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Radicalisation of Tibetan Youth

The world-wide demonstrations of Tibetans of all ages against China and the uprisings in Greater Tibet since March 10, 2008, have come as the culmination of a long debate in Dharamsala and among Tibetan refugees all over the world, including India, over the wisdom of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s continued adherence to his Middle Path policy. By Middle Path, he meant autonomy and not independence and a non-violent struggle to achieve that objective. By autonomy, he meant the Hong Kong model of one country, two systems and not the present Chinese model of total integration and Han colonisation in the name of autonomy. He was seeking a dialogue with the Chinese leadership in the hope of thereby making his Middle Path a reality.

2. Tibetan youth organisations such as the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), formed in 1970 under the blessings of His Holiness, and Students For A Free Tibet went along with him till 2003 despite having serious reservations as to whether the policy would work and about the insincerity of the Chinese. The action of Shri A.B.Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minister, in agreeing to Tibet being described as a part of China in a statement issued during his visit to China in 2003 set off alarm bells ringing in the Tibetan community abroad as well as in Greater Tibet.

3. Large sections of the Tibetan youth felt that even while pretending to keep the door open for a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese were undermining his political and spiritual authority, encouraged by the silence of the Indian authorities. While they continued to respect and venerate the Dalai Lama as their religious and spiritual leader, the Tibetan youth started looking upon him as politically naive. They began stepping up pressure on him for giving up the Middle Path policy.

4. The disenchantment of the Tibetan youth over the policies of His Holiness and their concern over the perceived headway being made by the Chinese in strengthening their occupation of Greater Tibet was reflected in the seventh session of the Tibetan Parliament held at Dharamsala in March, 2004. It adopted a private member’s resolution which called for a review of the policy of the ‘Middle Path’ after a year, if the Chinese failed to start formal negotiations with His Holiness to solve the Tibetan problem. The elder members of the Tibetan community criticised the resolution as disrespectful to the Dalai Lama and as tending to undermine his political authority.

5. An editorial on this subject in the September,2004, issue of the journal of the TYC said: “The on-going Middle Path policy came into being after the then Chinese supreme leader Deng-Xiaoping set the precondition that we should abandon the demand for independence. For the last 24 years, our leadership has been sincerely trying to hammer out a compromise solution but from the Chinese side, there has always been deceit, double-dealing and delaying tactics so that we have not even managed to make the beginning of a meaningful dialogue. Many thinking Tibetans, Tibetan supporters and China-watchers have now come to honestly conclude that the Chinese have no intention to conduct negotiations. They are only biding time for the Dalai Lama to pass away and in the meantime evade international pressure and condemnation by indulging in the periodical delegation diplomacy. It is vitally important that we Tibetans should not fall prey to their devious ploys. Another important matter to be taken into consideration is the so-called Chinese ‘White Paper’ of May last. With the finality of the tone and tenor of that document, all our hopes for a negotiated settlement on the lines of the One-Nation-Two-Systems theory of Hong Kong and Macao or a genuine autonomy have been dashed irrevocably. The only choice given to the Tibetans is to accept the arrangement under Tibet Autonomous Region as the best one and return. This, surely, is not the answer to the Middle Path! The Chinese ‘White Paper’, in one go, has fully rejected what the Tibetan government has been trying to achieve during the last nearly 25 years through that policy. Therefore, a rethinking on the part of our leadership is called for whether we like it or not. The present resolution is nothing new or surprising. In fact, the need to review the Middle Path policy has become more urgent and relevant after the issuance of the Chinese ‘White Paper’.”

6. The trend towards the radicalisation of the Tibetan youth and their disenchantment with the Middle Path policy became pronounced as the TYC came increasingly under the influence of American citizens of Tibetan origin. Tibetan youth, living in India, paid heed to the words and advice of the Dalai Lama even while criticising his Middle Path policy. They went along with his advice against any attempt to sabotage the Olympics even while taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the Olympics for drawing attention to their cause. They continued to respect the authority of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual and political leader.

