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Tibetan Movement May Dump 'Middle Way'

November 21, 2008

By Antoaneta Bezlova/IPS Writer
Irrawaddy (Thailand)
November 19, 2008

BEIJING -- Eight months after Tibet's capital of Lhasa was rocked by
violent anti-Chinese protests positions have hardened, casting gloom
on prospects for progress on the Tibetan stalemate.

More than 500 Tibetan exile leaders have gathered in Dharamsala,
India, for emergency talks over their future strategy on China.

Tibetan Buddhist monks pray during a morning prayer session at the
Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India, on Tuesday. (Photo: AP)

The Dalai Lama's admission of failure in his "middle way" approach --
a policy of compromise and peaceful dialogue that he has pursued for
years with Beijing—has led to calls by some radical followers to push
for outright independence for Tibet.

The prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile said the talks this
week could lead to a dramatic new path for the Tibetan movement if
the congress decided to drop the Dalai Lama's moderate path of compromise.

"If the outcome of the present meeting is we should switch over from
the 'middle way' to independence, we will gladly follow that,"
Samdhong Rinpoche said. He added the exile parliament would have the
final say over any decisions made this week.

Beijing responded with a harsh warning, saying any attempt to split
the Himalayan region from China were "doomed".

"The so-called Tibet government-in-exile is not recognized by any
government in the world," China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang
said at a press briefing Tuesday. "Any attempt to separate Tibet from
Chinese territory will be doomed."

China's warning came on the heels of the British government's
withdrawal of its formal recognition of the suzerainty relationship
between Tibet and China. As the only remaining nation to accord Tibet
a "special position", which recognized China's "suzerainty" but not
its "sovereignty" over Tibet, Britain was accused by critics of
undermining Tibet's bargaining position with Beijing.

China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for 700 years. But
while the Manchu dynasty—from the early 18th century on till
1912—acted as a sort of feudal overlord, providing military backing
to protect the Dalai Lama whenever necessary, the remote Himalayan
region was left to govern itself.

In 1949, enforcing the Manchu claim to the territory, communist China
invaded and occupied Tibet. An uprising against Chinese rule in March
1959 was brutally suppressed and the current Dalai Lama together with
some 80,000 of his followers fled to India where they set up a

The Dalai Lama -- revered by the Tibetans as a spiritual and temporal
leader -- won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his determined
commitment to non-violence in pursuing the Tibetan cause.

He has repeatedly said he is not asking for a sovereign, independent
Tibet, but for genuine autonomy, pledged to his people by Chinese
communist leaders in 1951 but never delivered. Touring world
capitals, he has emphasized that without a greater respect for the
religious and cultural identity of all Tibetans living inside China,
his homeland is doomed.

"Inside Tibet, the situation [has] become much worse," he told
reporters recently during a visit to Tokyo. "This old nation, with
ancient culture and heritage is now dying."

There exists a gulf of mistrust and irreconcilable visions for Tibet
between China and Dharamsala. Representatives of the Dalai Lama have
held eight rounds of talks with Chinese negotiators since 2002
without any visible progress in breaching the differences.

The two sides cannot even agree which Tibet they are talking about.
The Dalai Lama believes he represents all seven million Tibetans,
while the Chinese mean the 2.8 million that live in the Tibet
Autonomous Region. Most Tibetans live in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and
Qinghai provinces as a result of borders drawn by the Chinese
communist leaders in the 1950s.

Beijing says the so-called "Greater Tibet" put forward by the Dalai
Lama would take up a quarter of China's territory and denies it ever
existed. It also accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader of using the
pursuit of "genuine autonomy" as a disguise for seeking "covert
independence". Chinese officials have dismissed the current talks in
Dharamsala as meaningless, contending the exiled community does not
represent the views of most Tibetans.

But a secret poll conducted among Tibetans on the mainland claimed
most people would follow any decision by the Dalai Lama, a spokesman
for the exile Tibetan parliament said this week.

The number of those who wanted full independence was twice as many as
those who supported the current "middle way" approach, Karma Chophel
said, without revealing specifics as to how the poll was carried out.

The "middle way" has come under fire by some Tibetan exiles for not
making headway in pushing forward the Tibetan cause. In March, a
violent uprising by ethnic Tibetans in Lhasa and across swaths of
western China was aggressively put down by Beijing. The riots threw a
shadow over China's preparations for the Beijing Olympics and
provoked a string of international protests.

Beijing blamed the Dalai Lama and his followers for the riots. During
the last round of talks held in the Chinese capital this month,
Chinese officials accused the Tibetan envoys of "lacking sincerity"
by demanding "high degree of autonomy" repeatedly.

Zhu Weiqun, a senior official in charge of Tibetan talks, said
Beijing told the Dalai Lama in the 1980s that a "high degree of
autonomy" was impossible. "However, more than two decades have
passed, and they still use this trick to talk in a round-about way
with the central government, which shows that they lack sincerity,"
Zhu told the media at a specially convened briefing earlier this month.

China has offered a wide degree of autonomy to the former colonies of
Hong Kong and Macao, but has said the same would not apply to non-Han
Chinese territories.

"It is a fundamental political system of China" It does not allow the
promotion of ethnic separatism under the banner of 'genuine ethnic
self-governance'," Du Qinglin, head of a government department in
charge of the negotiations, said after the breakup of the latest
talks in Beijing.

"We will never allow someone to hold a banner of 'real autonomy' and
damage the national unity," Du added.

But while Beijing sees the Tibetan impasse as an issue of
sovereignty, the exiled Tibetan community says it is an issue of human rights.

"This meeting is not about taking Tibet away from China," Thupten
Samphel, spokesman for the government-in-exile, said Tuesday
referring to the current talks in Dharamsala. "It is about restoring
the human rights of Tibetan people in Tibet."
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