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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Special Meeting: a new Middle Way based on Rangzen

November 19, 2008

By Mathieu Vernerey
Phayul
November 17, 2008

The perspective of the Special Meeting (17-22 November) seems to
create as many inspirations as fears within the Tibetan community.
Many sincerely fear that the discussions come into a confrontation
Rangzen (independence) vs. Middle Way, and they worry about Tibetan
unity which should be preserved as a priority. Some others are saying
that Middle Way policy or autonomy proposal should not be criticized
or discussed. Even they repeat the old accusations saying it would be
disloyal to the Dalai Lama. But one should not be "more royalist than
the king", as it is the Dalai Lama himself who called a Special
Meeting to discuss the future of the Tibetan movement.

In his TCV's speech (25 October), the Dalai Lama said: "The Tibetan
people should take collective initiative and take an interest based
on the kind of long-term strategies that we should employ to resolve
our struggle". Before concluding: "When all is said and done, it is
for the Tibetan people themselves to decide about their collective
future". Commenting the Dalai Lama's remarks, his spokesperson Tenzin
Taklha told AFP (27 October): "He has lost hope in trying to reach a
solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not
willing to address the issues. (...) His Holiness feels that other
options have to be considered, and this will be done at the meeting
in November". The Dalai Lama even decided not to attend the meeting
as he clearly doesn't want to influence the discussions: "If I say,
'I think this is better or that is better,' then people may not
express freely. (..) Now it's up to the people".

So, as the Dalai Lama often says: "The issue of Tibet is not the
issue of the Dalai Lama alone. It is the issue of 6 million
Tibetans". This is not only addressed to Chinese leadership or
foreign observers. It also concerns Tibetans themselves, particularly
those who always speak on behalf of the Dalai Lama without listening
him. Anyway, all this indicates that any review of the "Middle Way
policy" should be considered very carefully. But more fundamentally,
and quite paradoxically, it may reveal also that Middle Way is not
the problem and that it could even become the solution.

New Middle Way

People should not make confusion between Middle Way approach and
autonomy. In one hand, Middle Way approach is a moral aspiration and
its main objective is to achieve a mutually-beneficial solution. On
the other hand, autonomy is a political proposal, which furthermore
was conceptualised in a particular historical context. In 1979, the
Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said that "except independence, all
other issues can be resolved through negotiations". So the Dalai Lama
based his Middle Way approach on the proposal of autonomy. But the
fact is that China doesn't want to negotiate neither autonomy nor
independence. However, Middle Way policy was and remains a successful
way to popularize the Tibetan issue around the world and to achieve
an international political support: that is its concrete and
irrefutable result.

So autonomy is just a proposal and it should not be fatally
identified to Middle Way, as there are not direct or immutable links
between them. Fundamentally, there is no contradiction between
Rangzen (independence) and Middle Way approach. Even Rangzen could
become a new political proposal in this framework. Thus Rangzen
should not be considered just as confrontation with China. It could
be viewed in a new way, as partnership with China. Of course, the
nationalist and idelogical view of Chinese over Tibet remain a big
problem. But strategic considerations on a partnership could become a
more pragmatic argument than just giving up independence with no
strategic arrangements.

For example, China needs energies for its economic development. So
Rangzen Tibetan leaders could think about the better way to
rationally exploit Tibetan natural resources and about what kinds of
cooperation could be possible with China: in a mutually-beneficial
way. Idem for many other domains like environment, defense,
diplomacy, even arts, etc.: always in a mutually-beneficial way. But
more important: at this moment, Tibet remains unstable and represents
a threat for China's stability, and Beijing is unable to control the
situation. An independent Tibet could become, not a threat, but the
promise of stability for China, as Tibet would be a new and reliable
neighbour country able to guarantee its proper social stability.

