Tibetans seek a way out of impasse
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - Beijing, stung by rioting in Tibet, hardened it stance
against the Dalai Lama last year, convincing United States President Barack
Obama and other Western leaders not to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual
Talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's envoys havenít taken place since
November 2008, with each blaming the other for the deadlock after riots in
Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, eight months earlier.
Stepping up their rhetoric, Chinese officials called the Dalai Lama "a wolf in
The Tibetan government in exile now says it will sidestep the blame game and
seek the earliest resumption of talks.
"The Tibet issue needs to be resolved through dialogue and
negotiation between the Tibetan and People's Republic of China leadership,"
Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, told Asia
Times Online. "I wish Tibetans' hopes will become a reality."
The Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan government in exile who fled the country
in 1959 after a failed uprising against invasion by the People's Republic of
China of Tibet, insists on greater autonomy for Tibet proper and neighboring
areas with Tibetan inhabitants. Beijing has accused him of seeking
semi-independence for a quarter of China's total territory.
"Everybody has the right to hope for better a relationship between Dharamsala
and Beijing because the Tibet issue needs to be resolved through dialogue and
negotiation between the Tibetan and People's Republic of China leadership,"
He declined to say whether his government would take any initiative to resume
talks with Beijing, but conceded that envoys of the Dalai Lama "are in regular
contact with their counterparts in Beijing" as this "falls within their
He didn't say whether any concessions would be offered to make talks possible
The Dalai Lama, as leader of the government in exile, continues to campaign for
greater autonomy for Tibet from his base in the northern Indian town of
Rinpoche has said the government in exile's priority in 2010 was to resume
talks. He is optimistic that some progress can be made.
"The dialogue process may hopefully take a new shape this year," Rinpoche said
this month. "I will not say that I have great expectations, but I would say
that we have hope that some improvement will come in the process. We only
demand people's support and unity regarding this issue and hope it will be
"I do not need to say anything else, whatever is in progress is going good, and
things will be resolved," he said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao chaired a politburo meeting on January 8 on how to
maintain "long-term stability" in Tibet. It remains unknown whether the top
policy-making body has considered opening talks with the Dalai Lama as a
measure to achieve that goal.
With the Tibetan people revering the Dalai Lama as the "Living Buddha",
Beijing's portrayal of him as an enemy will hardly help keep the Himalayan
region stable. China shows signs of a softer stance, with unconfirmed reports
claiming the authorities in some Tibetan areas have turned a blind eye to
residents displaying pictures their spiritual leader.
Talking to Asia Times Online, Thubten Samphel, a spokesperson for the Tibetan
government in exile, said it was high time for Chinese leaders to talk with the
Dalai Lama's envoys. The government in exile will adopt a new approach to gain
the support of as many Chinese people as possible for its cause.
Asia Times Online: Do Tibetan exiles hope for better relations
with China in 2010?
Thubten Samphel: This is what we sincerely want - better
relations, we have no option other than that. While there is very little
improvement yet, we hope for better in future.
ATol: What new efforts will the exiled government make to achieve
the resumption of talks with Beijing?
TS: We will maintain what we have been doing. One new effort is
to approach as many Chinese people as possible to spread our message. Our
struggle is not anti-China or anti-Chinese. It is for the interests of us
Tibetan people. If we can persuade one Chinese person, this will have a
multiplying effect in the Chinese community, so that they could have a better
understanding of our cause and become more sympathetic.
Many Tibetans in exile living in Dharamsala seem to support their government's
renewed efforts to seek an early resumption of talks with Beijing.
"I think the majority of the Tibetan people sincerely hope that the Chinese
leaders will understand and realize the crucial importance of resolving the
issue of Tibet by discussing the overall issue, the important issues with the
envoys of his Holiness the Dalai Lama." said Tenzin Pema.
"We sincerely hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will live 100 more years
[he is 75] and that he will continue to work for the welfare of Tibetan people
and we continue to pray that Tibet will be free soon and that peace will once
again reign in the land of snows," said Pema.
The March 14, 2008, riots in Lhasa followed street demonstrations on the March
10 Tibetan uprising anniversary. Asked how the Tibetan government in exile
planned to mark the uprising this year, Samphel said it would be much the same
as before, with the Dalai Lama delivering an address.
Some non-governmental organizations and groups supporting Free Tibet were
expected to make the day as big as they could, but the exiled government would
not encourage anything radical or violent, Samphel said.
Keeping a distance from radical groups, Samphel said the riots in Lhasa two
years ago were a sad story but "we have behaved ourselves better than other
Defying the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way", a number of radical exiled Tibetan
groups - such as Tibetan Youth Congress, the Tibetan Uprising Organization, the
National Democratic Party of Tibet and the Students for a Free Tibet - plan to
take every opportunity to lodge protests against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Besides the March 10 Tibetan uprising day, the Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6,
the September 2 Tibetan Democracy Day and the December 10 International Human
Rights Day are ripe for protests.
In Dharamsala, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), one of the largest groups
advocating full independence of Tibet, says it will launch protests in India
and other places across the world.
"We do not feel any frustration, it's a fight for a nation and we are
strengthened, the Free Tibet movement will continue to inspire the younger
generations," TYC president Tsewang Rigzin said. As to whether protests would
occur inside Tibet, Rigzin said, "Who knows?" What happened in Lhasa two years
ago was now history to inspire generations to come, he said.
Other demonstrations urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama include
the Together for Tibet, planned for Brussels on October 10, when Tibetan exiles
and support groups will gather to support Free Tibet.
Lobsang Wangyal, the eventís director, said it aimed to tell the world that
Tibet was not forgotten. It would not be an anti-China demonstration, but a
platform to tell the Chinese government it should listen to the Tibetans and
respect their feelings and aspirations, Wangyal told Asia Times Online.
"The Tibetan issue is like a pebble in the Chinese government's shoe, the
longer they ignore it the more it will irritate," Wangyal said.
Phuntsok Wangchuk, general secretary of GuChuSum - a group of ex-political
prisoners inside Tibet and new Tibetan exiles - said, "We are planning a
meeting with other non-governmental organizations in the region on what
direction the new protests should take." They definitely would continue to
include hunger strikes until "Beijing resumes talks," Wangchuk said.
Exiles believe the time right to think out of the box with new strategies to
break the political stalemate and eventually come to a common ground through
talks and dialogue.
"I am optimistic," the Dalai Lama said earlier when asked about achieving
autonomy for Tibet through negotiations with Beijing.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at [email protected] .