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<-Back to WTN Archives Tibet's Gamble Can the Dalai Lama's China talks succeed?
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

6. Tibet's Gamble Can the Dalai Lama's China talks succeed?
By Jehangir Pocha

They had waited for him since dawn, sun-drenched along an uneven mountain
road. But when the Dalai Lama's motorcade swept by, his passing wave left
many vaguely disenchanted.

Officials had warned that he would not be stopping; nevertheless,
disappointment is hard to accept from a man many consider a god.

Now, as the 68-year-old Dalai Lama engages in talks with the Chinese
government on the future of Tibet, there is a deepening sense of foreboding
that he is falling short.

Last September, after intense secret negotiations, a personal emissary of
the Dalai Lama met with the Chinese government in Beijing for the first time
since 1959. A second meeting followed in May this year.

Many of Tibet's 110,000 exiles see this as progress toward their return
home. But others are irked by how much the Dalai Lama has conceded just to
get a seat at the table.

His Holiness, as the Dalai Lama is universally called here, has dropped
Tibet's demand for independence from China in return for autonomy. There are
also indications that Tibetans might accept this autonomy over a limited
part of Tibet.

Long before Communist China's army entered Tibet in the early 1950s, vast
tracts of Tibetan land had been absorbed by China into regions such as
Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. In 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to
India, China gained control over what was left of Tibet and in 1965 turned
this area into a province called the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

The Dalai Lama now lays claim to all traditional Tibetan land, both TAR and
the areas seized by China. But many say this demand is unrealistic and he
should be flexible.

A Cornered Dog May Bite

But not everyone is happy with the concessions being made to the Chinese.

"You cannot give up the independence of Tibet. Anyone who tries this is
making a mistake," says Kalsang Godrupka Phuntsok, president of the Tibetan
Youth Congress (TYC). With 20,000 members, the TYC is the largest NGO within
the Tibetan community and is critical of the Dalai Lama's "middle path"

Sitting in the TYC's spartan headquarters, Phuntsok says: "The negotiations
mean nothing. The Chinese cannot be trusted. They are just playing with (the
Dalai Lama), buying time and waiting for him to die."

Phuntsok says the time has come for Tibetans to set aside nonviolence and
begin "targeted, victimless violence" against the Chinese, such as blowing
up economic targets and railway bridges.

Students around him nod and say they are willing to die for their cause.
Dhondup Dorjee, 24, explains why. "It's not that I believe in violence," he
says sharply, "but even a street dog, if he's cornered, will bite you."

Not Always Nonviolent

With the Tibetan struggle iconized by the smiling, benevolent face of the
Dalai Lama, such sentiments may surprise some. Few people realize that the
Tibetans have tried violence against the Chinese before. Between the mid-'
50s and 1972, Tibetans waged a covert war against China from Mustang in
Nepal with the assistance of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The operation, code-named ST CIRCUS, was one of the CIA's longest-running

Thousands of Tibetan guerillas were trained at a base called Dhumra, or "the
garden," at Camp Hale in Colorado and also in Saipan. They were then
parachuted into Tibet via Thailand or were smuggled in over land from Nepal.

President Nixon ended ST CIRCUS when he re-established diplomatic ties with
China, and the operation's records have never been made public.

Lhasang Tsering, 52, an ex-president of TYC, was a young participant in ST
CIRCUS in its dying days. He says it is time to reopen that chapter because
the "very survival of Tibet is threatened. The single biggest factor," he
says, "is China's policy of population transfer into Tibet."

A Culture Overwhelmed

China is swamping Tibet with Han Chinese in an attempt to integrate it into
the mainland. To Tibetans this is the most potent threat China has hurled at
their existence-more than the million who have died from Chinese policies,
the destruction of more than 6,000 Buddhist monasteries, the arrest and
torture of Tibetan monks, the denuding of Tibetan forests, and the
stationing of nuclear weapons and waste dumps in Tibet.

