
live as a single nationality all over the Tibetan plateau.

On account of the above reasons, the PRC has recognised the Tibetan
nationality as one of the 55 minority nationalities.


Tibetans have a rich and distinct history, culture and spiritual
tradition all of which form valuable parts of the heritage of
humanity. Not only do Tibetans wish to preserve their own heritage,
which they cherish, but equally they wish to further develop their
culture and spiritual life and knowledge in ways that are
particularly suited to the needs and conditions of humanity in the
21st century.

As a part of the multi-national state of the PRC, Tibetans can
benefit greatly from the rapid economic and scientific development
the country is experiencing. While wanting to actively participate
and contribute to this development, we want to ensure that this
happens without the people losing their Tibetan identity, culture and
core values and without putting the distinct and fragile environment
of the Tibetan plateau, to which Tibetans are indigenous, at risk.

The uniqueness of the Tibetan situation has consistently been
recognised within the PRC and has been reflected in the terms of the
'17 Point Agreement' and in statements and policies of successive
leaders of the PRC since then, and should remain the basis for
defining the scope and structure of the specific autonomy to be
exercised by the Tibetan nationality within the PRC. The Constitution
reflects a fundamental principle of flexibility to accommodate
special situations, including the special characteristics and needs
of minority nationalities.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's commitment to seek a solution for the
Tibetan people within the PRC is clear and unambiguous.  This
position is in full compliance and agreement with paramount leader
Deng Xiaoping's statement in which he emphasised that except for
independence all other issues could be resolved through dialogue.
Whereas, we are committed, therefore, to fully respect the
territorial integrity of the PRC, we expect the Central Government to
recognise and fully respect the integrity of the Tibetan nationality
and its right to exercise genuine autonomy within the PRC. We believe
that this is the basis for resolving the differences between us and
promoting unity, stability and harmony among nationalities.

For Tibetans to advance as a distinct nationality within the PRC,
they need to continue to progress and develop economically, socially
and politically in ways that correspond to the development of the PRC
and the world as a whole while respecting and nurturing the Tibetan
characteristics of such development. For this to happen, it is
imperative that the right of Tibetans to govern themselves be
recognised and implemented throughout the region where they live in
compact communities in the PRC, in accordance with the Tibetan
nationality's own needs, priorities and characteristics.

The Tibetan people's culture and identity can only be preserved and
promoted by the Tibetans themselves and not by any
others.  Therefore, Tibetans should be capable of self-help,
self-development and self-government, and an optimal balance needs to
be found between this and the necessary and welcome guidance and
assistance for Tibet from the Central Government and other provinces
and regions of the PRC.

Subject Matters of Self-government

1)  Language
Language is the most important attribute of the Tibetan people's
identity. Tibetan is the primary means of communication, the language
in which their literature, their spiritual texts and historical as
well as scientific works are written. The Tibetan language is not
only at the same high level as that of Sanskrit in terms of grammar,
but is also the only one that has the capability of translating from
Sanskrit without an iota of error. Therefore, Tibetan language has
not only the richest and best-translated literatures, many scholars
even contend that it has also the richest and largest number of
literary compositions. The Constitution of the PRC, in Article 4,
guarantees the freedom of all nationalities "to use and develop their
own spoken and written languages ...."

In order for Tibetans to use and develop their own language, Tibetan
must be respected as the main spoken and written language. Similarly,
the principal language of the Tibetan autonomous areas needs to be Tibetan.

This principle is broadly recognised in the Constitution in Article
121, which states, "the organs of self-government of the national
autonomous areas employ the spoken and written language or language
in common use in the locality."  Article 10 of the Law on Regional
National Autonomy (LRNA) provides that these organs "shall guarantee
the freedom of the nationalities in these areas to use and develop
their own spoken and written languages...."

Consistent with the principle of recognition of Tibetan as the main
language in Tibetan areas, the LRNA (Article 36) also allows the
autonomous government authorities to decide on "the language used in
instruction and enrolment procedures" with regard to education.  This
implies recognition of the principle that the principal medium of
education be Tibetan.

