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Losing Tibet

November 15, 2008

Oxfor Analytica
November 15-21, 2008

Tibetan exiles will gather on Monday in the north Indian town of
Dharamsala to debate the future of their cause.  The meeting is yet
another step in the Dalai Lama's efforts to introduce democratic
systems into the Tibetan exile community and reduce his role as
erstwhile spiritual and political leader of Tibet.  However, it is
not expected to be a smooth affair, with many exiles frustrated with
the Dalai Lama's long-standing 'middle way' approach which eschews
independence in favour of negotiations towards genuine autonomy
within China for the Tibetan region.

The meeting comes at an important juncture in the history of the
Tibetan freedom movement with a number of developments in recent
weeks likely to influence the outcome.  The British government have
subtly, but significantly, adjusted  its stance on the historical
relationship between Tibet and China, acknowledging the latter has a
greater diplomatic claim over Tibet that was once
admitted.  Furthermore, the latest round of negotiations between the
exile Tibetans and the Chinese government have ended in
acrimony.  The Dalai Lama has indicated in recent speech that he was
losing faith and trust in the Chinese government and that to assist
matter he was withdrawing himself personally from the negotiation process.

The Dalai Lama's growing separation from the process is part of an
attempt to prepare Tibet's exiles for his eventual death -- he is
73.  However, there is no obvious successor and any search for a
re-incarnation is likely to be mired in controversy.  The Tibetan
exiles attending the meeting are divided between the middle way
supporting establishment that run the Tibetan Government in Exile and
a number of young (and some not so young) radicals that call for the
full independence for Tibet and do not rule out the use of
violence.  As a result, a clear path is unlikely to emerge, with the
majority acquiescing to the Dalai Lama's position following a lot of

The Dalai Lama's growing withdrawal will rob the movement of its most
recognised figurehead, one that has successfully developed an
extensive international network of supporters and the respect of
world leaders.  Even so his success has been limited and a more
radical, possibly violent, approach would alienate many.  In
particular, the Indian government, which hosts the majority of
Tibetan exiles, would not countenance such an approach.  Deaf to
international pressure, Beijing appears happy to play a long game --
continuing to promote ethnic Chinese migration into the Tibetan
plateau.  Though periodic uprisings, such as those in March, may
occur, the lack of concrete international support and an ineffective
exile movement mean that the long-term outlook for Tibetan
independence looks bleak.
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