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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."

The Big Question: Is the dream of independence for Tibet now a lost cause?

October 28, 2008

By Andrew Buncombe, a.buncombe@independent.co.uk
The Independent (UK)
October 27, 2008

Why are we asking this now?

Over the weekend, his Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader
of Tibet's Buddhists and the man who has been at the centre of
efforts to highlight the Tibetan cause for decades, explained that he
"had given up" his struggle. "I have been sincerely pursuing the
middle-way approach in dealing with China for a long time now, but
there hasn't been any positive response from the Chinese side," the
73-year-old told an audience at Dharamsala, the Indian Himalayan town
that is the headquarters of the so-called Tibetan
government-in-exile. "As far as I'm concerned, I have given up."

Does that mean the Dalai Lama is retiring?

Karma Choephel, the speaker of the parliament in-exile, told
reporters that the Dalai Lama used to say that he was semi-retired
and that now he believed he was almost completely retired. However, a
senior aide to the Nobel laureate last night dismissed speculation
that he would start taking a back seat in Tibet's affairs. "Because
of the lack of response from the Chinese we have to be realistic.
There is no hope," said Tenzin Taklha. "His holiness does not want to
become a hindrance to the Tibetan issue, and therefore has sent a
letter to the parliament regarding what options he has."

Is there a possibility that he may continue his work?

Talk of retirement may be a little misleading. Last year, Tenzin
Gyatso, who is the 14th Dalai Lama, made clear that he wished to
reduce some of his political duties and have the elected Tibetan
parliament-in-exile take a more active role. However, when a crisis
broke out this spring ­ as the Chinese authorities cracked down
aggressively on a number of uprisings across Tibet ­ the Dalai Lama
placed himself at the centre of efforts urging restraint from both
sides. He even offered to personally travel to Beijing to negotiate
with the Chinese leadership over the issue. One position from which
he cannot retire is his role as a living god. Having been anointed
the 14th Dalai Lama when he was just two years old, he will retain
that position until death.

How have the Chinese authorities responded to the Dalai Lama?

In short, pretty badly. Either directly or else via their proxies,
Beijing has routinely dismissed and demonised the Tibetan spiritual
leader and his supporters. In the spring, during the worst crisis in
Tibet for two decades, the head of Tibet's hardline Communist Party,
Zhang Qingli, said of the Nobel laureate: "The Dalai is a wolf in
monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast. We
are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai
clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy." At the
time, the Dalai Lama insisted that the uprisings that broke out
across the Tibetan plateau had not been orchestrated or organised
from Dharamsala. He urged a peaceful solution to the problem.

What impact would the Dalai Lama's retirement have on the movement
for Tibetan independence?

In regard to the high-profile campaign to gather support around the
world, if the 73-year-old decided to stand down it would be a huge
blow. Since he fled to India 1959, the Dalai Lama has worked to
spread the word of his homeland's fate, courting both politicians and
Hollywood celebrities such as Richard Gere and Steven Seagal.
Charming, ebullient yet convincing, he has been more responsible than
anyone for gaining supporters to the cause. On the other hand, not
all Tibetans support his tactics. For many years the Dalai Lama has
promoted a "third way" in regard to Tibet, calling for meaningful
autonomy rather than full independence and arguing that he wants to
protect Tibet's people and culture. Even during the spring crisis
earlier this year, he refused to give his backing to calls for a
boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

What has been the response of young Tibetans to the retirement?

Many younger Tibetans say that while they respect the Dalai Lama and
venerate him as a living god, his tactics are wrong. Groups such as
the Tibetan Youth Congress have demanded full independence for Tibet
and led a far more outspoken campaign to achieve it. The group's
president, Tsewang Rigzin, said yesterday: "I think the statement by
his Holiness is an eye-opener for the Tibetan people. "We are not
against the middle-way approach of his Holiness, the fact is that
China is not sincere and has never been sincere in talking about the
middle way."

Who might fill the sandals of his Holiness?

The Dalai Lama has said he wishes the elected Tibetan
government-in-exile to take on some of the work he currently does.
However, some observers believe that an unofficial, transitional
political successor might be Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who is the Karmapa,
or spiritual head of the Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism. The 17th
Karmapa ­ who is from a different school of Tibetan Buddhism to the
Dalai Lama and who cannot inherit his title ­ is just 23 years old.
His escape as a teenage boy to India from Tibet via Nepal ­ he
arrived in 2000 ­ has become the stuff of legend. Earlier this year,
the young man made his first visit to the United States, triggering
much talk that officials might be preparing him for a bigger role. At
the time, even the Dalai Lama himself said: "There are now spiritual
leaders who are young, energetic and well educated. "They can assume
the role of spiritual leadership, as the political role is played by
a democratically elected government."

What difference would any of this make to China?

Perhaps very little whatsoever. At the time of the crisis this
spring, China reacted swiftly, aggressively and with seeming little
regard for public opinion. Travel to Tibet was suspended and the ban
then remained in place until the Olympic Torch had been run through
the region. As soon as the demonstrations had been put down,
journalists were flown in for special tours by the Chinese
authorities. An unknown number of people were killed and hundreds
were arrested. China insists that Tibet has officially been part of
the Chinese nation since the mid-13th century and that it should
continue to be ruled from Beijing. China is anxious about encouraging
separatist movements in other parts of the country, such as in the
Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. As a result, it has refused to
discuss any loosening of its control over Tibet, which it invaded in 1950.

What will happen next?

The Dalai Lama has already called a special meeting of Tibetan exiles
for next month in Dharamsala to discuss both the spring crisis and
the future of the movement. This will undoubtedly be surrounded by
speculation that he could use the event to stand down. The conclave,
which is due to begin on November 17, is apparently only the third
such meeting of its kind in the past 60 years. The Dalai Lama is
expected to address the six-day meeting of delegates from
non-government organisations, politicians, monks and intellectuals
and lay out his views about the way forward.

Is the Tibetan independence movement now likely to fail?

Yes...

* The Dalai Lama appears to be running out of patience and without
him the movement would lose an irreplaceable campaigner

* The Chinese show no intention of offering any kind of autonomy to Tibet

* The rest of the world is unwilling to upset China

No...

* There is a new generation of highly motivated activists who are
ready to continue the struggle and who back a more direct approach

* Across the world, the Tibetan cause wins new supporters every day

* Should China move towards democracy, Tibet's fortunes might look
very much brighter
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