Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Agenda for the Special Meeting in Dharamsala

November 14, 2008

By Dr. Lobsang Sangay
Phayul
November 12, 2008

A few years ago, a well-known liberal Chinese intellectual told me
that the Communist Party of China is so shrewd that even if an
official smiles at you, he was told to do so a month prior to your
meeting. Everything is calculated and nothing is left to chance.

Recalling this advice, I have an uncanny suspicion about the timing
of the vitriolic press conference, a week prior to the Special
Meeting in Dharamsala, by the very Chinese officials engaged in
dialogue with the envoys of HH the Dalai Lama. I fear it could be an
entrapment or bait to provoke Tibetans, especially those attending
the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Their main accusation is that the
failure of the dialogue is the fault of the envoys and HH the Dalai
Lama, because they were not sincere and have a hidden agenda for
independence in the guise of autonomy.

Now if the Special Meeting resolves to cut off the dialogue and
pursue independence, then the Chinese side could claim a Kodak moment
and say We told you so! See: the Dalai Lama and his envoys are
finally revealing their hidden agenda! They have been pulling the
wool over the eyes of the international community: they sought
independence all along! Of course, I cannot conclusively say this is
the case, but given the hardliners' policies in Tibet up to now,
anything is possible. Hence it is very important that attendees
preserve a cool, collected and calm approach both in their rhetoric
and in their recommendations at the Special Meeting.

Let me be clear about where I stand on the issue: the allegations
made by the Chinese officials at the press conference are
unacceptable and utterly irresponsible. I always believed, spoke, and
wrote that the lack of progress in dialogue is entirely attributable
to the hardline policies of the Chinese government. I was misquoted
in an article that appeared in Phayul and was repeated by Jamyang
Norbu, so let me clarify by citing an article published in the Autumn
2008 issue of the Journal of East Asia and International Law
http://yijuninstitute.org/journal/index.html. Based on columns by
Nicholas Kristof in New York Times on August 7 and 14, I surmised that

It is amply clear that the Dalai Lama is willing to accept the
present reality of socialism as an ideology and the Communist Party
as the governing system in Tibet. In fact, the Dalai Lama simply
wants the Chinese government to effectively implement its
Constitution and laws that impact the Tibetan people. From a
negotiation point of view, this is the most conciliatory position the
Dalai Lama could take.

This is the same quotation I shared at the Woodrow Wilson Center in
Washington DC on October 27th and in the Paris conference, and will
share it in my upcoming visits to Tokyo, Dharamsala, Melbourne and
Sydney. HH the Dalai Lama has been as flexible as he could and he
cannot go any lower, the ball is squarely in the court of the Chinese
government. If interested, the proceeding of the Woodrow Wilson
Center will be available in video soon at:
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_summary&event_id=477711

Now let me share my thoughts on what we could discuss and humbly
recommend at the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Experts have
concluded that any non-violent movement must adhere to three
principles in order to succeed: unity, planning, and discipline.
Without these three pillars, any movement is bound to fail. With
them, one can't be sure of success but one can improve one's
prospects. But ultimately the success of any movement depends on the
global environment, and timing. This interestingly is akin to the
concept of Leh, or Karma, in the Tibetan Buddhist lexicon.

Let me explain these concepts before applying them to Tibet and the
Special Meeting in Dharamsala.

On the importance of the global environment and timing, let me begin
with Gandhiji and Nelson Mandela, who are often cited as examples of
leaders who led non-violent movements to success. It could be argued
that though they played important roles, their success was partly
determined by the global environment and timing. Gandhiji led a
movement for equal rights for Indians in South Africa but failed. He
returned to India and successfully led the Indian Freedom Struggle.
However, if Gandhiji's leadership is the sole factor in achieving
Independence, then India should be an exception in Asia; yet Burma
and Sri Lanka also became independent around the same time (in 1948),
primarily because of anti-colonialism sentiments all over the world
and because the British empire was stretched too far to maintain
colonies. If individual leadership is the determining factor, then
Gandhiji should have been as successful in South Africa as in India;
but he wasn't.

