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17 Nov, 2008 09:13

Tibetan exiles discuss next move

Tibetan exiles discuss next move

Hundreds of exiled Tibetan leaders have arrived in northern India to discuss the future of Tibet, which has struggled for decades to win autonomy from China. The week-long conclave gets under way on November 17 in Dharamsala.

This week's talks were convened by Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. He has said new ideas are needed after negotiations with China on autonomy have repeatedly failed to make progress. The meeting does not have the power to make recommendations or policies but it comes as the Tibetan movement braces itself for change.

Day one

The first day of the week-long talks ended with envoys deciding that there is a need for a new method of protest after negotiations with Beijing on autonomy have repeatedly failed.

The Dalai Lama was not present.  He has decided to stay away from the special meeting, afraid his presence could influence the delegates.According to Lobsang Choedak, press officer of the government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama will not participate in any of the meetings to avoid any biased decisions.

In an opening speech to the hundreds of delegates, Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, said that the six-day conclave may not arrive at a new policy or method to deal with China but would rather focus on the discussion of new ideas.

During the first day, delegates were divided into fifteen working groups. They will continue to meet over the next five days to discuss the future course of the Tibetan movement.

Frustration among youth

A large number of young Tibetan exiles believe that the Dalai Lama's ideology of “meaningful autonomy” should be replaced by a more aggressive demand for independence.

Tenzin Bayul, a 28-year-old activist studying at Tufts University in Boston, is among the delegates. She described the meeting as a “historic event.” She also acknowledged the fact that there is a feeling of “frustration” among the young Tibetans seeking change.

China’s reaction

Reacting to news of the meeting, China made a direct request to India on Thursday to block it. A foreign ministry spokesman for Beijing said at a press conference on Thursday that he hopes the Indian government will stick to its commitment for now not to allow “any anti-China activities on its soil.”

China has also dismissed the proposed conclave as meaningless, saying the participants do not represent the views of the majority of Tibetans. There has been tight security in the town of Dharamsala, where the meet is taking place.

What envoys say

The Dalai Lama's envoys to the talks issued a statement saying they had presented a detailed plan on how Tibetans could attain autonomy within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. However, Beijing has rejected the plan.

On the eve of the meeting, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, one of the envoys, told the media: “The Chinese side was absolutely uncompromising this time (during the eighth round of talks). The Dalai Lama cannot be held responsible for the failure of the talks.”

They handed China a memorandum at the talks earlier this month. “The Dalai Lama felt confident that the basic needs of Tibetan nationality can be met through genuine autonomy within the People's Republic of China,” the memorandum said adding that the Tibetans' demands were possible within the Chinese constitution.

We are no strangers to this Chinese behaviour. We are victims of that. We know differences exist between the two sides but they can be discussed,” Gyari said, who is the Dalai Lama’s representative in Washington.


More than 500 prominent exiles, including past and present members of the cabinet in the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile, past and present members of the Tibetan parliament in exile, representatives of non-government organisations and other members who believe in the Tibetan issue, are participating in the meeting.

After a gap of six decades, the Tibetan Youth Congress – blacklisted as a terrorist outfit by China – will also participate in the week-long meeting.

Dalai Lama’s message

The Tibetan leader has recently been complaining that he had “given up” on China and that his “faith in the Chinese government is thinning.”

The 73-year-old Buddhist leader said this month that “talks with the Chinese leadership over allowing more autonomy for the Buddhist region in Tibet had so far failed”.

The spiritual leader also recently hinted that his “middle way” for Tibet had failed, and there is speculation in the media that he wants to step back from day-to-day political leadership.

Since he fled his homeland, the Dalai Lama has asked China to give “meaningful autonomy” to Tibet. However, China claims he actually seeks full independence – a “separatist” action which it opposes.

During the week-long talks, the leaders will debate the future direction of the community and aim at finding a new goal for the Tibet protest. The delegates also feel there is the need for a shift in the present ideology.

This week’s meeting is the third conclave of Tibetans. The previous ones were held in 1951 and 1959.

Historical background

Nearly six million Tibetans live in the Tibet region of China. More than 150,000 live in other countries, mostly in India. Many Tibetans say they were an independent nation before communist troops invaded in 1950, but China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for 700 years.

Chinese forces invaded shortly after the 1949 Communist revolution. The Dalai Lama, along with many of his supporters, fled Tibet in 1959 and took refuge in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala. Ever since, he has headed the Tibetan government-in-exile. It is not recognised by any country. Unlike Hong Kong, which has enjoyed a special status since its “return
to the motherland” in 1997, Tibet has been an integral part of China for over half a century, de facto, like any other province.
However, Tibet is now called an “autonomous region” rather than a province.

Tibet’s “government-in-exile”

A government in exile is a political group that claims to be a country's legitimate government, but for various reasons is unable to exercise its legal power, and instead resides in a foreign country. Governments in exile usually operate under the assumption that they will one day return to their native country and regain power.

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan “government-in-exile” are based not within the territory of Tibet itself but rather in the hills of north Indian in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India. The Central Tibetan Administration of the Dalai Lama, a government in exile, claims to represent the people of Tibet. The current policy of the Dalai Lama, however, is that he does not seek full independence for Tibet, but would accept an autonomous status similar to that now held by Hong Kong.

The CTA also claims jurisdiction over the entirety of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai province, as well as parts of the neighboring provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan – all of which is termed “Historic Tibet” by CTA.

Though not recognised as a government by any country, it receives financial aid from governments and international organisations for its welfare work among the Tibetan exile community in India.