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Uprising Spurns Dalai Lama's Way

March 20, 2008

TIME Magazine
Saturday, Mar. 15, 2008

DELHI Demonstrators protest on a street in Lhasa, Tibet. China moved
Saturday to quell the uprising that left at least 10 people dead.

Violent anti-China demonstrations in Tibet eased Saturday, and a
tentative calm and electricity supplies returned to the Tibetan capital
Lhasa following four days of unrest. China's state-run news agency said
protestors had killed ten people, while Tibetan activists based in India
said that at least 30, and as many as 100 had died in the protests and
subsequent crackdown by security forces. The authorities on Saturday
issued an ultimatum demanding that the "lawbreakers" surrender
themselves by Monday, but for many Tibetans, the current uprising is a
sign that the prospects for a compromise with Beijing are dimming.

The Chinese authorities blame Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama, for the protests. The Tibetan government installed by Beijing
alleged, in a statement released Saturday, that the demonstrations had
been organized by "law- breaking monks and nuns," as part of a plan by
the "Dalai Lama organization" to destabilize Tibet. Aides to the Dalai
Lama said these allegations were "absolutely baseless," and that the
unrest was "spontaneous." Earlier last week, the Dalai Lama told
supporters gathered to commemorate the 49th anniversary of his escape to
India after a failed anti-China uprising, that "repression continues to
increase with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human
rights, denial of religious freedom and politicization of religious
issues," but that he would continue to advocate for dialogue with
Beijing and a "?middle-way' policy."

Young Tibetans, many of them born outside their homeland, have become
increasingly critical of the moderation of the Dalai Lama and other
exiled leaders. Although they remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, they
believe that demonstrations or even confrontation might be more
effective means of securing their rights. "There are two schools of
thought," says Lobsang Sangay, a Senior Fellow at the East Asian Legal
Studies Program at Harvard Law School. "One says you can never trust the
Chinese government because they will never negotiate peacefully, and so
confrontation is the best approach. The one led by the Dalai Lama says
dialogue is the best approach."

Wherever they fall in that debate, Tibetans clearly view the 2008
Beijing Olympics as a high-profile opportunity to draw attention to
their cause. B. Tsering, the head of the Tibetan Women's Association,
told TIME that her group and four other Tibetan organizations based in
India have spent the past year planning a peaceful protest campaign
timed to coincide with the buildup to the Olympics. It took dozens of
meetings to agree on a strategy, in part because the groups are split
over whether to demand autonomy for Tibet within China, or to press for
it to become an independent state. Despite the arrest of 100 or so
activists by Indian authorities three days ago, a march to the Chinese
border is still underway. "This is no time for differences," Tsering
says. Activists including Tsering emphasize that while protests outside
Tibet were planned, the uprising in Tibet itself was spontaneous. "They
have been entirely without coordination," says Tsering. "Though we're
watching every thing each other on BBC."

The protests in Tibet were spontaneous, agrees legal expert Lobsang
Sangay, but a violent uprising was inevitable. The combination of
simmering resentment over the failure of the Dalai Lama's six-year-long
negotiations with Beijing, and the influx of Han Chinese settling in
Tibet have pushed Tibetans to breaking point, says Sangay, who grew up
in exile. "The frustration level has reached very, very high," he says.
"If you study violent movements, when these reach a threshold when it
starts to affect not only political issues but also bread and butter
issues, then it crosses a line and the response becomes much more
aggressive and violent and that's what's happened here."

This week's events resemble the 1959 uprising and similar protests in
the late 1980s, Sangay believes, all of which followed periods of
attempted dialogue. "There is a co-relationship between dialogue not
working out and demonstrations, dialogue not working out and frustration
growing. [When dialogue constantly fails] this type of uprising is
inevitable. It's not a question of if, but when." The protestors, says
Sangay, are not rejecting the Dalai Lama's call for dialogue and
negotiations, but Beijing's refusal to take negotiations seriously.
"It's not that the Dalai Lama is wrong," says Sangay. "It's that the
Dalai Lama's approach is right but that the partner is not willing and
the people see the Dalai Lama being taken for a ride."

The latest protests may mark a more serious shift towards confrontation,
however. Tsering notes that this is the first time major demonstrations
have taken place simultaneously inside and outside of Tibet, and that
the two communities seem to be drawing encouragement from each other.
There's also a sense that Tibet is fast losing the culture many Tibetans
are so desperate to preserve, and that the prospects for compromise are
receding. "The crucial factor is the age of the Dalai Lama," says
Sangay. "Unlike the ?50s and ?80s, Tibetan people inside and outside are
very well informed of events and what's happening around the world
through radio and Internet, and they know that, for an agreement to be
implemented effectively, time is a factor. Implementing an agreement,
this only the Dalai Lama can do. And the Dalai Lama is 73 years old now.
The sooner you do it the better. The people inside feel a sense of
urgency, they want him to return to the land he belongs to. They want a
c losure to this tragedy of history."
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