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Regarding The Tibet Issue

The outcome of the Dharamsala conclave of Tibetan leaders in-exile may have relieved the Chinese government and the Communist Party (CCP) to an extent. The November 17 to 22 meeting, the first ever of its kind, to determine a new approach to the Tibet question came out of real frustration with the Chinese response to the Dalai Lama’s quest for genuine autonomy for Tibet. Although the 14th Dalai Lama did not attend the meeting of the Tibetan leaders to allow them a free atmosphere for decision making, he had to retain the leadership on popular and unanimous demand.

The estimated five and a half million Tibetans inside China may not have had a physical presence in the Dharamsala gathering, but their opinion was read out by a high official of the Tibetan’s government in-exile. Speaker of the Kashang or the Tibetan Parliament, T.T. Karma Chopel disclosed a secret poll conducted among 17,000 Tibetans in Tibet revealed 8000 would go by whatever the Dalai Lama says, but another 5,000 or about 30 per cent of those polled, wanted independence. There is no reason to disbelieve this poll, with the usual statistical error. This should be a concern for the Chinese leaders who continue to rely on force to unite the Tibetans with the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama spent the last two decades in trying to convince the Chinese leaders that all he wanted was a genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people to keep alive their religion, culture and language. He discarded his the idea of independence first in his address to the joint house of US Congress in 1987 and his Strassbourg proposal the following year. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly made it clear that the autonomy he was asking for will be within Chinese sovereignty.

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leaders living in-exile are astute individuals. That the Chinese have distorted the history of Tibet and no one really believes them as hard evidence point to the contrary, is not the question. But power politics has changed and so has China’s strength and global influence. There is no international support for an independent Tibet any longer. But the Chinese forces can no longer run over the Tibetan people, either. What can happen in the future is something no one knows. At the same time, there is a growing support across the world on humanity, human rights and identity.

A sharp rise in anti-Chinese feeling among the Tibetans inside China is evident. These people have waited for twenty years hoping for new status and real freedom to practice their religion and cultural way of life. The Chinese authorities show their books of laws on freedom of religion and autonomy for minority nationalities. But these remain only in statute books. In actual practice all the Tibetan had are being chipped away rather rapidly. Even keeping a photograph of the Dalai Lama attracts penal action.

The Tibetans have their unique society and civilization. Their politics and administration are based on and guided by a highly developed but equally complex Lamaistic religious tradition. There are four main sects and a number of sub-sect branches. Oracles, and demonic figures on the other hand and avatars influenced from parts of Hinduism, dreams and metaphysics are netted together. It needs deep religious understanding to even start appreciating the Tibetan mind in any depth. The Chinese communists cannot. The strength of the Tibetans lie in their way of life. At the same time, it is also progressive and keeps in step with the world.

The Chinese authorities blow up the conditions in Tibet during the period of the Dalai Lama’s. A recent White Paper on Tibet again focused on the developments brought about under Chinese rule. There is no denying the fact that development has come to Tibet and even the Dalai Lama does not disagree.

The Chinese, however, forget the conditions of the rest of China during that period. The “serfs” in Han China were known by another name – “bonded labour”. The landlords were the mirror image of Tibets serfs. American writer Pearl S. Buck documented some of those in her book “Good Earth” as a first-hand witness. The situation in China was as miserable and was in the old Tibet. The ten years of Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 under the CCP rule was anything but civilized or cultured. More than 30 million people died.

Society and its members progress together with the rest of the world. The differences are because of starting time. The Chinese claim or propaganda that they brought development to Tibet, is a lie. Without Chinese take over in 1950, Tibet would have been directly integrated with the outside world and would have developed further. For the time being, it is pushed to realm of what could have happened. Development in Tibet is not free, but controlled from Beijing.

The Tibetans are particularly aggrieved with the decision that all Tibetans incarnates will have to be recognized by the Chinese central government. The 9th Panchen Lama has two reincarnations, one recognized by the Chinese government and the other by the Dalai Lama. It has not worked. The Chinese recognized Panchen Lama has not been accepted by the Tibetans, and no body knows where the Dalai Lama’s recognized one is. The same Chinese formula awaits for the 15th Dalai Lama. This, too, will not work.

The Lhasa uprising in March this year had to do a lot with the Beijing summer Olympics. The Tibetans across the world, a population of a mere 180,000, and the 5.5 million Tibetans inside China saw this as an opportunity to highlight their cause to the world. There was, however, a substantial difference from previous protests which had involved mainly monks and nuns.

The March protests saw the ordinary Tibetans getting involved. The protests also spread beyond Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to Tibetan autonomous prefectures and townships the Dalai Lama is asking for inclusion in his vision of an autonomous Tibet. The most striking is the fact that the some Tibetan officials so strategy screened and indoctrinated by the Chinese also put their faith in the Dalai Lama. They were removed and nobody knows about their fate.

This year the Dalai Lama’s envoys, Lodhi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen held three meetings with Chinese officials in China. The first two meetings involved basic Chinese emphasis that the Dalai Lama support the Beijing Olympics and persuade with the Tibetans not to disturb the Olympic games. The Dalai Lama openly supported the Beijing Olympics and sent around a message of peace. But the events showed that there are fringe elements that have begun to believe that the Dalai Lama’s “middle path” (autonomy and not independence) is not working and the Chinese demands are rising with each concession from the Chinese side. The Chinese must understand that not only the Dalai’s Lama, but even Gods have dissenters. That should be the scientific understanding of Marxism.

In the last meeting in Beijing (October 31 to November 5, 2008), envoys Gyari and Gyaltsen carried a proposal “Memorandum for All Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy”. It was a written comprehensive proposal what the Dalai Lama has been saying. The Chinese, however, slammed it and accused the Dalai Lama of going back on all assurances and cloaking independence in his proposal.

Although the Dharamsala discussions of exiled Tibetans leaders ended on November 22 reposing faith in the leadership of the Dalai Lama, a clear shift in mood was evident. There were reservations, and the atmosphere was heavy. No talks with the Chinese now.

In his address to the press and public the next day, the Dalai Lama reassumed his leadership responsibility of the Tibetan agenda till the end. He repeated that his “trust in Chinese officials has become thinner and thinner”, but also cautioned if they “not careful in their actions and planning, then there is great danger to the Tibetan community”. He urged for innovative thinking. Another meeting of the exiled Tibetan leader is scheduled next year. A change of approach is apparently under discussion.

Apparently, the Chinese leaders have also realized that they had over stepped when Zhu Weiqun, executive Vice Minister of the United Workers Department (UFWD), the body that deals with minority issues, asked the Dalai Lama to “do something good for the country and the people”. Zhu also appealed to the legacy that the Dalai Lama would leave behind. The date of Zhu’s statement, November 20 (as per China Daily), is significant. It came when the Dharamsala conclave was already mid-way. If Zhu Weiqun’s statement is a honest position of the Chinese government, it would suggest some realization that the Dalai Lama is the best bet a for an acceptable resolution of this issue. The Dalai Lama is 73 years old, and the Chinese realize this acutely. If they let this opportunity go by all bets are off.

The Chinese leaders may take confidence from the fact that the Tibetans inside the country comprise a mere 6 to 7 million of the population at the most. But that is not the strength of the Tibetans. Their strength lies in their faith and belief which the Chinese authorities have not been able to dent despite severe atrocities. And if Tibet catches fire, the restive Muslim in Xinjiang will explode, followed by the Mongolians in Inner Mongolia. Taiwan will slip away totally, and what will happen to southern China adjoining Hong Kong and Macao is a matter of cautious speculation at the moment.

Hearts and minds have never been won through coercion, guns and re-education camps. Unity can be won only through giving the life and living to the people. Security of China’s territorial integrity lies here.

(Courtesy: The author, Mr.Bhaskar Roy is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience of study on the developments in China. He can be reached at

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