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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."

Tibet movement veers from 'Middle Way'

November 23, 2008

By Antoaneta Bezlova
Asia Times
November 21, 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 a way out of the Tibetan stalemate.

Frustrated by the lack of progress during recent talks with Beijing,
more than 500 Tibetan exile leaders have gathered in Dharamsala,
India, for emergency talks over their future strategy. The meeting,
organized by the Dalai Lama, is the first of its kind since the
Tibetan government took refuge in India in 1959.

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 young followers
to push for outright independence for Tibet by any means.

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 decides to drop the Dalai Lama's moderate path of
compromise. The Dalai Lama organized the six-day meeting, but it is
unclear if he will attend as he is recovering from gallstone surgery.

"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 exiled Tibetan parliament would
have the final say over any decisions made this week.

Beijing has 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 the
government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama - revered by the Tibetans as a spiritual 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, which was 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."

"I have to accept failure," he said.

A gulf of mistrust exists between Tibet and China, who have
irreconcilable visions of the future of the land of the snows.
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 recently conducted among in Tibet found that most
Tibetans would follow any decision by the Dalai Lama, a spokesman for
the exiled 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. Groups such as
Gu Chu Sum, Students for a Free Tibet and the influential Tibetan
Youth Congress all favor independence, but such a shift in policy
would be of historic proportions and could cost international support.

Tsewang Rigzin, leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress, told the Times
newspaper of London that Tibetans "will have to pay a price for
confronting the Chinese and they are prepared to pay it in their own blood".

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, at
which Chinese authorities have said 22 died. During the last round of
talks held in the Chinese capital this month the Tibetans presented a
"memorandum on genuine autonomy", which stressed their right to
create their own regional government and to be represented in
decision-making in the Chinese government.

It also called for protecting the culture and identity of minority
nationalities in Tibet, and preserving the environment.

But Chinese officials accused the Tibetan envoys of "lacking
sincerity" by repeatedly demanding a "high degree of autonomy". They
ended with Chinese government officials reiterating that independence
for Tibet can never be considered.

Zhu Weiqun, vice minister of China's United Front Work Department,
which oversees Sino-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 roundabout 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 system will never be
implemented in non-Han Chinese territories.

"It is the fundamental political system of China to 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 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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