Someone who is regarded as successful in South Africa is Nelson
Mandela. Though Nelson Mandela initially led the African National
Congress and even formed the militant wing in the early phase of his
involvement, he became more of a symbol than an executive leader
because he was behind bars for 27 years, some of which time he passed
in solitary confinement. However, he lived long enough to witness
changes in the global environment and the timing of the
anti-apartheid wave, which culminated in his release and election as
the first President of democratic South Africa. This incomparable
historical figure did not personally contribute much in the African
National Congress, but his symbolic leadership and long life had an
impact when aligned with the global environment and timing.

The point is simple: If the global environment and timing are ripe
and Tibetans implement the three cardinal principles, then Tibetans
will attain their objective. However, if the timing and environment
do not favor us -- or, in the Buddhist sense, if we don't have
Leh/Karma -- then it will continue to be a long hard climb to the mountaintop.

In this context, it will be unfortunate if the Dharamsala meeting
ends up rehashing the old debate between Rangzen (Independence) and
Umey Lam (Middle Path). Tibetans have debated this for several
decades, and a few more decades will not settle the issue. Again this
is not an exception with Tibetans, other movements in the past and in
the future will have similar discourse. As stated earlier, one's
objective is not the most important part of the movement, as the
success of the latter will be determined by global environment and
timing. No matter what objective Tibetans decide to pursue, if the
environment and timing is not ripe, they will not succeed.

There is a fear that these two groups are starting to resemble
political parties with opposed agendas and fierce emotions. It is
unfortunate that some pro-Rangzen people claim that they are the more
patriotic and accuse Umey Lam of sacrificing more than a million
Tibetans who died for independence. On the other hand, some pro-Umey
Lam people accuse pro-Rangzen people of being disloyal and in fact
anti-Dalai Lama. To claim superior patriotism and loyalty is
inherently divisive, as we observed in the recent American
Presidential campaign. To avoid this scenario, we must avoid labels,
factions and vitriolic rhetoric against each other.

The most disturbing trend is for each side to cherry-pick evidence
from the recent uprising in Tibet as support for their side.
Advocates for Rangzen note that some protesters were carrying the
Tibetan national flag and shouting Bo Rangzen, and infer that
Tibetans in Tibet are for Independence. Umey Lam people point out
that many Tibetans were shouting 'Long Live the Dalai Lama' and
carrying his photograph, and therefore, the uprising was intended to
support Umey Lam.

The lesson Tibetans should learn from the recent uprising in Tibet is
not whether they are for Rangzen or Umey Lama, because Tibetans in
Tibet have divergent views, as is the case in exile. It is as a
united front that Tibetans in Tibet demonstrated, with protesters
from all walks of life and the three regions of Tibet. Though
divergent in their views, united they protested and sacrificed their
lives. One didn't hear anywhere that some Tibetans were allowing or
forbidding the shouting of certain slogans, or dividing into
competing groups. Admirably, they did not bicker over who is for
Rangzen or Umey Lam, but protested in unity and now suffer
collectively. The Chinese government is not differentiating whether
protesters are for Umey Lam or Rangzen; they all are harshly and
equally punished. The sacred lesson Tibetans should learn is that
unity is first and foremost. It is also verified and concluded by
experts that without unity, movements are doomed to fail. Woeser also
concurs that unity is paramount at this critical juncture. The choice
is clear: Unity or Failure.

It is paramount that the Dharamsala meeting focus less on ideology
and objective than on planning. Planning has two categories: Strategy
and Tactics. For Strategy, three actors and factors interact to
determine the outcome of the movement. These three actors/factors
are: a) one's own people, both in exile and in Tibet, b) the
opposition, that is, the Chinese government, and c) the international
community. Any strategy should take account of these factors and
actors and lay out a plan of action based on them. Tactics will be
events and activities organized at the local level, such as
conclusive hunger strikes, creative protests, productive dialogue, etc.