2)  Culture
The concept of national regional autonomy is primarily for the
purpose of preservation of the culture of minority nationalities.
Consequently, the constitution of PRC contains references to cultural
preservation in Articles 22, 47 and 119 as also in Article 38 of the
LRNA. To Tibetans, Tibetan culture is closely connected to our
religion, tradition, language and identity, which are facing threats
at various levels. Since Tibetans live within the multinational state
of the PRC, this distinct Tibetan cultural heritage needs protection
through appropriate constitutional provisions.

3)  Religion
Religion is fundamental to Tibetans and Buddhism is closely linked to
their identity. We recognise the importance of separation of church
and state, but this should not affect the freedom and practice of
believers. It is impossible for Tibetans to imagine personal or
community freedom without the freedom of belief, conscience and
religion. The Constitution recognises the importance of religion and
protects the right to profess it.  Article 36 guarantees all citizens
the right to the freedom of religious belief. No one can compel
another to believe in or not to believe in any religion.
Discrimination on the basis of religion is forbidden.

An interpretation of the constitutional principle in light of
international standard would also cover the freedom of the manner of
belief or worship. The freedom covers the right of monasteries to be
organised and run according to Buddhist monastic tradition, to engage
in teachings and studies, and to enroll any number of monks and nuns
or age group in accordance with these rules. The normal practice to
hold public teachings and the empowerment of large gatherings is
covered by this freedom and the state should not interfere in
religious practices and traditions, such as the relationship between
a teacher and his disciple, management of monastic institutions, and
the recognition of reincarnations.

4)  Education
The desire of Tibetans to develop and administer their own education
system in cooperation and in coordination with the central
government's ministry of education is supported by the principles
contained in the Constitution with regard to education. So is the
aspiration to engage in and contribute to the development of science
and technology. We note the increasing recognition in international
scientific development of the contribution which Buddhist psychology,
metaphysics, cosmology and the understanding of the mind is making to
modern science.

Whereas, under Article 19 of the Constitution the state takes on the
overall responsibility to provide education for its citizens, Article
119 recognises the principle that "[T]he organs of self-government of
the national autonomous areas independently administer educational
.... affairs in their respective areas..."  This principle is also
reflected in Article 36 of the LRNA.

Since the degree of autonomy in decision-making is unclear, the point
to be emphasised is that the Tibetan need to exercise genuine
autonomy with regard to its own nationality's education and this is
supported by the principles of the constitution on autonomy.

As for the aspiration to engage in and contribute to the development
of scientific knowledge and technology, the Constitution (Article
119) and the LRNA (Article 39) clearly recognise the right of
autonomous areas to develop scientific knowledge and technology.

5)  Environment Protection
Tibet is the prime source of Asia's great rivers. It also has the
earth's loftiest mountains as well as the world's most extensive and
highest plateau, rich in mineral resources, ancient forests, and many
deep valleys untouched by human disturbances.

This environmental protection practice was enhanced by the Tibetan
people's traditional respect for all forms of life, which prohibits
the harming of all sentient beings, whether human or animal. Tibet
used to be an unspoiled wilderness sanctuary in a unique natural environment.

Today, Tibet's traditional environment is suffering irreparable
damage. The effects of this are especially notable on the grasslands,
the croplands, the forests, the water resources and the wildlife.

In view of this, according to Articles 45 and 66 of the LNRA, the
Tibetan people should be given the right over the environment and
allow them to follow their traditional conservation practices.

6)  Utilisation of Natural Resources
With respect to the protection and management of the natural
environment and the utilisation of natural resources the Constitution
and the LRNA only acknowledge a limited role for the organs of
self-government of the autonomous areas (see LRNA Articles 27, 28,
45, 66, and Article 118 of the Constitution, which pledges that the
state "shall give due consideration to the interests of [the national
autonomous areas]]."  The LRNA recognises the importance for the
autonomous areas to protect and develop forests and grasslands
(Article 27) and to "give priority to the rational exploitation and
utilization of the natural resources that the local authorities are
entitled to develop", but only within the limits of state plans and
legal stipulations. In fact, the central role of the State in these
matters is reflected in the Constitution (Article 9).

The principles of autonomy enunciated in the Constitution cannot, in
our view, truly lead to Tibetans becoming masters of their own
destiny if they are not sufficiently involved in decision-making on
utilisation of natural resources such as mineral resources, waters,
forests, mountains, grasslands, etc.

The ownership of land is the foundation on which the development of
natural resources, taxes and revenues of an economy are
based.  Therefore, it is essential that only the nationality of the
autonomous region shall have the legal authority to transfer or lease
land, except land owned by the state. In the same manner, the
autonomous region must have the independent authority to formulate
and implement developmental plans concurrent to the state plans.

7)  Economic Development and Trade
Economic Development in Tibet is welcome and much needed. The Tibetan
people remain one of the most economically backward regions within the PRC.

The Constitution recognises the principle that the autonomous
authorities have an important role to play in the economic
development of their areas in view of local characteristics and needs
(Article 118 of the Constitution, also reflected in LRNA Article 25).
The Constitution also recognises the principle of autonomy in the
administration and management of finances (Article 117, and LRNA
Article 32). At the same time, the Constitution also recognises the
importance of providing State funding and assistance to the
autonomous areas to accelerate development (Article 122, LRNA Article 22).

Similarly, Article 31 of the LRNA recognises the competence of
autonomous areas, especially those such as Tibet, adjoining foreign
countries, to conduct border trade as well as trade with foreign
countries. The recognition of these principles is important to the
Tibetan nationality given the region's proximity to foreign countries
with which the people have cultural, religious, ethnic and economic

The assistance rendered by the Central Government and the provinces
has temporary benefits, but in the long run if the Tibetan people are
not self-reliant and become dependent on others it has greater harm.
Therefore, an important objective of autonomy is to make the Tibetan
people economically self-reliant.

8)  Public health
The Constitution enunciates the responsibility of the State to
provide health and medical services (Article 21). Article 119
recognises that this is an area of responsibility of the autonomous
areas. The LRNA (Article 40) also recognises the right of organs of
self-government of the autonomous areas to "make independent
decisions on plans for developing local medical and health services
and for advancing both modern and the traditional medicine of the

The existing health system fails to adequately cover the needs of the
rural Tibetan population.  According to the principles of the
above-mentioned laws, the regional autonomous organs need to have the
competencies and resources to cover the health need of the entire
Tibetan population. They also need the competencies to promote the
traditional Tibetan medical and astro system strictly according to
traditional practice.

9)  Public Security
In matters of public security it is important that the majority of
security personnel consists of members of the local nationality who
understand and respect local customs and traditions.

What is lacking in Tibetan areas is absence of decision-making
authority in the hands of local Tibetan officials.

An important aspect of autonomy and self-government is the
responsibility for the internal public order and security of the
autonomous areas. The Constitution (Article 120) and LRNA (Article
24) recognise the importance of local involvement and authorise
autonomous areas to organise their security within "the military
system of the State and practical needs and with the approval of the
State Council."

10) Regulation on population migration
The fundamental objective of national regional autonomy and
self-government is the preservation of the identity, culture,
language and so forth of the minority nationality and to ensure that
it is the master of its own affairs. When applied to a particular
territory in which the minority nationality lives in a concentrated
community or communities, the very principle and purpose of national
regional autonomy is disregarded if large scale migration and
settlement of the majority Han nationality and other nationalities is
encouraged and allowed.  Major demographic changes that result from
such migration will have the effect of assimilating rather than
integrating the Tibetan nationality into the Han nationality and
gradually extinguishing the distinct culture and identity of the
Tibetan nationality. Also, the influx of large numbers of Han and
other nationalities into Tibetan areas will fundamentally change the
conditions necessary for the exercise of regional autonomy since the
constitutional criteria for the exercise of autonomy, namely that the
minority nationality "live in compact communities" in a particular
territory is changed and undermined by the population movements and
transfers. If such migrations and settlements continue uncontrolled,
Tibetans will no longer live in a compact community or communities
and will consequently no longer be entitled, under the Constitution,
to national regional autonomy. This would effectively violate the
very principles of the Constitution in its approach to the nationalities issue.

There is precedent in the PRC for restriction on the movement or
residence of citizens. There is only a very limited recognition of
the right of autonomous areas to work out measures to control "the
transient population" in those areas. To us it would be vital that
the autonomous organs of self-government have the authority to
regulate the residence, settlement and employment or economic
activities of persons who wish to move to Tibetan areas from other
parts of the PRC in order to ensure respect for and the realisation
of the objectives of the principle of autonomy.

