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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."

Some Tibetan Exiles Reject ‘Middle Way’

March 22, 2008

The New York Times
March 21, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India — “Long live the Dalai Lama!” is the most common cry
on the streets here.

Even so, the 72-year-old monk’s refusal to call for independence from
China more forcefully as it has cracked down on the protests in Tibet
has sharpened disagreement with younger and more aggressive Tibetan exiles.

Tenzin Wangdue, who has spent the last 11 days shouting slogans,
including some that the Dalai Lama would shun, is typical of the new
generation. While not rejecting the Dalai Lama’s authority, he believes
Tibetans have to push harder if they are going to get anywhere. “They’re
not going to give total independence,” he said of China. “But I think
there’s hope they’re going to accept genuine autonomy if we say we want
total autonomy.”

Since March 10 the Dalai Lama has stuck to his “middle way” script and
appeared remarkably affable, at least publicly, even as China accused
him of masterminding the uprising and called him “a devil with a human

He has repeatedly said he advocates only nonviolence, presses not for
independence but a “preservation of Tibetan culture,” endorses China’s
role as host of the Olympic Games in August and is happy to speak to
Chinese authorities, including President Hu Jintao.

“I’m fully committed to eliminate negative feelings among Tibetans and
fear, distrust among Chinese,” he said Thursday in his third meeting
with reporters this week. Reminded of the latest slurs against him, he
leaned back in his chair and howled with laughter. “As a Buddhist monk,
whatever they call me, doesn’t matter.”

Yet, a handful of radical Tibetan exile groups have said angrily that
the “middle way” has achieved nothing in nearly 30 years. They have
called for an Olympic Games boycott, burned Chinese flags and refused to
call off a march from here to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, which he has
called impractical in opposing a mighty state intent on using force.

So the question arises of whether the Dalai Lama, who has spent the last
49 years here in India and built one of the most powerful exile
movements in the world, is out of touch with his own people. Or is this
monk, regarded by his followers as a reincarnation of Buddha, the
ultimate political pragmatist?

There is no clear answer. Whether his doggedly conciliatory posture will
ever assuage China’s government, or whether his allies will intensify
pressure on China on his behalf remains a mystery.

But a hint of his influence here bleeds through the often angry,
inventive protests that have gone on nearly nonstop for over a week. For
all the slogans of fury — “Free Tibet” and “Death to Hu Jintao” —
China’s president, the most common is a call-and-response homage: “Long
live the Dalai Lama.”

Nuns chant it. Scruffy young men with painted faces shout it. Indeed,
half the town seems to have gone hoarse this week calling out his name.
He remains revered.

Mr. Wangdue, 26, is representative of the foot soldiers of the Tibetan
exile movement. Born here to refugee parents, he has never seen Tibet,
but dreams of going there one day and coaching the first Tibetan soccer
team. He will go back when there is freedom, he said, and though he has
never farmed, he will become a farmer on the family’s ancestral land.

He was educated in Tibetan schools here, raised on a curriculum that
emphasized Tibetan suffering and Chinese atrocities, and studied
politics and sociology in Delhi University, in the Indian capital. Twice
he was arrested for protesting in front of the Chinese Embassy there.

This week, he was shouting “Free Tibet!” up and down the hills. During
the protests, several Chinese flags were burned. “I’m a supporter of the
Dalai Lama,” he confessed. “But when I saw these demonstrations, the
blood was boiling in me.”

The most explicit face-off here came this week when the Dalai Lama
summoned the groups organizing the march to Lhasa. He told them they
would risk not only alienating their Indian hosts (the government does
not like refugees agitating against China on Indian soil), but also
invite fatal fire from Chinese troops on the border.

He told reporters after the meeting that while he welcomed dissent, he
felt compelled to ask the groups to be “practical.” They are after all
the foot soldiers of his movement, and his appeal to them was a sign of
how they present both opportunity and a headache for his movement.

“I have no authority, no power to say ‘Shut up!’ ” he said. “I’m always
telling them: ‘You are fighting for our rights. But today we are almost
a nation dying. This moment important is survival. Practical solution is
necessary.’ ”

But voices of Tibetans here in the seat of the government in exile made
it plain that while they had reverence for the Dalai Lama’s leadership,
they did not feel bound by his directives.

Tashi Phuntshok, 40, a resident of a dormitory for new refugees here,
said he understood that the Dalai Lama’s political strategy was intended
to spare more Tibetan lives. If he called for independence, Mr.
Phuntshok said, there would be outright war. “His Holiness, he is
kind-hearted,” Mr. Phuntshok explained.

“For us,” he said, “it should be full independence.”

Onpo Lobsang, rushing up the road on his way to pick up a banner for a
demonstration, said he backed the march to Lhasa despite the Dalai
Lama’s reservations. “Our goal is the same, we need both sides,” said
Mr. Lobsang, 29, who came here with his parents at age 9. “He’s the
supreme leader, but we don’t need to listen to everything he says. He is
a Buddhist monk. We are common men.”

Tsering Dorje, 34, came out of an Internet cafe on the same road, having
scoured the Web for the latest news inside Tibet. He regarded the
“middle way” as still the soundest strategy, but said that China would
have to respond favorably soon for Tibetans to keep faith in the
concept. “It’s time for China to show whether it has the courage,” he
said. “If China doesn’t change its stance, I will change my mind.”

Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in
exile, said he recognized the “energy and fire” of younger, more radical
exiles, but dismissed their expectations.

“They have all lived in a world of dreams,” he said. “And they are
driven by emotions.”

He maintained that his cause enjoyed greater prospects of success than
ever before. His statement offered a window into at least the rationales
of the Dalai Lama’s political circle.

Mr. Rinpoche, 69, also a monk, gave three reasons: first, that China
would find it impossible to continue to suppress by force; second, that
public opinion had become divided in China; and third, that his
government’s demands for greater autonomy had widespread international
support, which China, as an aspiring world power, could not ignore forever.

“If you talk about the long-term Tibet issue, I am very much hopeful,”
he said. “I never live in dreams. I live in reality, and in the present.”

The Dalai Lama has flatly said that to call for independence would be to
lose the support of world leaders, including that of his hosts in India.

The Dalai Lama and the government here have had talks with the Chinese
government since 2002, most recently last summer. On Thursday, he said
he was ready to talk again, but not in Beijing, unless there was “a
concrete development” in government policies toward Tibet. He did not

China has said it will talk only if he gives up on a claim of
independence. The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he has. “One
hundred times, thousand times I have repeated this,” he told reporters
Thursday. “It is my mantra — we are not seeking independence.”
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