Tibetan planning should address three strategies which Chinese
hardliners may pursue:

1) Wait for the passing of the Dalai Lama,

2) Divide the exile Tibetans from those inside Tibet, and

3) work for the demise of the exile government. We should adopt a
three-pronged counter-strategy:

I) Appeal to HH the Dalai Lama to appoint a Fifteenth Dalai Lama:
The Chinese hardliner strategy is to wait for the passing of HH the
Dalai Lama (whom we all hope lives very, very long into the future)
but the appointment of the Fifteenth Dalai Lama could foil their
strategy. Of course the Chinese government will try to raise
political objections but they will do that even if Tibetans follow
the traditional protocol of reincarnation. To settle the Fifteenth
Dalai Lama, the Chinese government will spend billions of dollars,
because to legitimize their candidate would fatally wound the Tibetan movement.

To prevent such exploitation, as mentioned in interviews by His
Holiness himself, it would be wise for HHDL to appoint a young man of
fifteen or twenty years of age, perhaps with part Monpa heritage in
view of the importance of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the
dispute between India and China.

It is universally accepted that the present Dalai Lama is a major
asset during this tragic phase of Tibetan history. What could be
better than to have a Fifteenth Dalai Lama similar to the present
one, and this possibility increases if the next one is educated and
groomed by the present one, thereby enhancing his credibility and
leadership skills.

There are religious precedents for the appointment of a successor,
including a teacher of the Dalai Lama himself. More importantly,
Tibetans believe that the reincarnate lamas upon death are reborn
through the womb of the mother. However, being born through the womb
of the mother is only a process: what is crucial is the capacity of
incarnate lamas to transfer their soul/consciousness through the womb
of the mother. If so, the same spiritual mystical capacity could be
utilized to transfer the soul/consciousness to an adult of the lama's
own choosing. The exile movement will immediately gain an adult
Fifteenth Dalai Lama to lead it, avoid past historical messy
transition between Dalai Lamas, and effectively foil Chinese
hardliners' expectation that the exile movement will weaken with the
passing of the Dalai Lama.

The Fifteenth Dalai Lama should be the constitutional head and
spiritual leader akin to the King of Thailand, but responsibilities
of government and day-to-day administration will be solely in the
hands of the democratically elected Prime Minister. This would give
Tibetans a dual legitimacy under the rubrics of both spirituality
(for traditional Tibetans, including inside Tibet) and democracy (for
democratic countries around the world). These dual ideologies will
stand as a counter-thesis to the Communist one-party system of China.

II) Division between Tibetans inside and outside Tibet:
To show solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet, it is not enough to
have lofty words to describe their sacrifices. Exile Tibetans must
actively demonstrate their respect and provide humanitarian aid.
Exile Tibetans should observe a Day of Solidarity and Unity. They
should create a Solidarity Fund to educate children of people who
died during the recent uprising in Tibet. For nomads and farmers,
perhaps providing Dri and Sheep could go a long way toward replacing
the income of breadwinners who were killed or have been imprisoned.
Tibetan associations around the world could thus shoulder their
responsibilities in raising fund, and individual Tibetans could form
groups to sponsor a child or two in their own familial communities.

Even though funding could be marginal and might not be able to help
as much, this act would raise a sense of solidarity among Tibetans
inside Tibet, to see tangible evidence that their brethren in exile
care about them. Such a sense of solidarity would go a long way in
sustaining bonds between two divided families. When Tibetans from
Tibet come abroad, they will see that exile Tibetans observe a Day of
Solidarity in remembrance of their compatriots in Tibet, which could
be quite moving for them. At present, we don't have a single day
celebrating Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. It is time we have
one. Just as Jewish people say after their Passover meal, 'this year
in exile, next year in Jerusalem,' we would end the Day of Solidarity
with a similar saying: this year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa.
Such ceremonial practice would help make emotional connections
between younger and older generations as well as between Tibetans in
exile and those inside Tibet.