It is not our intention to expel the non-Tibetans who have
permanently settled in Tibet and have lived there and grown up there
for a considerable time. Our concern is the induced massive movement
of primarily Han but also some other nationalities into many areas of
Tibet, upsetting existing communities, marginalising the Tibetan
population there and threatening the fragile natural environment.

11)  Cultural, educational and religious exchanges with other countries
Besides the importance of exchanges and cooperation between the
Tibetan nationality and other nationalities, provinces, and regions
of the PRC in the subject matters of autonomy, such as culture, art,
education, science, public health, sports, religion, environment,
economy and so forth, the power of autonomous areas to conduct such
exchanges with foreign countries in these areas is also recognised in
the LRNA (Article 42).


In order for the Tibetan nationality to develop and flourish with its
distinct identity, culture and spiritual tradition through the
exercise of self-government on the above mentioned basic Tibetan
needs, the entire community, comprising all the areas currently
designated by the PRC as Tibetan autonomous areas, should be under
one single administrative entity.   The current administrative
divisions, by which Tibetan communities are ruled and administered
under different provinces and regions of the PRC, foments
fragmentation, promotes unequal development, and weakens the ability
of the Tibetan nationality to protect and promote its common
cultural, spiritual and ethnic identity. Rather than respecting the
integrity of the nationality, this policy promotes its fragmentation
and disregards the spirit of autonomy. Whereas the other major
minority nationalities such as the Uighurs and Mongols govern
themselves almost entirely within their respective single autonomous
regions, Tibetans remain as if they were several minority
nationalities instead of one.

Bringing all the Tibetans currently living in designated Tibetan
autonomous areas within a single autonomous administrative unit is
entirely in accordance with the constitutional principle contained in
Article 4, also reflected in the LRNA (Article 2), that "regional
autonomy is practiced in areas where people of minority nationalities
live in concentrated communities." The LRNA describes regional
national autonomy as the "basic policy adopted by the Communist Party
of China for the solution of the national question in China" and
explains its meaning and intent in its Preface:

the minority nationalities, under unified state leadership, practice
regional autonomy in areas where they live in concentrated
communities and set up organs of self-government for the exercise of
the power of autonomy. Regional national autonomy embodies the
state's full respect for and guarantee of the right of the minority
nationalities to administer their internal affairs and its adherence
to the principle of equality, unity and common prosperity of all nationalities.

It is clear that the Tibetan nationality within the PRC will be able
to exercise its right to govern itself and administer its internal
affairs effectively only once it can do so through an organ of
self-government that has jurisdiction over the Tibetan nationality as a whole.

The LRNA recognises the principle that boundaries of national
autonomous areas may need to be modified. The need for the
application of the fundamental principles of the Constitution on
regional autonomy through respect of the integrity of the Tibetan
nationality is not only totally legitimate, but the administrative
changes that may be required to achieve this in no way violate
constitutional principles. There are several precedents where this
has been actually done.


The extent to which the right to self-government and
self-administration can be exercised on the preceding subject matters
largely determines the genuine character of Tibetan autonomy. The
task at hand is therefore to look into the manner in which autonomy
can be regulated and exercised for it to effectively respond to the
unique situation and basic needs of the Tibetan nationality.

The exercise of genuine autonomy would include the right of Tibetans
to create their own regional government and government institutions
and processes that are best suited to their needs and
characteristics. It would require that the People's Congress of the
autonomous region have the power to legislate on all matters within
the competencies of the region (that is the subject matters referred
to above) and that other organs of the autonomous government have the
power to execute and administer decisions autonomously. Autonomy also
entails representation and meaningful participation in national
decision-making in the Central Government. Processes for effective
consultation and close cooperation or joint decision-making between
the Central Government and the regional government on areas of common
interest also need to be in place for the autonomy to be effective.

A crucial element of genuine autonomy is the guarantee the
Constitution or other laws provide that powers and responsibilities
allocated to the autonomous region cannot be unilaterally abrogated
or changed. This means that neither the Central Government nor the
autonomous region's government should be able, without the consent of
the other, to change the basic features of the autonomy.