7. But, the Americans of Tibetan origin, who had migrated to the US from India and obtained US citizenship under a special dispensation of the US Immigration Department, which granted the US citizenship to 1000 Tibetan refugees, came increasingly under the influence of anti-China groups in the US, which egged them on to sabotage the Olympic Games in order to embarrass China. This group was every vocal in the criticism of the Middle Path policy and started expressing its reservations over the wisdom of the policies of His Holiness on political issues. The Tibetan youth, who continue to be resident in India, shared His Holiness’ gratitude to India for giving shelter to the refugees and looking after them, but the youth, who had settled down in the US and obtained US citizenship, did not share this gratitude. Under the advice or instigation of the anti-China groups in the US, it started itching for a confrontation with China even if this caused unhappiness in the Dalai Lama and created difficulties for India.

8. The influence of American citizens of Tibetan origin on the policies and activities of the TYC increased after Mr Tsewang Rinzin, an American citizen, was elected as the President of the Executive Committee of the TYC at its session held at Dharamsala last September, and Mr.Tenzin Yangdon, another US citizen, was elected as a member of the Executive Committee. Many Tibetans in India were surprised as to how Mr.Rinzin was elected as the President and who proposed his name and influenced his election. Some claim that even His Holiness was surprised by his election. Since his election, he has been following the agenda of the anti-Beijing Olympics groups in the US, which want to sabotage the Olympics in contravention of the wishes of His Holiness that nothing should be done to sabotage the Olympics.

9. The Dalai Lama’s own views on the Olympics are as follows: “I have, from the very beginning, supported the idea that China should be granted the opportunity to host the Olympic Games. Since such international sporting events, and especially the Olympics, uphold the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, equality and friendship, China should prove herself a good host by providing these freedoms. Therefore, besides sending their athletes, the international community should remind the Chinese government of these issues. I have come to know that many parliaments, individuals and non-governmental organisations around the globe are undertaking a number of activities in view of the opportunity that exists for China to make a positive change. I admire their sincerity. I would like to state emphatically that it will be very important to observe the period following the conclusion of the Games. The Olympic Games no doubt will greatly impact the minds of the Chinese people. The world should, therefore, explore ways of investing their collective energies in producing a continuous positive change inside China even after the Olympics have come to an end.”

10. As against this, Mr.Rinzin has warned of attempts to disrupt the passage of the Olympic torch and the Games itself. The “Wall Street Journal” (March 20,2008) has quoted him as saying as follows: “This is a golden opportunity for our struggle.” He is the son of a Tibetan driver in South India. He migrated to the US in 1993 and obtained US citizenship. Till his election last September, he was working in a bank in Portland/ Vancouver in northwest United States. He was also the President of the local chapter of TYC. Since his election, he has shifted to Dharamsala, but his wife, also an American citizen of Tibetan origin, and their two children continue to live in the US.

11. In January last, the Tibetan Youth Congress, the Tibetan Women’s Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, the National Democratic Party of Tibet, and the Students for a Free Tibet, India, issued a statement announcing the launching of a Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM). They described it as ” a global movement of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet taking control of our political destiny by engaging in direct action to end China’s illegal and brutal occupation of our country. Through unified and strategic campaigns we will seize the Olympic spotlight and shine it on China’s shameful repression inside Tibet, thereby denying China the international acceptance and approval it so fervently desires.We call on Tibetans inside Tibet to continue to fight Chinese domination and we pledge our unwavering support for their continued courageous resistance. ” It called upon the international community to cancel the Beijing Olympics.

12. In February last, the TPUM is alleged to have held two training camps in Dharamsala for selected Tibetan youth in subjects such as the Importance of a Co-ordinated Movement, Contemporary Chinese Political Scenario, Strategy and Vision, the Situation inside Tibet, Olympic politics, Media and Messaging, Non-Violent Direct Action and Fund-Raising Strategy.”

13. On March 10, the TPUM launched synchronised protests and demonstrations all over the world, including in Lhasa, to mark the 49th anniversary of the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet. The protests and demonstrations in Lhasa took a violent turn on March 14, 2008. On coming to know of this, the Dalai Lama threatened to resign as the political leader of the community if the violence continued and also called the office-bearers of the TYC to express to them his unhappiness over their activities.(21-3-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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