Of course, all this might not convince Chinese leadership, for some
time at least. But this is not the point. There are other steps
before. First, it would be the best way to keep the Dalai Lama in the
course, because "Rangzen partnership" proposal would not be in
contradiction with his Middle Way approach. It would be also the best
way to keep Tibetan unity, now on the basis of Rangzen. Even if the
Chinese leadership would remain skeptical, it could show to Chinese
common people that Rangzen activists are not a kind of phantasmed
terrorists or fanatics, and so create a more favorable opinion within
Chinese society. But above all, it would show to foreign political
leaders that Rangzen leaders are serious, responsible and credible
interlocutors, able to be concerned in regional stability in Asia and
even in China stability. So Rangzen is possible and a combination
Rangzen-Middle Way is possible as well. Tibet and China, both as
independent and sovereign countries, could become good neighbours, in
a mutually-beneficial way.

Rangzen political project

We know the Five-Points Peace Plan (1987) of the Dalai Lama, as well
as his Guidelines for future Tibet (1992). But what about Rangzen
activists' vision of a future Tibet? What is their "Peace Plan" and
what are their "Guidelines"? Rangzen activists seem to wait for a
policy review of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE). At last,
this will be discussed at the forthcoming Special Meeting. But we
need to know also what is the political project and the alternative
programme of Rangzen.

For example, what kinds of relationship do they imagine between an
independent Tibet and some neighbouring countries like China, India,
Mongolia, Republics of Central Asia, and even other territories
presently under Chinese rule (South Mongolia and East Turkestan)?
Some few other more provocative and apparently naive questions: what
kinds of relations with NATO, Shanghai Group, APT, USA, Russia,
European Union, etc.? And more concretely, what about political
constitution, social and economic issues, diplomacy, defense, religion, etc.?

Of course, it may be too early to answer to these questions, but not
to ask them. Because Rangzen has to become a credible political
project to which foreign leaders could give their support and
cooperation. In one word: what is the interest for other countries to
support an independent Tibet? Not just by default or by comparison
with China. But in a more positive way: what can an independent Tibet
offer to the world? Then another important and key issue would be how
to acheive independence - this question is also valid for those
supporting autonomy.

So we need to know more about Rangzen political project, programme
and strategies. Jamyang Norbu wrote "Rangzen Charter" in 1999 and
created the Rangzen Alliance. This was a good and necessary first
step. But now, which other steps have been realised by Rangzen
activists since Jamyang Norbu's first proposal draft? We have to be
aware of a very important point. Today, we collectively - the Dalai
Lama first - acknowledge the failure of the present Tibetan policy -
mostly because of the Chinese attitude. But without any concrete and
ready yet alternative programme, what would be the chances of a
Rangzen policy? And what would be the consequences of a premature
failure of Rangzen?

The challenge of Rangzen

Rangzen activists can't be satisfied any more with just criticising
the Tibetan Government in Exile, without making alternative
propositions and applying them. Yes, the policy and the action of the
TGiE are not perfect and now obviously come to an impasse. But they
were till now the "only solution", in default of "another concrete
solution". TGiE's initiatives are like a life raft, drifting but
floating. And there is no use in sinking it, as it is also the
legitimate continuation in exile of the Tibetan sovereignty and the
symbol of the Tibetan struggle.

In fact, the TGiE is first and foremost the hostage of a situation
presently unfavourable to it - precarious condition of refugee,
fragile tolerance of the Indian host, pressure of foreign
governments, threats of China against Tibetans inside Tibet, etc.
Secondly, considering the pronounced legitimism of the present
Tibetan leadership, changes will not come if the Dalai Lama doesn't
take the initiative. Fortunately, the Dalai Lama himself has recently
called a Special Meeting to discuss new strategies. But what lacks to
each other to step forward is the horizon of a concrete alternative:
this should be the job of Rangzen activists. But the construction of
this alternative programme - which doesn't exist at the moment - will
take a necessary time of maturation, during which Rangzen activists
will have to stand and to act when the TGiE will not be able to do
it. They could also take advantage of this situation.

But above all, to bring political alternation and achieve a real
political change in exile, Rangzen activists will have to ensure
their proper political - and not only moral or historic - legitimacy,
which can be started with their parliamentary representation. And so
for several reasons:

Political party representation

In spite of successive reforms since its creation in 1960, the
Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) persists on a strictly regional
and religious system of representation. Identification is not based
on political ideals, objectives or programmes, but only on
traditional provinces or religious sects. Politically, the Tibetan
deputy is either an individual, or the representative of his region
or his religious sect, but he is never the member of a group sharing
and supporting common objectives. This doesn't mean that divergence
of views or conflict of interest don't exist - especially about the
question of independence or autonomy - but they don't find any
opportune way of expression, meaning here political way.

This is why when some Tibetan MPs resolved in September 2004 to
contest a previous resolution adopted with the majority support -
about the possibility to review the Middle Way policy - they did it
under the cover of their regional groups. Two regional associations
(Domed and Utsang) resolved to resign from the assembly if the
resolution was not withdrawn. This in political terms has no
signification and incorrectly presumes the individual stand of the
other deputies of these regions.

The Tibetan Parliament functions with no political party system.
Although the Tibetan Charter in Exile doesn't proscribe this kind of
representation, it simply doesn't deal with political party - what
Tibetans often basically answer as a natural fact, without
questioning this constitutional blank. At best, they refer to the
Guidelines for Future Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who advocates
multiparty system. But this perspective is immediately restricted to
a future "free" Tibet - a distant future as unfathomable as
uncertain. And so it postpones the responsibilities of today to
tomorrow. Moreover, this vision could function only in an independent
and sovereign Tibet - free to decide its proper way of governance -
but it would be contradicted by the Chinese constitutional framework
to which it doesn't refer by the way. But more significant is the top
down democratic initiatives and progression, only due to the goodwill
of the Dalai Lama who still confronts the many resistance: a new
initiative which the Tibetans seem to find hard to take themselves,
or at least just to anticipate and implement.

So, in exile, the successive reforms of the constitution brought the
right to vote, the separation of powers, the election of Parliament
Members and Prime Minister through direct suffrage. But having
democratic institutions is not sufficient to establish a democracy if
there remains a lack of any party expression relative to political
ideals or objectives, to begin with the underlying - but non
formalised - opposition between Rangzen and autonomy. Democracy would
be an empty word if it could not allow political discussions and if
it would be impossible to know who represents who or who represents
what. And there is no question here of region or religious sect, but
only of political ideals, programmes or objectives carried by parties
sharing a common stand.

More fundamentally the question is about the mode of parliamentary
representation and about the process of decision. The role and the
vocation of a political party are to participate in governance and to
the decision-making process - including the role of opposition. Thus
to invest all the areas of decision, especially in the parliament
where the policy of the exile government is voted. But till now the
Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the Tibetan Charter don't include
this kind of political representation - although political parties
are not proscribed and could function within the present structure.
To be clear, this is not a question of presumed democratic model, but
a question of political legibility and efficiency.

For the moment, it appears that Rangzen and political party system
create a kind of unrest and even of taboo among Tibetan parliament
and community. Both issues stigmatize a feeling of direct conflict or
confrontation with the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach: an
incorrect prejudice harmful not only to Rangzen but to the whole
Tibetan struggle. Fundamentally democracy is based on difference of
views, and opposition is a fundamental principle. Democracy is the
only solution to leave the present political stalemate in exile, and
the Dalai Lama himself did his best to bring democracy to the Tibetan
community in exile. As Tenzin Tsundue says in "Mangtso: Our
Democratic Vision" (2004): "Although we received our democracy as a
blessing (from the Dalai Lama), we must endeavour to make it work.
And we have been most unwilling to do just that; take up democratic
responsibilities".

Presently, the thought process within the Tibetan parliament and
community seem unprepared or not ready for political party
representation. However one step at least could be realised. During
the last legislative elections in March 2006, new deputies were
elected and most of them, as well as former ones, are very close to
Rangzen. So if political party representation may be premature for
the moment, one stage exists: a parliamentary group. Then it remains
with all these deputies close to Rangzen to gather - even on the
sidelines of the parliament - and to form a Rangzen parliamentary
group. Because ensuring the political representation of Rangzen is
primordial, and representing Rangzen at the Tibetan Parliament - the
ultimate decision-making body and the symbol of the Tibetan democracy
- is an absolute necessity.

