How Tibetans are losing their focus and unity

Vijay Kranti

Vijay Kranti

By Vijay Kranti

NEW DELHI, India, 6 February 2013

It looks like the proverbial seven-year itch. The top brass in the Dharamshala-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) appear to be once again enthusiastic about restarting the dialogue with the Beijing government over finding a mutually-acceptable solution to the “Tibetan problem”. The earlier dialogue process had crashed in November 2008, after nine rounds of talks over six years between the representatives of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan ruler living in India since 1959, and the United Front Work Department, a special branch office of the Communist Party of China which looks after the affairs related to “national minorities” of China.

The CTA held a special two-day meeting of its “Task Force on Negotiations” in Dharamshala on 31 December 2012 and the following day, to discuss the prospects of re-opening the Dharamshala-Beijing dialogue. It was the 25th meeting of the Task Force since it was formed in 1999 to assist the dialogue with China, and was the first since the recent changeover of leadership in China. The meeting was chaired by Dr Lobsang Sangay, the new Sikyong (Prime Minister) of CTA. Ten other members, including two ministers and senior Tibetan diplomats like Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen who headed the dialogue process with China since 2002, and Tashi Wangdi, yet another seasoned and senior diplomat who lives in retirement now, joined the deliberations.

Lodi and Kelsang had resigned as the envoys of the Dalai Lama in May last year during the 24th meeting of the Task Force. This followed an earlier exchange of statements between Lodi and the new Prime Minister which was, in some Tibetan circles, interpreted as signs of a turf war. However, Lodi and Kelsang clarified in their common resignation letter that “given the deteriorating situation inside Tibet since 2008, leading to the increasing cases of self-immolations by Tibetans, we are compelled to submit our resignations.”

Interestingly, the two senior envoys referred to the stubborn and humiliating Chinese attitude over the earlier collapse of the dialogue merely as another secondary reason. Following their reference to the “deteriorating situation inside Tibet”, the letter says: “Furthermore, the United Front did not respond positively to the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People presented in 2008 and its note in 2010 … At this particular time, it is difficult to have substantive dialogue.”

Though not all details of the meeting were made public, an official press release of the CTA said that the meeting discussed the “urgent need for peaceful resolution” of the Tibetan issue, as well as the implications of the changing Chinese leadership for Tibet. On the issue of dialogue, it said, “Substantive assessments were made on the genesis of the Tibetan dialogue process, its future prospects and challenges, based on the situation in Tibet, China and in the international community.”

Giving hints of attempts at restarting the dialogue with China the press release referred to the meeting having discussed “procedure for appointment of envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and added that, “the Tibetan leadership remains firmly committed to non-violence and the Middle-Way Approach, and strongly believes that the only way to resolve the issue of Tibet is through dialogue.”

Phayul, a popular Tibetan news website in exile, quoted Prime Minister Dr Lobsang Sangay as saying, “substance being primary and process secondary, we are ready to engage in meaningful dialogue anywhere and at anytime.”

The website had earlier also quoted Dr Sangay as saying that the “Task Force on Negotiations” will be expanded and will meet in December to “discuss the Chinese leadership transition with the hope of continuing dialogue with the new Chinese leaders to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully.”

Leaving nothing to doubt, the Kashag (cabinet) said in its statement that the “Task Force on Negotiations” will be “reconstituted with additional new members, and a meeting will be convened soon after the National People’s Congress session in March this year, when the new Chinese leadership will assume full responsibility.” However, there was no word about Dharamshala’s approach in the renewed dialogue.

This meeting of the “Task Force on Negotiations” and the accompanying statements of senior Tibetan leadership have once again brought the issue of “autonomy versus freedom” to the surface among the Tibetan community. In the 54-year long exile history of Tibet, no other issue has divided the Tibetan community as clearly and deeply as this issue. On one side of this divide stands the “establishment” which comprises of a major section of the power elite among the Tibetan Government-in-exile (TGiE) and some members of the former royal families of old Tibet who still carry the glamour of their blue blood among the crowd of ordinary masses in exile. This section’s main argument is that the concept of genuine autonomy came from the Dalai Lama when he held the position of the supreme political leader of the nation, and is, hence, unchallengeable.