III) Preventing the demise of the exile government
Since the exile government is the center of the movement, it is vital
to preserve and sustain it, without which the movement will fizzle
away. However, we lack both the kind of natural resources and the
kind of large ethnic constituencies around the world which have
helped other peoples garner support. It is reported that there are
500 million Buddhists in the world, with 200 million in China, but
given China's influence over these Asian countries, it is difficult
to gain access and form alliances. Those with religious affinity and
ethnic kinships like Bhutanese, Kalymks and Mongolians are small and
weak and so couldn't provide much support even if they wanted to.
Consequently, the responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of
every Tibetan, and it is especially important for the younger
generation to step up to share the honor and burden of the future of
the Tibetan movement. To strengthen and sustain the exile government,
like other constituencies, Tibetans need a thousand millionaires and
possibly billionaires who will provide funding, a thousand
professionals providing technical support, and know how, a thousand
Ph.Ds providing political and strategic expertise on every aspect of
Tibet, in the context of China, Asia, Europe, North America and the
rest of the world.

Fourthly-and this is my favorite -- we should have a thousand lawyers
who will advocate, file law suits, fight defamation, and provide
leadership to the Tibetan movement. It is not an accident that great
leaders of successful movements were lawyers, such as Gandhiji,
Nehru, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln, who ended the slavery
system in America. Barack Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer made the
impossible possible by becoming the first Black President in a
country with a white majority. Even in China, Vice-President Xi
Jinping and Vice-Premier Le Keqiang, who are touted as the next top
leaders, both have legal diplomas.

It is paramount that Tibetans train themselves as lawyers if they
want to lead the Tibetan movement. A degree in law opens the door to
a financially stable career with flexibility to switch to government,
NGOs, Multinational corporations, international organizations, or
private practice. A law degree is a win-win proposition. The days of
college-degree leadership will soon be over and we must try to become
like the Jewish and successful Asian minorities in America: the most
educated, affluent, and now powerful constituencies in the most
powerful country in the world. Tibetans mantra should not be simply
get a degree and make a living rather get an advanced degree, make
good living and serve the cause effectively.

It is time we aim high and be able to stand tall on our own feet.
Finally we must continue the strategy of pursuing dialogue with
Chinese people, and for some of us, with Chinese scholars and
students. This is simply because if one studies most of the
successful non-violent movements, one finds that one of the key
factors has been dialogue, through which understanding and support
for your cause can develop. Gandhiji met with British people from all
walks of life seeking support, including the famous actor of the
time, Charlie Chaplin. Of course Miss Slade, the daughter of Admiral
Sir Edmund Slade, nicknamed Mirabai for her fierce devotion to
Gandhi, functioned as his secretary in foreign correspondence and
stayed with him in his Ashram. Similarly Nelson Mandela and the ANC
actively sought and received support from Afrikaners in South Africa,
while Martin Luther King, Jr. enjoyed the support of many White
Americans and walked side by side singing "we shall overcome," and they did.

It is important to remember that it was White Afrikaner F.W.D. Clark
who signed the release of Nelson Mandela, negotiated and shared the
transition power and handed over the Presidency to Mandela.
Similarly, it was the White President Abraham Lincoln who ended the
Slavery system in 1860, White President Lyndon Johnson who signed the
Civil Rights Act in 1965 which allowed African Americans to vote and
it is the White majority who voted Barack Obama to be the President
of the United States of America. So dialogue, understanding and
cooperation are tested tactics of successful non-violent movements.

Also remember 150 years ago, there was slavery system in America but
every slave who defied and escaped the cruel clutches of their
masters, made a living, fought for their dignity and rights, send
children to schools, asserted generation after generation for right
to vote and get elected, cumulatively contributed towards the
election of Barack Obama as the President of America. Similarly, if
every Tibetan asserts and participates in the movement with
determination, dedication and due diligence, combined with
unflinching unity, sound planning and discipline on non-violence,
Tibetan movement can be as strong, sustainable and successful as many
other movements. If the environment and timing are right, we shall
overcome, one day soon!!! Looking forward to more ideas, substantive
dialogue in the Special Meeting. This year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa!

The author is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the
twenty-five Young Leaders of Asia as selected by Asia Society, a
global organization based in New York.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank