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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Foreign and Tibetan legal scholars discuss strategies for achieving Tibetan autonomy

October 21, 2009

Secret Tibet
October 17, 2009

Dharamsala, India -- Around one hundred Tibetans
and foreigners, mostly young adults, gathered in
the hall of the Tibetan Welfare Office on the
evening of 14 October to participate in a dynamic
discussion entitled, "Is Autonomy Really Possible
Under PRC Rule?". The prominent speakers in this
debate were Michael Davis, a professor at Hong
Kong University and graduate of Yale Law School;
and Lobsang Sangay, a Tibetan lawyer and
researcher at Harvard Law School. Tenzin Tsondue,
from "Talk Tibet," acted as moderator and host.

Davis spoke on the official Chinese position
concerning Tibetan autonomy, and suggested ways
that Tibetans could frame their struggle within
Chinese and international law. He explained the
key requests of the 2008 Tibetan memorandum and
urged the exile government to continue to "push
forward" with this, despite Chinese officials' inflexibility.

He also praised the diversity in political
opinions and demands within the Tibetan exile
community, proclaiming, "That's the way human rights movements work."

Davis further recommended that Tibetans use the
2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples, which China ratified, to argue their
case at the international level. This Declaration
protects the human rights and self-determination
of indigenous minorities around the world, and
coincides largely with the demands listed in the Tibetan Memorandum.

Lobsang Sangay then informed the audience of five
types of power that can and have been utilized in
past struggles for autonomy and against
authoritarian governments, comparing the Tibetan
movement to others around the world. He analyzed
where the Tibet struggle stands on each of these
aspects, and suggested which particular areas
Tibetans and Tibet supporters can improve upon to
make their case for freedom more effective.

Sangay described the first type of power, "people
power," as occurring when citizens of a country
try to overthrow an authoritarian leader or
government system that they don't approve of.

He explained that in some cases, "people power"
struggles rely heavily on outside support from
groups of "a similar background" living outside
the country in question. The greatest example of
this is the 40 million African Americans who
supported the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 1990s.

Assessing the case for Tibetan "people power,"
the Harvard-trained lawyer noted that while there
are 500 million Buddhists in the world, many of
them reside either inside China, or in other East
and Southeast Asian countries to which His
Holiness the Dalai Lama has very restricted
access. Mongolia and Bhutan, who share the most
with Tibet in terms of location, religion and
culture, are landlocked countries that depend heavily on China.

"Now that leaves us, Tibetans. We had a people's
revolution in Tibet last year, from Tibetans from
all across Tibet, but it was not enough." Sangay concluded.

In terms of "money power," Sangay stated that the
Tibetan movement and government in exile receive
the most support from Tibetans in India, as well
as those working in America and other Western
countries. He said, "Tibetans are hinting to
their leaders that, "If you organize something
dramatic and interesting and dynamic, we will fund you as much as we can."

In Sangay's opinion, Tibetans should continue
exclude the third type of power-"militant
power"-from their struggle. "The Tibetan
nonviolent model is one that other activists
movements around the world want to
emulate...that's something to be proud of," he declared.

Political power, Sangay stated, occurs when, "you
strategically assert political power within the
system that you are in." He pointed out that the
Uighurs in Xinjiang assert more autonomy than the
Tibetans, and as a result have had fewer religious centers destroyed.

Sangay added that, "the other side of political
power is the Tibetan government in exile." By
acting as the legitimate representatives of the
Tibetan people, and developing a democratic
system, the exile government does hold a certain
amount of international political clout. "So we
are making progress...this is the institution we
can build on to assert our political power," he reasoned.

Finally, Sangay argued that, "Most movements have
succeeded because of their accumulated knowledge
power." He thus focused on education as the
foremost area for Tibetans to improve upon.

"If we accumulate enough knowledge power, we will
have money power. If we get that, then we will
get political power. If we get that, we can get
genuine autonomy, or independence, or
self-determination...whatever you choose," Sangay
reasoned, emphasizing that, "It's in our hands."

During the question and answer period, both
Sangay and Davis discussed the education systems
inside Tibet and in the exile community, noting
that the Tibetan government in exile is very
responsive to suggestions for improvement, and
even Chinese education officials realize that the
current situation is not acceptable. Davis
mentioned the work of a woman named Tashi, who
created a school in eastern Tibet that serves 400
children. Davis explained that in the case of
this school, "just by changing the way they
educated kids in primary school, they had a much
higher success rate on the Chinese entrance exams for university."

Sangay noted, however, that education really
comes down to a matter of individual effort,
rather than a "big solution" or "magic formula."
He described his own life, as a farmer's son from
"the smallest of all the Tibetan settlements in
India," and credited his "relentless
determination" as the reason for his academic success.

"If you have passion for Tibet, anger for
Tibet-if you feel humiliated by the Chinese
government-use that energy towards your
education. If you have compassion for Tibet, use
that towards your education," he implored the audience.

Moderator Tenzin Tsondue added an important
dimension to the "knowledge power" issue by
highlighting that the tremendous March 2008
protests were initiated by ordinary Tibetans who
had little higher education, but a deep knowledge
of their own traditions. While the movement can
use higher education to deal with the outside
world and especially the Chinese, traditional
knowledge remains crucial as a uniting factor among Tibetans.
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