On the other side of the divide stands a near total community of Tibetan political groups, youths, and a large majority of intellectuals and vocal individuals. They draw moral support from the underground activist community inside occupied Tibet, which fiercely resents Chinese occupation of their homeland and publicly demonstrates their yearning for rangzen (independence) from time to time despite the severe risk of long incarceration and torture at the hands of the Chinese Gestapo — the Public Security Bureau (PSB). The pro-Rangzen community in exile draws strong support from a major section of the Tibet Support Groups (TSGs) across the world.

One major argument about which the pro-autonomy lobby feels comfortable in presenting its case is the “impossible” prospects of winning Rangzen from the hands of a mighty China. It thinks that Tibetan culture, religion and identity will have more chances of survival if the Tibetan issue is solved within the constitutional framework of China. It apprehends that the Tibetan spirit would die soon under the weight of massive population transfer of Han Chinese into Tibet. That this may not be a correct assessment of the Tibetan spirit in Chinese-controlled Tibet is proved by the recent spate of self-immolations in Tibet (there number has risen to 97 at the time of writing).

While the pro-autonomy section appears to be standing at a relatively disadvantaged position due to serious dearth of vocal intellectual or political public support, it has effectively exploited the Dalai Lama’s name and his Middle-Path position to its advantage. There have been many instances in the past when some popular pro-Rangzen leaders of the refugee community were systematically branded and publicly castigated as anti-Dalai Lama. In a traditional society where the Dalai Lama is revered by people like a living God, there are very few enlightened individuals who would open their mouths at the risk of being socially castigated. Similarly the sword of official discipline has been keeping most of the government officials from openly expressing their opinion or feelings, despite the fact that most of them are young and have been active members of the Tibetan Youth Congress in their school and college days.

Compared to the pro-autonomy lobby the mood among the pro-Rangzen Tibetans has been far more spirited and defiant. This is fairly visible from what dominates hundreds of websites, publications, music albums, and other literature launched and run by young refugee Tibetans across the world.

The very first two comments on Phayul about the “Task Force” reflect the prevailing mood among the Tibetan youths in exile. “Sutse” from Australia commented on 5 January 2013: “If we want to be a part of China no need to do anything. Tibet is already under china and overseas Tibetans will be welcome by PRC if they choose to go back. If independence is unrealistic, equally unrealistic is the middle way proposal with the soaring Han Chinese population inside Tibet. I would rather fight for a quarter of independent Tibet than to live under China. What harm is there if CTA close the dialogue task force until the [sic] China is ready or even claim for the independent Tibet.”

Another comment by one “ThinkOver” from Switzerland under title “Very Sad” reads: ” Are we really so idiot to understand what our people in Tibet are demanding by sacrificing their precious lives. They wanted to depart from China and Dharamshala is arrogantly declaring – we want to be a part of China by all means! Shame to born as a Tibetan………”

Use of pseudonyms like “Sutse” or “ThinkOver” clearly reflects the fear of being branded as anti-Dalai Lama that grips the community today as it stands divided on this sensitive issue. At the same time their views reflect the thinking of educated Tibetans against the pro-autonomy concept and dialogue.

China’s mood

These fears and warnings had come true in November 2008, when the Beijing leaders slammed the door on the visiting Tibetan delegation by rejecting the Tibetan memorandum on autonomy with contempt. Keen observers of this long-drawn-out dialogue could see how Beijing had been dragging its feet on talks for six years, and that it had not allowed the talks to move an inch further from where they stood in 1993. Only a month before the Beijing Olympics, Beijing had asked Dharamshala to present its concept of “Genuine Autonomy for Tibet”, a step which both sides should have discussed on the first day of the dialogue when it restarted in 2002. It does not look like a coincidence that Beijing straightway rejected Dharamshala’s memorandum on the first available opportunity after the successful conclusion of the Olympics, and called off the talks on the grounds that the memorandum was a hidden way of asking for full independence from China.