Samdhong Rinpoche, 64, is a monk and prime minister of the Tibetan
government-in-exile. He estimates that 7 million Han Chinese now live in
Tibet, almost a hundred times the number claimed by China. There are only
2.3 million Tibetans.

"In towns like Lhasa and Chengdu, 75 percent of the people are Han Chinese,"
says Rinpoche. "[Soon] we may become just like the Mongolians. Our culture
and heritage will be completely lost."

Tsering points to the building of a railroad into Tibet that will be used to
flood the region with Han Chinese even as the Chinese are talking with the
Dalai Lama as proof that negotiations will fail.

Rinpoche agrees that continuing Han migration will devastate Tibet, but he
says that violence could destroy Tibetan culture just as certainly.

"Our main goal is to preserve our spiritual and cultural traditions, and
nonviolence is part of that. If we give up on this then we cannot say we are
preserving Tibetan culture," he says.

Such high-mindedness is lost on Phuntsok. While professing deep respect for
the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama and monks such as Rinpoche,
Phuntsok says their moral convictions make them unsuitable political

"I want to ask the Dalai Lama: 'If you could achieve Tibetan independence in
a day by killing 100 Chinese would you do it?' If he says no, he cannot be
the leader of the Tibetan people. He values his philosophies more. Monks are
good people but perhaps too good for the raw politics consuming us," he

Tibetans know they are being played as pawns. In his book Freedom in Exile,
the Dalai Lama writes that the CIA supported ST CIRCUS "not because they
cared about Tibetan independence, but as part of their worldwide efforts to
destabilize all Communist governments."

India Backs Away

Recently India, too, has forsaken the Tibetans to pursue its own interests.
Though India remains a safe harbor for Tibetan refugees, most of whom live
in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, and hosts the Tibetan
government-in-exile in Dharamsala, New Delhi has been distancing itself from
the Tibetan struggle as it builds closer ties with Beijing.

When Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee visited China this June he dropped
the earlier Indian stance that maintained "Tibet as an autonomous region of
China." Instead Vajpayee declared, "the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of
the territory of People's Republic of China."

By accepting China's limited definition of Tibet and by saying TAR was
Chinese territory and not an autonomous region, India was, in effect,
accepting China's key positions on the issue.

The next day the Chinese gave de facto recognition to India's sovereignty
over the disputed Himalayan state of Sikkim, which India annexed in 1975.

A Cat and Mouse Game?

Looking past Dharamsala's main street crowded with tourists eager to taste
Tibetan mystic and the stores crammed with prayer beads and holy books that
service them, Tsering says the struggle has never been lonelier.

"I told His Holiness," Tsering says, "I told him 25 years ago. Stop waiting
for the world to save us. Stop hoping the Chinese will change. Whether the
cat is white or black, it is going to eat the mouse. To get our freedom we
must fight, maybe die. That is our only chance."

Tsering and Phuntsok acknowledge an insurgency against China has little
chance of success. But pointing to East Timor they say an insurgency could
take advantage of internal discord in China if and when it surfaces.

"Jose Ramos-Horta (the current foreign minister of East Timor) and I used to
work together in Geneva," says Tsering. "He took it for granted that we
would be free before them, but then Indonesia collapsed and they took the
opportunity. Today China is a very unstable country. If it crumbles we must
be ready to seize the opportunity."

The TYC has little knowledge and fewer means to act on its ideas. Yet it
remains a wild card in an increasingly complicated web of power politics.
Phuntsok himself throws open the question as to whether the TYC is a stick
the Dalai Lama uses to contrast with his own carrot. If so, the message the
Dalai Lama wants to send the Chinese is clear-if you don't deal with
reasonable me before I die, you might be left having to deal with these
young turks.

