Leading Tibetan exiles are meeting in northern India to discuss a more radical approach in their fight against Chinese rule, in the wake of the Dalai Lama's admittance last month that he had “given up” on efforts to convince Beijing to allow greater autonomy for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama called for a gathering of some 500 Tibetan exiles to discuss the future of the struggle. It is a difficult time for Tibetans, who face ditching their decades-long fight for the autonomy of the region under Chinese rule.
The week-long meeting could give more sway to hardliners who believe Tibetans should push for independence. Tenzin Norsang, joint secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), an organisation that campaigns for the independence of Tibet, told FRANCE 24, that his organisation wants to bring the “struggle for the independence of Tibet to a higher degree.” He emphasized, however, that they remained opposed to violent action. In the past, the NGO organized rallies and hunger strikes outside Tibet to protest Chinese rule.
At the end of the latest round of talks in November 2008, Zhu Weiqun, China's Minister for Tibet, said the Dalai Lama’s "middle way" strategy was aimed at outright Tibetan independence and was unacceptable to the central government, according to China’s state news agency.
While the meeting remained closed to the press, Kate Saunders, Communications director of the NGO International Campaign for Tibet, who was following discussions at Dharmsala, says discussions over independence claims were intense.
According to an informal clandestine poll conducted inside China, almost a third of Tibetans inside China said they wanted to abandon the “middle way” strategy in favour of a struggle for the independence of Tibet, says Saunders.
TYC's Norsang asserted quite clearly though that the authority of the Tibetan spiritual leader would not be questioned. The TYC is considered to be one of the most radical Tibetan organistions and its pledge to “struggle for the total independence of Tibet even at the cost of one’s life” is a position that many in China use as evidence to brand the group as terrorists.
If the exiled Tibetan community does decide to fight for independence, they could lose international support. “The Dalai Lama would have to reconsider his role and a lot of international governments would have to reassess their support of the Tibetan government in exile,” says Saunders.
During the summer 2008, the TYC organized hunger strikes to protest the Beijing Olympics and draw attention to the Tibetan plight. According to Saunders, “the hunger strikes express the increasing frustration of the younger generation who see no change in China’s policy towards Tibet.”
In March, protests against Chinese rule in the capital, Lhasa, erupted into violence that spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations. Tibet's government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent Chinese crackdown.
More Chinese intransigence could force Tibetans to harden their stance against Chine in the future, young Tibetan activists warn. “The Chinese are foolish because they are missing the opportunity to negotiate with a non-violent, peaceful man,” said Nawang Obsang of the Tibetan college students’ mass movement group, in an interview with Reuters, “they might have to deal with a radical leader in the future.”