Strangely the Tibetan memorandum refers to the Chinese side as “the Central Government” and (late) Deng Xiaoping as the “paramount leader”. It makes it amply clear that Dharamshala expected the final solution “within the PRC” and within the existing provision of the PRC constitution. Adopting a reassuring tone the memorandum says, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s commitment to seek a solution for the Tibetan people within the PRC is clear and unambiguous. This position is in full compliance and agreement with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s statement in which he emphasized that except for independence all other issues could be resolved through dialogue. Whereas, we are committed, therefore, to fully respect the territorial integrity of the PRC, we expect the Central Government to recognize and fully respect the integrity of the Tibetan nationality and its right to exercise genuine autonomy within the PRC. We believe that this is the basis for resolving the differences between us and promoting unity, stability and harmony among nationalities.” (emphasis added)

The scope of autonomy in this memorandum is clearly defined as limited to specific subjects, namely: Language, Culture, Religion, Education, Environmental Protection, Utilisation of Natural Resources, Economic Development and Trade, Public health, Public Security, Regulation on Population Migration, Cultural and Educational and Religious Exchanges with other countries.

The memorandum specifically mentioned that, “the exercise of genuine autonomy would include the right of Tibetans to create their own regional government and government institutions and processes that are best suited to their needs and characteristics. It would require that the People’s Congress of the autonomous region have the power to legislate on all matters within the competencies of the region and that other organs of the autonomous government have the power to execute and administer decisions autonomously. Autonomy also entails representation and meaningful participation in national decision-making in the Central Government. Processes for effective consultation and close cooperation or joint decision-making between the Central Government and the regional government on areas of common interest also need to be in place for the autonomy to be effective.”

Adding insult to injury, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Chinese United Front Work Department (UFWD) issued a press statement after the meeting in which he advised the Dalai Lama “to do something beneficial for the people of Tibet … before he dies.” He categorically rejected memorandum saying that the ideas were just unacceptable. He termed the concept of Cholka Sum as that of a “Greater Tibet” which “never existed” before 1951. “The unification of the motherland, territorial integrity and the national dignity are the greatest interests of the Chinese people. We will never make a concession,” Zhu Weiqun, told reporters in Beijing on 10 November 2008.

He ruled out any kind of special status for Tibetan areas. “China is a country in which various ethnic groups live together. If all ethnic groups in China ask for an autonomous region in which only people of their own groups could live, the whole country would be cast into chaos,” Zhu said.

As expected, China refused to take the Dalai Lama’s call on “demilitarising” Tibet. “Everybody knows that the army is a basic guarantee of territorial integrity, national security and social stability‚Ķ I believe not a single nation would agree to withdraw its own army from its own territory,” Zhu declared.

Zhu reiterated that the door for the Dalai Lama’s return to a patriotic stance had always been open and would remain open, “But the door for ‘Tibet’s independence’, ‘half independence’ and ‘independence in a disguised form’ had never been open, nor would it be open in the future,” he clarified.

On the issue of settlement of the Chinese population in Tibet, Zhu made it clear that Beijing had no intention of stopping or undoing what the Dalai Lama side termed “demographic aggression.” He even went to the extent of accusing the Dalai Lama of having intentions to “… carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing …” in the name of restoring Cholka Sum to the Tibetan population.

A war of wits

The net result of this 29-year-long contact is a mix of gains and setbacks for both sides. Although the two sides have been engaged in talks since 1979 with the aim of finding a mutually-agreeable solution, they have been simultaneously busy in their own ways to prepare for the future. Beijing has been frantically focused on ensuring a permanent and “last solution” to the Tibetan problem by fortifying its position inside Tibet. Its major focus has been on cementing its military position inside occupied Tibet through a widespread network of roads, other transport and communication facilities, and defence installations as well as along its borders with other countries in South Asia.

Of late, Beijing has been busy ushering in a new economic environment in Tibet to accommodate millions of new Han settlers. By extending the Chinese railway network up to Lhasa in 2006, China has successfully removed the last hurdle that discouraged mainland Chinese from settling permanently in Tibet. Beijing has already seen the fruits of this strategy in taming most of its other 55 national minorities like the Manchurians and Mongols. Thanks to the abundance of invaluable minerals and timber across Tibetan plateau, establishment of this rail link has converted Tibet from a net financial liability to a “national profit centre” for China. Beijing is working on at least three more similar rail links to Tibet in addition to its plans to extend the present Gormo-Lhasa rail to the Nepal border.