Rangzen parliamentary group

Except for the fact that a parliamentary group would be opportune to
ensure the political representation of Rangzen - in default of a
system of political party representation - it also presents some
strategic advantages:

For the moment, Rangzen activists put pressure on their government in
exile to change their present policy. But clearly, it would be too
dangerous for the Tibetan parliament or government to become suddenly
pro-independent, and it would be also premature in absence of a clear
alternative strategy. However, without lowering the Rangzen cause and
its highly moral signification, pragmatism and strategy are useful.
Middle Way approach is not so bad for Rangzen cause. It is even the
best protection for Rangzen to grow and to unify and structure its
movement. As Middle Way approach is in the interest of China, it is
also in the immediate and present interest of foreign nations. These
will not harm a Tibetan leadership which acts presently in their own
interest, and the evidence is that they desperately support "dialogue
with China" and consequently Middle Way policy through its present
formulation - with no political results of course. But that is not
the question.

During the time of maturation of the Rangzen movement and of its
political representation, Middle Way approach should remain the
government policy, even on the basis of autonomy, until political
alternation and Rangzen alternative strategy are ready. This time
would be also useful for Rangzen activists to gain political and
international support.

It doesn't mean that Rangzen activists should stop requesting their
government to change their policy. Of course they should continue,
but by keeping in mind the risks of a brutal change of policy. Even
it remains extremely important, as Jamyang Norbu wrote in "Looking
Back from Nangpa-la" (2007), to "take the Dalai Lama back". He is the
keystone of the Tibetan struggle, but he is at the same time the
problem and the solution - the "Dilemma" that Rangzen activists as
often but respectfully speak of. The fact remains that, in absence of
an alternative strategy, the present position of the Dalai Lama is
the "only solution". He has no more latitude of maneuvering. And the
job of Rangzen activists is to build the bridge over the precipice to
"take him back".

However, in the present circumstances, "unity" may be a "trap". Of
course Tibetan people are all united in their aspiration to end the
Tibetan suffering and to live in freedom. This is a common and
indisputable goal. But "freedom" does not have the same political
signification. The Tibetan opinion is not uniform and, if a consensus
seems to exist on the basis of the Middle Way policy, it is in a
delicate way. As Tenzing Sonam writes in "Until the Last Tibetan"
(2007): "We (can) no longer pretend that this contradiction between
our loyalty to the Dalai Lama and our instinctive belief in Tibet's
independence (does) not exist". Except this "morass of conflicting
goals and loyalties besetting the Tibet movement", it has also many
political consequences, not only by creating confusion, but also by
giving opportunities to foreign governments or Chinese leadership to
neutralise the Tibetan struggle. Then political unity with different
and even opposite political goals is impossible and also
counterproductive. As the French Rangzen activist, Francois Corona,
often says: "We rather need a clever political plurality than a sham
unity as claimed by some". The hope of unification of the whole
Tibetan movement - including the parliament and the government - on
the basis of Rangzen would be delicate for the moment and more
certainly premature. The differentiation of two sides acting for
their respective objectives is momentarily preferable, as well as the
Middle Way approach as present policy of the Tibetan government to
prevent any kind of retaliatory measures from foreign governments. In
this framework, a Rangzen parliamentary group would be the best way
to bring political alternation - and even convergence - and achieve a
change of policy with less risks. It is of course necessary to review
the policy of TGiE, as well as to restore the complete unity of
Tibetan struggle on the basis of truth and justice: Rangzen. But we
have to do so step by step.

First steps for a progressive policy review

So, in the present situation, reviewing the present Tibetan policy
remains more than ever essential. At least, it requires some "minor"
but substantive changes. For example, the TGiE could keep autonomy as
a political proposal, but without giving up independence until the
Chinese leadership agrees to negociate the status of Tibet. Secondly,
the TGiE should stop with just looking for bilateral and informal
talks with China. Now, time has come to work for a formal process of
negotiations, with the support of a third country part ready to host
and sponsor such meetings. The Tibetan side needs also to get a
status for itself in the framework of this negotiation process. For
this, one can get lessons from the Palestinian issue. Yasser Arafat
was recognised as a "valid negotiator" and PLO became the
"Palestinian authority". As well, the Dalai Lama could be recognised
as "valid negociator" and the TGiE, in default of an official
recognition as government in exile, could become something like
"Tibetan authority".