The parameters and specifics of such genuine autonomy for Tibet that
respond to the unique needs and conditions of the Tibetan people and
region should be set out in some detail in regulations on the
exercise of autonomy, as provided for in Article 116 of the
Constitution (enacted in LRNA Article 19) or, if it is found to be
more appropriate, in a separate set of laws or regulations adopted
for that purpose. The Constitution, including Article 31, provides
the flexibility to adopt special laws to respond to unique situations
such as the Tibetan one, while respecting the established social,
economic and political system of the country.

The Constitution in Section VI provides for organs of self-government
of national autonomous regions and acknowledges their power to
legislate. Thus Article 116 (enacted in Article 19 of the LRNA)
refers to their power to enact "separate regulations in light of the
political, economic and cultural characteristics of the nationality
or nationalities in the areas concerned."  Similarly, the
Constitution recognises the power of autonomous administration in a
number of areas (Article 117-120) as well as the power of autonomous
governments to apply flexibility in implementing the laws and
policies of the Central Government and higher state organs to suit
the conditions of the autonomous area concerned (Article 115).

The above-mentioned legal provisions do contain significant
limitations to the decision-making authority of the autonomous organs
of government. But the Constitution nevertheless recognises the
principle that organs of self-government make laws and policy
decisions that address local needs and that these may be different
from those adopted elsewhere, including by the Central Government.

Although the needs of the Tibetans are broadly consistent with the
principles on autonomy contained in the Constitution, as we have
shown, their realisation is impeded because of the existence of a
number of problems, which makes the implementation of those
principles today difficult or ineffective.

Implementation of genuine autonomy, for example, requires clear
divisions of powers and responsibilities between the Central
Government and the government of the autonomous region with respect
to subject matter competency. Currently there is no such clarity and
the scope of legislative powers of autonomous regions is both
uncertain and severely restricted. Thus, whereas the Constitution
intends to recognise the special need for autonomous regions to
legislate on many matters that affect them, the requirements of
Article 116 for prior approval at the highest level of the Central
Government - by the Standing Committee of National People's Congress
(NPC) - inhibit the implementation of this principle of autonomy. In
reality, it is only autonomous regional congresses that expressly
require such approval, while the congresses of ordinary (not
autonomous) provinces of the PRC do not need prior permission and
merely report the passage of regulations to the Standing Committee of
the NPC "for the record" (Article 100).

The exercise of autonomy is further subject to a considerable number
of laws and regulations, according to Article 115 of the
Constitution. Certain laws effectively restrict the autonomy of the
autonomous region, while others are not always consistent with one
another. The result is that the exact scope of the autonomy is
unclear and is not fixed, since it is unilaterally changed with the
enactment of laws and regulations are higher levels of the state, and
even by changes in policy. There is also no adequate process for
consultation or for settling differences that arise between the
organs of the Central Government and of the regional government with
respect to the scope and exercise of autonomy. In practice, the
resulting uncertainty limits the initiative of regional authorities
and impedes the exercise of genuine autonomy by Tibetans today.

We do not at this stage wish to enter into details regarding these
and other impediments to the exercise of genuine autonomy today by
Tibetans, but mention them by way of example so that these may be
addressed in the appropriate manner in our dialogue in the future. We
will continue to study the Constitution and other relevant legal
provisions and, when appropriate, will be pleased to provide further
analysis of these issues, as we understand them.


As stated at the beginning of this memorandum, our intention is to
explore how the needs of the Tibetan nationality can be met within
the framework of PRC since we believe these needs are consistent with
the principles of the Constitution on autonomy. As His Holiness the
Dalai Lama stated on a number of occasions, we have no hidden agenda.
We have no intention at all of using any agreement on genuine
autonomy as stepping stone for separation from the PRC.

The objective of the Tibetan Government in Exile is to represent the
interests of the Tibetan people and to speak on their behalf.
Therefore, it will no longer be needed and will be dissolved once an
agreement is reached between us. In fact, His Holiness has reiterated
his decision not to accept any political office in Tibet at any time
in the future. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, nevertheless, plans to
use all his personal influence to ensure such an agreement would have
the legitimacy necessary to obtain the support of the Tibetan people.

Given these strong commitments, we propose that the next step in this
process be the agreement to start serious discussions on the points
raised in this memorandum. For this purpose we propose that we
discuss and agree on a mutually agreeable mechanism or mechanisms and
a timetable to do so effectively.

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