Jehangir Pocha, a native of Bombay, is an international journalist based in
Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tibetan director explores radicalism among youth in exileby Lobsang
WangyalDHARAMSALA, India, Jan 5 (AFP) - For most the Tibetan exile cause is
synonymous with the pacifist Dalai Lama, but one of the community's few film
directors is exploring a nascent radicalism of young people disillusioned
outside their Chinese-ruled homeland.

The pointedly titled "We're No Monks" profiles young people who sense they
will spend out their lives away from Tibet, most likely in Dharamsala, the
quiet Indian hill station that is home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of
other exiles.

One character's travails revolve around his estrangement from his wife.
Another is jobless and thinks his future lies in emigrating to the United

But another young man, Pasang, has just fled from Tibet. He is angry and
wants complacent Tibetan exiles to get radical in confronting China.

Pasang hatches up a plan to sabotage the convoy of a Chinese official
visiting India or to kidnap Chinese diplomats based in New Delhi in hopes of
avenging his anguish and securing the release of Tibetans jailed by Beijing.

The film is directed by Pema Dhondup, a Dharamsala-based Tibetan who learned
his craft through a Fulbright scholarship that took him to the University of
Southern California in Los Angeles.

"I have tried to show where the Tibetan youth in exile may lead their
freedom struggle to in the future," Dhondup said.

"The Tibetan youths are starting to feel deceived by the Chinese betrayal
and they want to do something radical," he said.

His tone is at odds with that of the Dalai Lama, revered by Tibetans as
their spiritual leader, who fled Lhasa for India in 1959 amid a failed
uprising against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama, 68, has won a worldwide network of supporters -- and the
1989 Nobel Peace Prize -- for his insistence on a "middle path." He condemns
violence, favors dialogue and urges Tibetans to feel no hatred for China.

In November, the Buddhist leader told a news conference in Rome that the
world should "make good friends with China."

But despite Beijing's hosting of two delegations from the Dalai Lama since
2002, activists charge that China, which has ruled Tibet since 1951, is
erasing the Himalayan territory's identity through political repression and
a flood of ethnic Han migration.

The Tibetan movement has toyed with violence before. After the takeover by
China, the CIA helped develop a small Tibetan guerrilla base in Mustang
across the border in Nepal.

But the United States dropped support for Tibetan militants as it moved
closer to Beijing and eventually recognized the People's Republic of China.
The Dalai Lama in 1974 appealed for the guerrillas to give up.

"We're No Monks" is one of the few films about Tibet made by Tibetans. In
1997, Martin Scorsese directed "Kundun," a sympathetic portrait of the Dalai
Lama from his selection as a Buddha reincarnation until the young man's
flight into exile.

Sonam Phuntsok, who acted in "Kundun," plays the carefree Tsering in "We're
No Monks," but most of the actors in the Tibetan production are amateurs.

"We have opted not to act like in feature films," Phuntsok said.

"I think this gives the film an added value," he said. "It carries an
important message."

The movie opens in India in February and Tibetan campaigners plan also to
screen it in New York.

The film also features Bollywood star Gulshan Grover, who agreed to perform
in the low-budget movie for free, as an Indian police officer who locks up
the young Tibetan radical with the rationale, "I am only worried about the
path they are taking."

The director said his goal with the film was to put forward a question, not
necessarily to make a statement on a budding radicalism among Tibetans.

"It is a film now. What if it really turns into reality?" Dhondup said.

"I don't think anybody wants such a mess. It is high time that world started
paying attention to the issue before it gets to what Tibetans have not
imagined doing."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok, Abbot of Serthar Buddhist Institute Dies (TCHRD)
  2. Highly Respected Tibetan Buddhist Teacher Dies in Chengdu (VOA)
  3. Make Tibet a Zone of Peace, Tibetans to Urge at WSF (TN)
  4. Tibetans to take part in World Social Forum (IANS)
  5. Chandragiri gives rousing welcome to Dalai Lama
  6. Tibet's Gamble Can the Dalai Lama's China talks succeed?

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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