But time has come also to seek an international recognition of the
Tibetan Government in Exile. Till now, because of the informal talk
process with China, the TGiE refused any such recognition. Now,
Tibetan leadership should not only accept it but manage to seek and
to achieve it. There are opportunities for this. For example, the
European Parliament adopted a resolution in July 2000. By this
resolution, EP called on governments of the Member States "to give
serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan
Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan
people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the
Tibetan Government in Exile have not, through negotiations under the
aegis of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, signed an
agreement on a new status for Tibet". Till now the so-called "renewed
dialogue" with Beijing since 2002 and the present Tibetan policy have
only helped China to wriggle out of EP ultimatum. But if the three
years deadline has now passed for a long time, at the grassroots, EP
engagements remain as well as the obligation to implement this
resolution that is still and more than ever justified by the lack of
any China-Tibet agreement.

In the medium term, the major review of the Tibetan policy should be
to rethink the Middle Way approach on the basis of Rangzen, as
suggested in the first chapter. But it supposes that Rangzen
activists have first worked and advanced on this alternative
proposal, and that they are ready to ensure political alternation.
Because it is not the present Tibetan leadership that will bring a
pro-independent policy. This is the duty of Rangzen elected people to
implement themselves their programme: they can't wait for someone
else to do their proper job. This is why the political and
parliamentary representation of Rangzen is so important. Thus a major
review of the Tibetan policy will depend on the maturity of the
Rangzen movement to initiate and to implement such change.

Special Meeting agenda

All this could and should be discussed during the Special Meeting.
"Minor" changes, as suggested above, could be easily decided without
any traumatic "revolution". Then, technically, the formation of a
Rangzen parliamentary group could be planned as soon as possible -
since there are several Tibetan deputies close to Rangzen.
Furthermore, a Rangzen political party could emerge - why not a
revitalised NDPT (National Democratic Party of Tibet) - and campaign
in view of the next Tibetan legislative elections, in 2011.
Discussions on a major review of the Middle Way policy could be
immediately opened with including a possible combination with
Rangzen. But any decisions on this crucial question may be premature
at the moment. Because a such "revolution" needs to be further
discussed and to be accepted by all parties. Its supposes also a
solid Rangzen support movement ready to bring political alternance,
which doesn't exist at the moment and has to emerge.

Of course, as always, Chinese may repeat their accusation about a
"hidden agenda". But this is not new and it started at the very time
when the Dalai Lama introduced his Five-Peace Plan. And there is no
more "hidden agenda" today. Tibetan people are just looking for
possible solutions in a situation unfavourable to them. They should
not care too much about any Chinese accusations as these will always
exist in any circumstances.

During the discussions, unity should not become an obsession or even
an obstacle to explore new strategies. As mentionned before, unity of
the Tibetan people already exists as a common aspiration to freedom
and the Dalai Lama is the indisputable symbol and protector of it. No
one should be afraid about democracy and pluralism that allow and
formalize differences of views. As far as the national unity is
preserved, the differentiation of strategies may be in the interest
of the whole struggle, especially when opposite objectives - like
independence and autonomy, each as legitimate as the other - cannot
be mingled against nature without creating confusion, frustration and
division. An artificial and forced consensus would be
counterproductive at a moment when Tibetans have to make choices. As
well, one should take care not to make any abusive equation "Middle
Way = autonomy" that unjustly implies an opposition or an
incompatibility between Rangzen and Middle Way approach.

To finish, it remains to say that Rangzen is not the threat of
division and of conflict within the Tibetan community and their
supporters. Rangzen is the promise of reconciliation and a door to
exit out of present political crisis. Rangzen is also a very
inspiring promise: to become sooner or later a reality.
Democratisation in exile, diplomatic policy, activist strategies,
international support and Rangzen are highly connected and very close
to each other. And today, the time is to connect these. Yes, Rangzen
is possible, but without getting ahead of schedule: step by step.

The writer is the editor of French-review Alternative tibétaine
(Tibetan Alternative)

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