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Middle Way Approach And The Middle Kingdom’s Attitude


The Dalai Lama will be completing 50 years of his exile in India two years hence. When he arrived in Arunachal Pradesh fleeing Chinese oppression in Tibet (Oct, 1959) he would not have expected that he would have to spend this long in India. The then Indian Prime Minister Nehru, in his welcome message had said: “My colleagues and I welcome you and send you greetings on your safe arrival in India. We shall be happy to afford the necessary facilities for you, your family, and entourage to reside in India. The people of India who hold you in great veneration will no doubt accord their traditional respect to your personage”. In the ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ atmosphere that was prevailing then, Nehru did hardly visualize an aggression from the Chinese bhai soon after (1962).

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then and geo-political compulsions have made an impact on the attitude of countries and personalities during these five decades. India has formally recognised that the area known as the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the People’s Republic of China. China, for its part, has agreed to start border trade through the state of Sikkim, a move that is being seen as an acceptance by Beijing of India’s claim over that area (June,2003).

Dalai Lama – China: Secret Parleys

Dalai Lama decided to send his envoy Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari in 1982 as a forerunner to feel the pulse of the Chinese leaders. (Deng Xiaoping also proposed that except for independence, all other issues regarding Tibet could be resolved through negotiations.) Since 2002, secret parleys have commenced with the Chinese leadership through Gyari as the designated special envoy of Dalai Lama. So far, five rounds of talks could be held between the Dalai Lama delegation and officials of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party. The last session was in February 2006. However, nothing much has been achieved so far excepting that the talks could establish a channel of communication. The main stumbling block seems to be the demand from the Dalai Lama side for formation of a Greater Tibet, consisting of the present Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan populated areas like Amdo and Kham, spreading over four other provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Quinghai.

The Dalai Lama in his customary address to the Tibetans on the uprising day (10 March, 2007) spelt out in the open about the talks justifying the Middle-way thus: ‘The most important reason behind my proposal to have genuine national regional autonomy for all Tibetans is to achieve genuine equality and unity between the Tibetans and Chinese by eliminating big Han chauvinism and local nationalism. This will contribute to the country’s stability through mutual help, trust and friendship between the two nationalities and to the maintenance of our rich culture and language based on a proper balance between spiritual and material development for the benefit of the whole of humanity’.

Voices Of Discouragement:

China’s Premier, Wen Jiabao, said at his annual press conference at the close of the parliament in March: “We are willing to have consultations with the Dalai Lama on his personal future.” But, he added, the “high degree of autonomy for Tibet” sought by the Dalai Lama was unrealistic.

Jampa Phuntsog (Qiangba Puncog), the government chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress meeting stated: “Unless [the] Dalai Lama completely gives up the pursuit of ‘Tibet independence’ both in idea and deed, the chance for him to return is slim”. He said that Beijing had never shut the door to talks with the Dalai Lama through his personal representatives. “But we will never recognise his so-called government-in-exile”, he added. “The attitude of the central government is clear-cut. He must completely give up his pursuit of ‘Tibet independence’; he must recognize that Tibet is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory since the ancient times, and he must also recognize that Taiwan is a part of China”.

Voices Of Encouragement:

Prof. Yang Gongsu, a career diplomat who has served as Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Vietnam and Greece and who was stationed in Tibet for several years and became the first chief of Foreign Affairs Bureau of the TAR Preparatory Committee in 1956, makes an interesting departure when he writes, “Although the Dalai is the supreme political leader of the exiled movement, he is nevertheless different from the ‘Exiled Clique’, even more different from the radical factions represented by the Tibetan Youth Congress and others. As one of the top leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, Dalai’s religious thinking contains many shining points…The Dalai also firmly opposes violence and is trying to solve the Tibet problem through peaceful negotiations with the Central government. These ideas are certainly constructive”.

