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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."

Tibetan exiles gather to discuss new strategy

November 18, 2008

Randeep Ramesh in Delhi
Guardian (UK)
November 17, 2008

Hundreds of Tibetan exiles from across the world will gather today in
the foothills of the Himalayas to consider an alternative to the
Dalai Lama's "middle-path" strategy.

It is seen as an admission that almost three decades of trying to get
autonomous status for Tibet through negotiations have borne little
but despair. The week-long meeting of delegates, from non-government
organisations as well as politicians, monks and intellectuals, will
see the first challenge to the settled policy of the Tibetan god-king
since the Dalai Lama dropped his call for Tibetan independence in
1979 after China's then leader, Deng Xiaoping, offered talks in return.

The spiritual leader, who has been based in the Indian Himalayan town
of McLeod Ganj since he fled Tibet in 1959, has since said he would
accept Chinese sovereignty over the roof of the world in exchange for
limited autonomy for Tibetans to practice their Buddhist religion,
culture and language.

Today's gathering comes at a turning point for the Tibetan cause and
takes place seven months after riots across Tibet left one hundred
people dead, according to activists. Beijing put the death toll at 18
and last week imprisoned 55 Tibetans for their role in the riot.

Earlier this month the 14th Dalai Lama told reporters in Japan that
"things are not improving inside Tibet". Admitting that his approach
had failed, he told journalists that it was now his "moral
responsibility to ask people what to do".

In doing so the 73-year-old monk has again signalled he will step
back from politics. His health has not been good - he has been in
hospital twice this year. Although he will not attend the gathering,
his presence will loom large in delegates' minds.

"The Dalai Lama will be completely silent and neutral over the
debate," said his spokesman, Tenzin Taklha. "It is up to the
[Tibetans] to say what the next step is. His holiness is prepared to
consider any path - independence, joining China, joining Russia even.
His holiness will accept any new way, but it has to be non-violent."

Whether this plea for passivity will win over the younger generation
of Tibetan activists remains to be seen. More than 120,000 Tibetans
live in India and many have never seen their motherland but have
grown up demonstrating against the iron rule of the Chinese in Tibet.

Tsewang Rigzin, the president of the pro-independence Tibetan Youth
Congress, said the Dalai Lama's message of autonomy was outdated. He
said that even in Tibet where he is revered as the incarnation of
Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of compassion, people had "rejected the
policy, which could only go so far".

The issue comes at a critical moment for the Tibetan cause. China's
grip on the province has tightened with 4 million Han Chinese
entering the region every year thanks to a new railway that many
activists say will see Tibetans swamped in their own country.

As the Dalai Lama's health dims, there are also concerns about who
will take over his leadership. Beijing changed its laws last year so
that the government has the final say in the appointments of high
lamas and reincarnations.
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