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<-Back to WTN Archives Quest dims for independent Tibet (SJMN)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Tuesday, March 9, 2004



4. Quest dims for independent Tibet (SJMN)


San Jose Mercury News
March 7, 2004

Four and a half decades after he was forced to flee his homeland in the face
of annexation by China, the Dalai Lama is as distant now from an independent
Tibet as he was then.

Now 68, the spiritual and political leader has spent the past 15 years
touring the Western world to campaign for Tibet's independence through
peaceful means. He has been courted by powerful world leaders and feted by
Hollywood celebrities. He has drawn in a legion of new followers through his
spiritual teachings and bestselling books like ''The Art of Happiness.'' He
has even won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet Tibet has moved no closer to independence -- and it appears to be losing
ground in its struggle.

The recent thaw in traditionally frosty relations between China and India --
where the Dalai Lama has lived since 1959 -- spells trouble for the future
of Tibet. As the two Asian giants warm up to each other, it is more likely
that the issue of Tibet will recede further into the background. Coupled
with China's continued efforts to remake Tibet in its own image, prospects
for independence appear dim.

Known as the ''rooftop of the world'' for its awesome mountains and
breathtaking valleys, Tibet for centuries had been an independent state that
enjoyed an equal relationship with China. But in 1950, shortly after the
rise of communist China, the Chinese army invaded Tibet.

The following year, Tibet signed an agreement for nominal autonomy -- for
all practical purposes bringing the region under Beijing's control. In the
ensuing years, China clamped down further on Tibet. In 1959, Tibetans staged
a revolt but were crushed by the Chinese army. In the aftermath, the Dalai
Lama fled to India -- along with 80,000 Tibetans. They were granted
political asylum, and it was there, in Dharamsala, that the Dalai Lama
helped found the Tibetan government in exile.

Beacon for peace

During his life in exile, the Dalai Lama has grown from a young monk in his
20s into one of the world's most compelling voices for peace. The tradition
of the Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet goes back
centuries. Followers believe there is one dalai lama who is reincarnated;
when a dalai lama dies, monks set out to find his successor. India has been
the most ardent supporter of the current Dalai Lama, allowing him to form
the government in exile on its soil.

Nevertheless, India has also had to balance its own economic, territorial
and military interests in the face of a powerful Asian neighbor separated by
Tibet. India's bitter memories of a humiliating defeat by China in 1962 have
long lost their intensity. And the two countries have lately attempted to
put their relations on an even keel, driven mainly by economics. As the
world's most populous countries, they recognize the importance of
maintaining peace as they seek to be the pre-eminent powers in Asia.

A series of recent events, starting with the Indian prime minister's visit
to China in June, may jeopardize Tibet's struggle for independence. During
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit, India reiterated its
recognition of the Tibetan Autonomous Region as a part of the People's
Republic of China. On its own, that recognition would not have been
considered significant. But China reciprocated by accepting the northeastern
region of Sikkim as a part of India, though Sikkim has been a part of India
since 1975.

Bargaining chip

As long as India and China held to their stubborn positions on territorial
disputes along their long shared border, there was a chance that New Delhi
could use the Dalai Lama as leverage simply because of his presence there.
Now that the two adversaries have begun to talk about disputed territories
of about 12,700 square miles along India's northwestern border with China,
chances are the Dalai Lama's presence would no longer be seen as a
bargaining chip.

In another sign of cooperation, India and China concluded their first joint
military naval exercises in November. This was followed by the first-ever
visit of a high-level Indian army delegation to Tibet. The symbolic visit
signaled that both sides are willing to let bygones be bygones.

Meanwhile, China has fashioned the region in its own image, including
altering Tibet's demographics by moving Han Chinese people into Tibet.
According to estimates, Tibet now is home to about 6 million indigenous
Tibetans and 7 million Han Chinese.

Beijing is also strengthening its hold over Tibet through economic
activities. An example is the construction of a railroad linking mainland
China and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, which is bound to make it easier to
bring in military and civilians. Tibet constitutes one-quarter of China's
territory and is rich in minerals, making it tough for Beijing to let go.

Given these geopolitical forces, the only viable option Tibetans have is
precisely defined autonomy within China, ensuring a self-rule and
unambiguously stating what areas of government the Tibetans would control.
Contentious areas would involve nearly every major issue, from judicial and
legislative powers to cultural and religious affairs.

Experts are looking at several models of autonomy, including the ''one
country, two systems'' model followed by China in Hong Kong. China's quest
for economic growth and geopolitical clout will compel it to contain, if not
eliminate, conflicts within its territory. Tibet is potentially the most
troublesome because of the Dalai Lama's powerful advocacy of the right to
self-rule.

The Dalai Lama has consistently said that ''any relationship between Tibet
and China will have to be based on the principle of equality, respect, trust
and mutual benefit.''

''It will also have to be based on the principle which the wise rulers of
Tibet and China laid down in a treaty in 823 AD,'' said the Dalai Lama in an
interview. ''This treaty still remains carved on the pillar that stands in
front of Jokhang,'' Tibet's holiest shrine. The treaty reads: ''Tibetans
will live happily in the great land of Tibet, and the Chinese will live
happily in the great land of China.''

The middle path

During his early years in exile, the Dalai Lama favored independence. But in
the past 15 years, he has come to recognize its impracticability. He knows
his options are limited because of China's stranglehold over Tibetan
affairs, and the world's waning attention. Recently, he has been advocating
the middle-path philosophy. While this would guarantee that Tibet would
retain its distinct political, social, cultural, religious, economic and
linguistic identity, it also means abandoning the idea of complete
independence from China.

As time goes by, the Buddhist master's negotiating space is getting
narrower. Chinese and Tibetan scholars have even suggested that Beijing may
be waging a war of attrition against the Dalai Lama, waiting for his demise.
The thinking behind this cynical strategy is that the next young boy to be
named dalai lama would naturally take a long time to rise to a position of
influence.

Already, though, there are signs of defiance among young Tibetan exiles in
India who are openly advocating that Tibet secede from China rather than
settle for autonomy. The Tibetan Youth Congress, which claims 20,000 members
worldwide, has said it does not support the Dalai Lama's middle-path
philosophy.

But with no solution in sight, the Dalai Lama's only choice is to craft a
compromise for autonomy, however unpopular with the younger generation of
Tibetans.

MAYANK CHHAYA is an Indian journalist who recently completed the only
authorized biography of the Dalai Lama. He wrote this article for
Perspective.


Articles in this Issue:
  1. Chicago Chinese consulate target of Tibetan protest
  2. Tibetan food finally plants its flag on Mumbai's culinary map
  3. Tibet's bloody tale told in 'Snow Lion' (MJS)
  4. Quest dims for independent Tibet (SJMN)
  5. Tibetan activists hold onto hope as Dalai Lama marks 45 years in exile (AFP)
  6. A review of the two new Karmapa books



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