Nov 20th 2008 | DHARAMSALA
From The Economist print edition
A gathering of Tibetans in exile is a noble sign of failure
AS AN exercise in Athenian-style democracy, the conclave that took place this week in Dharamsala, the Indian-Himalayan refuge of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was impressive. From Buddhist monasteries and scattered Tibetan communities in India, Europe and America, nearly 600 exiles gathered to discuss the future of Tibetan nationalism. Even more remarkable, after a slew of depressing news for the Tibetan cause, was the hopefulness many expressed. “We have to do something to change the future,” said Thinlay Tharehin, a delegate from Moscow, beer in hand, in a Dharamsala watering-hole.
The exiles are not spoilt for options. The conclave was called by the Dalai Lama in response to the latest failure of his efforts to reach a compromise, or “Middle Way”, on the status of Tibet with its Chinese overlords. Spurred by violent springtime protests in Tibet and other ethnic Tibetan parts of China, China’s government had agreed to revive a stop-start process of confidence-building talks with the Dalai Lama’s envoys. No one placed much hope in the process: China was patently concerned that protesting Tibetans should not take the gloss off the Beijing Olympics in August.
Sure enough, the talks, the latest round of which ended on November 5th, seem only to have hardened China’s position. The Communist Party’s representatives had asked the Tibetans to present a list of their demands. These are based upon the notion of an autonomous Tibet within China, that the Dalai Lama has advocated since 1988. Predictably, the Tibetans’ proposals, which seemed consistent with China’s constitution, and more conciliatory than previously, did not find favour. China’s lead representative denounced them as amounting to “disguised independence”. The security regime in Tibet has since been tightened, according to the few Western reporters recently allowed there. Ahead of the gathering in Dharamsala, China’s foreign-ministry spokesman reminded India not to harbour activities “aimed at splitting Chinese territory”.
This has encouraged some exiled Tibetans—of whom there may be 150,000, including 100,000 in India—to aim for just that. Most exiled Tibetans, perhaps most Tibetans, approve the Dalai Lama’s leadership. But a growing number want a tougher line. This year’s protests in Tibet, the biggest against Chinese rule since 1989, may have swollen their ranks. So may the Dalai Lama’s recent admission that his efforts at conciliation have failed. This week’s debate was dominated by whether, in light of that failure, Tibetans should issue a formal demand for independence.
That would vindicate China nicely, which is one reason it seemed unlikely. The speaker of the parliament-in-exile said that of 17,000 messages from Tibetans inside Tibet, roughly 8,000 endorsed the Dalai Lama’s position, and 5,000 advocated demanding independence. The number of exile delegates expected to endorse the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” might be in a similar proportion—given that over half the total attending were members of the government-in-exile, which is loyal to him. The Tibetan Youth Congress, an independence-seeking organisation which has some 30,000 members, was directly represented by only two delegates.
Of course, the Dalai Lama, who has been trying to diminish his political role and was not present during this week’s discussions, might also change his mind. His peaceable methods have gained the world’s respect; nothing more. And the world’s respect for Tibetan nationalist aspirations is dwindling: as Britain demonstrated last month, when it said its long failure to recognise full Chinese sovereignty over Tibet was “anachronistic”. ism"都譯作"……主義"嗎? anachronism –時代錯誤