Dalai Lama’s peace offensive on two fronts

The ever-increasing Chinese might, coupled with other countries’ diminishing capacity and desire to confront China on the Tibetan issue, is affecting the Dalai Lama’s chances of winning much political support for the demand of complete independence. News emanating from inside Tibet through friendly visitors and second-line mediators too is presenting a very hopeless scenario. The Dalai Lama has been frequently heard expressing fears of Tibet losing its culture and identity in the wake of increasing pace of systematic transfer of Han population into Tibet. That explains why the Dalai Lama decided to probe the efficacy of a peace offensive by initiating a dialogue with Beijing.

On the home front as well, his enthusiasm towards introducing democracy in the functioning of his government-in-exile can be seen as his other peace offensive, which is aimed at improving the capabilities of his fellow refugee community. Like a typical Buddhist monk who would use his present life to prepare for his next life, Dalai Lama has been busy preparing for a Tibetan system that can last beyond his life. Internally, he has succeeded in replacing an outdated theocratic political system of old Tibet into a highly modern democratic system which functions through an elected Parliament and is presided over by a Prime Minister who is elected through a direct secret vote by the Tibetan community. The Dalai Lama brought this process of democratisation to its logical conclusion in 2011 when he handed over his political powers into the hands of an elected Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister), an elected Parliament, and other statutory democratic organs of the TGiE.

This historic decision has, on the one hand, given an endless shelf life to the Tibetan national identity in exile, and has effectively pre-empted Beijing leaders from installing a puppet Dalai Lama in the event of the death of the current Dalai Lama.

This sudden breaking off of the dialogue process has implications for both sides. Having already put all his bargaining chips on the table, the Dalai Lama is now left with no further climb-down options in the event of a renewed dialogue. After declaring his stand for Cholka Sum as the real Tibet, and the PRC’s outright refusal to include those areas of Tibet which it has dissolved in other Chinese provinces, the Dalai Lama’s side no longer has the choice of making any major change on this issue because he cannot afford losing support of either Khampa Tibetans of Kham province or of Amdo Tibetans.

He cannot afford to abandon his concept of genuine autonomy for Tibetans in lieu of the PRC’s offer of the existing autonomy for nationalities which, as earlier stated, has already seen nationalities like the Manchurians and Mongolians of “Inner Mongolia” and a few dozen others vanish slowly into almost nothingness. The PRC will not propose this idea either, fearing an admission that all its past claims of implementing its constitutional autonomy in Tibet were bogus. With less than 8 per cent of their total share amidst a sea of over 92 per cent Hans, most of these Tibetan “Autonomous” nationalities in TAR, Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai have been reduced to rare museum pieces along with their cultural and lingual identities. After having seen the fate of most other nationalities, the Tibetans are aware that further Hanization of Tibet will bring a similar fate to their identity in the not very far future.

Price of being “reasonable”

There is no doubt that the Dalai Lama’s stature as a statesman, and the international acceptance of his struggle for Tibet, has considerably increased among the community of nations who find it relatively convenient to support a “reasonable” Dalai Lama in his fight with China. His “Middle Path”, based on genuine autonomy for Tibet within the structure of the PRC, provided enough elbow room to those governments and heads of state who wanted to take up the Tibetan leader’s cause with the leaders of China. It is a different matter that the Communist leaders of China have yet to come up with any meaningful response to any such request in the past over 20 years. Moreover, as a matter of fact, with the ever increasing economic and political power of PRC during these past many years, the efficacy of such governments vis-a-vis the PRC has only reduced, rather vanished, of late.

It could be a coincidence that within a couple of years of abandoning the Tibetans’ original demand for complete independence from China, the Dalai Lama was honoured with a Nobel Peace prize for his campaign for non-violence and Universal Responsibility. After being decorated with this honour, the Dalai Lama’s international appeal for Tibet has received increasing support among the international audience. In 1999 the European Parliament passed a strong resolution on Tibet with an ultimatum to China. The American nation bestowed its highest honour — the US Congressional Medal (an equivalent of Bharat-Ratna in India). Put in simple words, the Dalai Lama’s personal image has attained new heights of universal acceptance and respect since he adopted the “Middle Path”. This outstanding international stature of the Dalai Lama has surely emerged as the greatest strength of Tibetan people along these years.