Phuntsog Wangyal was one of the early Tibetan Communists who played a prominent role during the first years of Chinese rule in Tibet before he was disgraced. He spent many years in prison and lived a largely retired life after his liberation in the 1980s. He is reported to have written to President Hu Jintao and condemned “hawks” for blocking the Dalai Lama’s return and criticised them. Phuntsog Wangyal’s three letters to Hu were never made public, however, Reuters has obtained copies of the letters. In his 2006 letter, Phuntso singled out Lt Gen Yin Fatang, party boss of Tibet in the 1980s, for sticking to “wrong” leftist policies. In 2004, he wrote: “If the Dalai Lama and the central government reconcile, these people will be in a state of trepidation, feel nervous and could lose their jobs”. In an indication that China’s policy towards Tibet is to drag its feet until after the Dalai Lama’s death, Phuntsog wrote: “Any notion of delaying the problem until after the 14th Dalai Lama dies a natural death is not only naive, it is also unwise and especially tactically wrong”. Phuntsog warned that the Dalai Lama’s death would radicalise young Tibetan hardliners frustrated with his “Middle Way”. Invoking Hu’s “harmonious society” slogan, Phuntsog wrote in 2005 that striving for the return of hundreds of thousands of exiled Tibetans would turn “confrontation into harmony”. Phuntsog wrote that “wrong leftist policies continue on ethnic and religious issues especially Tibetan issues” and should cease. “I hope relations between the Dalai Lama and the central government are reconciled”, the 2006 letter read.

Irritant Issues:

The Gormo (Golmud)-Lhasa railway linking Tibet for the first time to the main Chinese rail network will assimilate Tibet more comprehensively into China. The project is strongly opposed by Tibetans who fear an increase of Han Chinese settlers’ migration into Tibet, further diluting the Tibetan population. Repression of freedom of religion in Tibet has been intensified through the re-launch of the “patriotic education” campaign in monasteries and nunneries, resulting with several cases of detention and expulsion of monks and nuns.

The whereabouts and welfare of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama, who was abducted at the age of six in 1995, is still unknown.

The Tibetan rate of illiteracy is five times higher than China’s national average. Most Tibetans do not have access to a bilingual education system that can impart skills to help them compete for employment and other economic benefits.

The rights of Tibetans to their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly are subject to strict constraint. Government officials persecute prominent Tibetans, especially religious leaders, believed to have links to the Dalai Lama.

Shimmer Of Hope:

The next round of talks is expected to begin in Beijing sometime later this year. Gyari says: “If the leadership in Beijing has the political will, I believe the differences can be resolved. From one angle, the gap we’re trying to bridge may seem too vast. But from another angle, it may not only be bridgeable, but not that far to bridge. The Dalai Lama looks at it from that angle and believes it is achievable. He is a very practical, far-sighted man.”

Meanwhile, Dalai Lama’s scheduled visit to Brussels to meet members of the European Parliament and attend a conference of non-government organisations that back him was scuttled by Chinese maneuvers and the Dalai Lama had to cancel his visit. (Belgian Prince Filip is to travel to China shortly.) Dalai Lama, though disappointed, says: “This distrust will not go away in a day. It will dissipate only through face-to-face meetings and sincere dialogues.”

Examining the dynamics of the ‘dialogue process’ with China, one could see his frustrations and hopes for the future. For the Dalai Lama to abandon his claim for independence and to accept that Tibet becomes a ‘genuinely autonomous’ part of the People’s Republic should have been a difficult decision. Perhaps he pins his hope on a factor, which may play a role in finding a solution to the Tibetan tangle: The revival of Buddhism in China.


While unofficial talks between the Dalai Lama and Chinese sides are gradually progressing, Beijing is indulging in high-level rhetoric against the spiritual leader. In May this year, the Tibet Party Secretary Zhang Qingli added a new but serious element in the accusations that the Dalai Lama is ganging up with Taiwan independence forces, Eastern Turkistan Islamic movement, democracy elements and the Falun Gong, in an effort to establish an alliance for the purpose of splitting China.

The tunnel seems to be long, and hence it is not known if there is light at the other end. One is reminded of Dalai Lama’s words in his book ‘My land and my people’ wherein he had mentioned about his escapade to freedom thus: “we went on, and our journey was even sadder than before.I was young and strong, but some of my older companions were beginning to feel the effects of the long journey we had already made so quickly, and the most formidable part of it was still ahead. We still had to cross several more mountain passes, before we came to a road or a railway.”

(The writer, Mr.N.Raghupathy, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email:

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