Tibetan Exiles Review Tactics against Chinese Rule

DHARAMSHALA ~ Tibetan exiles worked this week to hammer out a new strategy for their fight against Chinese rule, as Beijing warned that embracing a pro-independence policy was “doomed” to failure.

More than 500 prominent Tibetans have gathered at the government in exile’s base in northern India to debate whether to ditch the Dalai Lama’s push for “meaningful autonomy” in favor of a demand for full independence.

B. Tsering, a delegate and president of the Tibetan Women’s Association, said the week of discussions could re-define the movement.

“Everyone feels the big responsibility entrusted to us,” she said after the first sessions of debate. “And there is concern that we are trying to come up with a solid strategic plan in just a few days.

“We are working in groups of 40, hearing representatives express the opinions that they have collected.”

The association has long supported the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” autonomy policy but Tsering said it was now time to ask if a new approach was necessary.

“All of us are aware that the Dalai Lama has left no stone unturned in his work and yet he has not had any breakthrough,” she said.

“If at the end of this week the majority feel we should stick to the ‘middle way’, we have to think how we can make it work better. Maybe we have to seek alternatives.”

The Dalai Lama, who is not expected to attend the talks, said earlier this month that the “middle way” had failed and he was now asking fellow Tibetans how to proceed.

A growing number of young exiles favour a call for independence but such a policy switch would likely see a sharp drop in international support for their cause – and could split the community.

China issued a preemptive warning on Tuesday against any shift in policy.

“Our position on Tibet is clear and resolute. Any attempt to separate Tibet from China is doomed to fail,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

“The so-called Tibetan government-in-exile is not recognized by any government in the world,” Qin said.

Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, a delegate and member in the parliament in exile, said the Dharamshala meeting, which began Monday, was also focused on the current situation in Tibet.

In March, protests against Chinese rule in the capital, Lhasa, erupted into violence that spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.

Tibet’s government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent Chinese crackdown. China has reported police as killing just one “insurgent” and blames Tibetan “rioters” for the deaths of 21 people.

Phuntsok said the Dharamshala talks had already revealed some reluctance to abandon the Dalai Lama’s moderate stance.

“The debate over the ‘middle way’ or independence has started but changing policy is not easy,” he said. “Perhaps we still have to give more energy to the present approach to see if it can work.”

Phuntsok described the meeting as “good brain-storming” that would result in a clear idea of Tibetan opinion.

The strategy session has no policy-making power – any recommendations would require the approval of the Tibetan parliament – but the prime minister in exile said the outcome would be influential.

“The atmosphere has been rather emotionally charged due to the repression in Tibet and the mixed feelings we have of fear and hope,” Samdhong Rinpoche told reporters on Tuesday.

“We are sincerely committed to democracy, and that means respecting the public opinion that is being sought in this meeting.”

The Dalai Lama was smuggled out of Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, since when thousands of his followers have also fled.

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