But the internal costs of looking “good” and “reasonable” by adopting an accommodating approach towards PRC have not been smaller — either for the Dalai Lama or his Tibetan “Government-in-exile”, or for the Tibetan community — especially since the last phase of Dharamshala-Beijing dialogue started in 2002.

Tibetan movement — confusion and loss of direction?

A major fallout of the six-year dialogue has been the loss of sense of direction and confusion in the Tibet support movement — both at the refugee community level as well as among the community of international Tibet Support Groups (TSGs). It has had a serious impact on the morale and enthusiasm of the freedom movement inside Tibet, where the Tibetan masses have already had enough taste of autonomy for over fifty years at the hands of their colonial masters. It is significant that there has never been any public expression of support for autonomy from inside occupied Tibet all these years. In all reports of anti-China demonstrations from inside Tibet reaching the free world during the past over 50 years, the only two expressions used by the Tibetans to express their collective national aspirations were Rangzen (independence) or Rangwang (freedom). For ordinary Tibetan, living under occupation, both words have been always synonyms of the same sentiment — getting rid of the Chinese rule.

Of late, in their enthusiasm to keep the Chinese happy during the dialogue process, some of the Tibetan exile government leaders have sought two major changes in the approach of Tibet support movement. One, they asked the Tibetan community and the TSGs to drop the demand of Rangzen from their philosophy and replace it with autonomy. Second, they wanted the TSGs in different countries to stop holding demonstrations against the visiting Chinese leaders lest the Chinese got offended and embarrassed.

For most TSGs who stand by Tibet mainly because of their commitment to values like democracy, human rights, anti-colonialism and anti-communist dictatorship, this embargo was too demoralising. To most of them, opposing a visiting Chinese leader was the basic demand and expression of their commitment to human rights of suffering Tibetan people under the Chinese colonial rule. As the dialogue dragged on for years without any visible or specific results, a substantial section among these Tibet supporters either dropped out or stood by their Tibetan friends with a confused mind.

Beijing Olympics — a saviour

Luckily, Beijing Olympics 2008 came as a great blessing, helping most of the TSGs maintain some spirit and enthusiasm because they could oppose China on this issue without raising the issue of Tibetan freedom. In their opinion the allotment of Olympics to Beijing was an open insult to millions of Chinese citizens who were living under communist oppression as well as to colonised countries like Tibet, East Turkistan or Inner Mongolia. That explains why Tibetan flags dominated the visuals of anti-Beijing Olympics campaigns through 2008.

However, many TSGs who strongly believed in Rangzen for Tibet adopted the strategy of staying out of the mainstream TSG movement and pressed their agenda through their own independent pro-independence campaigns. The Dalai Lama’s elder brother (now Late) Taktser Rinpoche, who was a professor in California and an unbending vocal Rangzen enthusiast, became the rallying point of such TSGs in the USA. He and his supporter TSGs kept the Rangzen flame burning till his last day. After his death, his son has taken over the Rangzen flame.

Germany, where Tibet Initiative Deutschland (TID) has emerged as one of the most effective TSGs, presents a unique example of how Tibet supporters have been able to maintain their enthusiasm and tempo from cooling down due to the prevailing confusion unlike some other places. For past many years TID is running a unique “Tibetan Flag on The Town Hall” campaign in various German cities. In a recent count, TID has been successful in persuading over 1200 municipalities across Germany to adopt resolutions to the effect that all of them hoist the Tibetan flag on the city Mayor office on every March 10, the uprising day of Tibet against Chinese occupation.

A confused society

The impact of downgrading the Tibetan public movement from Rangzen to autonomy has been far more pronounced among the Tibetan exile community whose majority of ordinary members have yet to conscientiously accept the change. Many Rangzen supporters complain that an atmosphere has been consistently created by a dominant section among senior executive functionaries which has been aimed at making people believe that opposing autonomy or standing for Rangzen means opposing the Dalai Lama personally. That explains the prevailing confusion among ordinary Tibetans in their public postures. This drop in public enthusiasm and prevailing demoralisation has of late been showing in annual March 10 processions and during most other public demonstrations.

Having seen most of the 40 uprising days from a close distance in New Delhi during as many years, this author was shocked to notice on 10 March 10 2009, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, that a substantial section of the Tibetan demonstrators had left the public meeting midway at the Parliament Street in New Delhi to eat Chhole-Bhatoore (a popular north-Indian dish) at food stalls in the adjoining lane.

This missing enthusiasm towards autonomy among the ordinary masses, reflects itself through the fact that in past over ten years, since TGiE abandoned Rangzen for autonomy, not a single slogan has been coined by the Tibetan demonstrators that calls for autonomy for Tibet from China. In normal Tibetan demonstrations, old traditional slogans like “Dusht Cheenio! Tibbat Chhoro!” (Cruel Chinese! Quit Tibet!) or “Hamein Kya Chahiye? Azaadi!” (What do we need? Freedom!) still rend the air across India. There is not a single slogan demanding autonomy.

On the other hand, almost all vocal and major Tibetan organisations like the TYC, SFT, Gu Chu Sum (association of former political prisoners in occupied Tibet), the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), and Indian TSGs have openly expressed allegiance to Rangzen. It is notable that none of these groups advocates violence to achieve independence for Tibet.

New fault lines

This difference over the final goal of the Tibetan struggle has created deep fault lines in a society which has been known more for its discipline and faith in their supreme leader the Dalai Lama. Some recent developments suggest that unless seriously attended to, this divide has the potential of damaging the unity of the Tibetan society in a serious way.

Since coming to exile, the Dalai Lama has been consistently promoting democracy among the exile community. After adopting a democratic charter for future Tibet in 1963 and introducing an elected Chitue (Parliament), the Dalai Lama first gave autonomy to the TGiE through nominated ministers. Then he slowly but consistently democratised the system by introducing an elected Prime Minister, and finally in 2011 announced he would be handing over all his traditional political powers as “head of state” to a Sikyong who is elected directly by the people through a secret universal vote. The Members of Parliament (MPs) amended the Tibetan charter to complete the process.

While the Dalai Lama has been advocating democracy and freedom of expression among the exile community, there have been instances indicating that a substantial section among the influential and vocal members of the ruling elite among the refugee community has not been able to keep pace with their supreme leader in practicing democracy within the community. The eagerness to adopt democratic practices in the intra-community political dialogue, especially on the Rangzen-vs-Autonomy debate, is badly missing.

This desperation for scoring points over each other has started expressing itself even at unexpected platforms of late. During the recently concluded international conference of Tibet Support Groups from across the world in Dharamshala on 18 November 2012, a Minister of TGiE chose to use the conference platform to run down the pro-Rangzen lobby. She shocked many international Tibet supporters by claiming in her thanksgiving speech that in many instances of self-immolation inside Tibet, the martyr was calling for Rangwang (freedom) for Tibet and not for Rangzen (independence) in his/her dying moments. She conveniently ignored the fact that not even one of the dying youths (75 till that day) had shouted for autonomy for Tibet from China.

Yet another recent unfortunate development saw a staunch Tibet supporter, a US Congressman, publicly accusing some highest ranking elected leaders of the CTA of stifling the voice of pro-Rangzen Tibetan individuals. In an open letter, he alleged that the present elected Prime Minister of CTA used his influence to get the head of Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia in Washington (DC) removed from his job. RFA is funded by the US government and its radio broadcasts are very popular inside Chinese-occupied Tibet. His allegation was later strongly refuted by the Speaker of Tibetan Parliament. Irrespective of which side was right, this episode showed that the expanding fault lines of the Tibetan community have now started crossing into non-Tibetan territories.

China too is helpless

In sharp contrast to the prevailing confusion and division among the Tibetan exile community over the future status of Tibet, the colonial masters of Tibet in Beijing look clear and confident about their plans over Tibet. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of “Tibetan Liberation” in 2011, Xi Jinping, the erstwhile Vice President of PRC, announced in a commemorative Lhasa rally on 20 July 2011: “Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would be no new Tibet … We should thoroughly fight against separatist activities of the Dalai clique by firmly relying on ethnic groups, and completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardize national unity.”

In October 2012, Xi Jinping has replaced Hu Jintao as the General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party during the 18th Party Congress in Beijing. In coming months he is supposed to take over the mantle of President of PRC and also that of the Chairman of the Military Council, to become the supremo of China.

These words of Xi Jinpig sound brave. They actually expose the helplessness of a superpower that has failed miserably in taming a microscopic minority under its own iron grip. Xi looks like he is expressing his anger over the Dalai Lama for the prevailing unrest inside Tibet, but in reality he is testifying to the power of ordinary Tibetans, living under China’s colonial control for past over sixty years, who have refused to give in. Devoid of any third-party support over the past sixty years, these Tibetans have made best use of whatever elbow room that their Chinese masters leave for them. They have been consistently expressing their resentment and resolve against their Chinese colonial masters in unambiguous terms since Mao’s first PLA columns walked into Tibet in 1950.

Tibetans inside Tibet — kept out of dialogue

As stated earlier, the number of self-immolations inside Tibet has touched 97. Over 80 per cent of these Tibetans were youths in the under-30 age group. All of them belong to a generation who have neither seen a free Tibet nor the Dalai Lama. They had been, like their parents, brought up on the staple diet of daily Chinese propaganda against Dalai Lama and the concept of “free Tibet”. More than 85 of these youths who chose to offer their lives to flames in protest against the Chinese occupation of their homeland, belonged to non-TAR regions of Tibet which China refuses to accept as Tibet. Not a single among these self-immolators attempted to hit or kill any Chinese occupant of their country before deciding to make this supreme sacrifice. And, above all, not even one of these martyrs was asking for autonomy. It therefore looks strange that despite playing such an important role in Tibet, it is this third corner of the Beijing-Dharamshala-Tibet triangle that has been consistently kept away from the dialogue process all these years.

Himalayan Asia — the fourth stakeholder

Finally, the fourth set of stakeholders whose fate will be directly impacted by the direction that Tibetan solution takes are the Himalayan Asian countries which are immediate neighbours of Tibet. Before China occupied East Turkistan (“Xinjiang” in modern Chinese vocabulary) in 1949 and Tibet in 1951, neither India nor Nepal, Bhutan, or Pakistan shared borders with China. Over 95-per-cent length of this 4500-km border was shared between these countries and Tibet. The remaining about 5 per cent was with Pakistan and East Turkistan.

With the fall of Tibet and arrival of PRC along their northern borders, all these countries today live in a vulnerable situation. Pakistan, for obvious reasons, felt a great relief in watching India under pressure from its new neighbour China in earlier decades. Now a big section among Pakistani thinkers is worried with ever-increasing Chinese involvement inside Pakistan.

Some western governments might find it convenient to see the Tibetans and Chinese agreeing over certain degree of autonomy for Tibet within the PRC framework. Most Asian neighbours of Tibet shudder over such a prospect. A solution of this kind is going to make PRC a permanent neighbour on their borders. An uncomfortable China with an unsettled Tibetan issue is more comfortable for these Asian neighbours of Tibet because they can hope for a favourable day in future when Tibet’s luck smiles like that of over a dozen occupied members of the erstwhile USSR. Unfortunately, the Tibetan Diaspora and the Tibet support movement have utterly failed in cashing in on this sentiment among the South Asian countries.

Now with a divided house over the issue of autonomy-vs-Rangzen, the Tibetan community’s focus appears blurred and confused. One wonders why a community and its leaders, whose supreme leader has the wisdom of giving up all his political powers to his people, cannot create autonomous space for its own members to take up and deliberate the Tibetan cause from different angles and perspectives.

About the author

Vijay Kranti is a senior Indian journalist, photographer, and Tibetologist, based in New Delhi. He blogs at and he can be contacted at v.kranti(at)

Copyright © 2013 Vijay Kranti Published in Tibet Sun Posted in Opinions » Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,