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Special Message for Tibetans Living In and Outside of Tibet

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Senior Fellow at Harvard Law Sc  Posted by Stephen Fox (about the submitter)     Permalink    (# of views)   9 comments

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While sending my greetings to all Tibetans in and outside Tibet, there are a few important issues I would like to present to you.

(Photo:Tenzin Choejor/OOHDL)
(Photo:Tenzin Choejor/OOHDL)
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Since I was very young, I realized that the transformation of our governance into a democratic system was of utmost importance for Tibet's immediate and long-term interest. Therefore, after taking responsibility as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, I worked hard to establish such a democratic set-up in Tibet. Unfortunately, we were unable to achieve it under the harsh repression of the People's Republic of China. However, immediately after coming into exile, judicious reforms were introduced in the structure of our governance and a newly-elected parliament was constituted. Despite being in exile, the process of the democratization of the Tibetan community has made good headway. Today, the Tibetan community in exile has completely transformed into a modern democracy in the true sense of the word, having an administration with its own charter and a leadership elected by popular vote. We can be proud at this moment when the Tibetan people themselves are ready and able to take responsibility for Tibet.

The reason I have persisted in encouraging the establishment of a democratic system is based entirely on the need to secure a solid and sustainable future system of governance for Tibet. This is not because I was reluctant or wanted to shirk my responsibility. It is extremely important that we take stock of history and our past experience, as well as learn from the present world situation in order to keep up our struggle. All Tibetans should uphold and strengthen the institution of the Central Tibetan Administration, by means of which we will be able to preserve the Tibetan cultural heritage in exile until the issue of Tibet is resolved.

Since coming into exile, we have exercised the essential functions of a democratic system by inviting our people to express their opinions about important political decisions on the future of Tibet. The current, mutually beneficial Middle-Way Approach was formulated in the early 1970s as a result of much deliberation and discussion with leaders who represented the Tibetan people such as the Speaker of the House. Moreover, I have specifically stated in the Strasbourg Proposal that the Tibetan people will make the final decision.

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After the break in contacts with the PRC in 1993, we conducted an opinion poll of the Tibetans in exile and collected suggestions from Tibet wherever possible on the proposed referendum, by which the Tibetan people were to determine the future course of our freedom struggle to their full satisfaction. Based on the outcome of this poll and suggestions from Tibet, our parliament in exile, passed a resolution empowering me to continue to use my discretion on the matter without seeking recourse to a referendum. Therefore, until now we have followed the Middle-Way Approach and eight rounds of talks have taken place since contact with the PRC was restored in 2002. Despite this approach receiving widespread appreciation from the international community, as well as the support of many Chinese intellectuals, there have been no positive signs or changes in Tibet. Indeed, PRC policies towards Tibet and the Tibetans have remained unchanged.

After the sixth round of talks in 2007 with officials of the PRC, there were no plans to hold further talks in the immediate future. But, because of the urgency of the situation in Tibet after the events of March this year, we held informal discussions in the beginning of May, followed by the seventh and eighth rounds of talks in July and at the beginning of November, so as not to leave any stone unturned. Nevertheless, no real progress was made.

In March this year, Tibetans from the whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo), regardless of whether they were young or old, male or female, monastic or lay-people, believers or non-believers, including students, risked their lives by courageously expressing their long-felt dissatisfaction with PRC policies in a peaceful and lawful way. At that time I was hopeful that the PRC government would find a solution based on the reality on the ground. However, on the contrary, the Chinese government has completely ignored and rejected Tibetan feelings and aspirations by brutally cracking down on them, using the accusation that they were 'splittists' and 'reactionaries' as an excuse. During those testing times, out of profound concern and a deep sense of responsibility, I exercised whatever influence I have with the international community and with China, including writing personally to President Hu Jintao. But my efforts hardly made any difference.

Since everyone was preoccupied with the issue of the Beijing Olympics, it did not seem appropriate to consult the general public at that time. Now, since the time is more appropriate, in accordance with clause 59 of the Charter for Tibetans-in-exile I have on 11th September, requested our elected leadership to convene a Special Meeting soon. It is my hope that participants will be able to gather the opinions of their respective communities and be able to present them on this occasion.

Taking into account the inspiring courage being shown by people all over Tibet this year, the current world situation, and the present intransigent stance of the government of the PRC, all the participants, as Tibetan citizens should discuss in a spirit of equality, cooperation and collective responsibility the best possible future course of action to advance the Tibetan cause. This meeting should take place in an atmosphere of openness, putting aside partisan debate. Rather, it should focus on the aspirations and views of the Tibetan people. I appeal to everyone concerned to work together to contribute as best as they can.

This Special Meeting is being convened with the express purpose of providing a forum to understand the real opinions and views of the Tibetan people through free and frank discussions. It must be clear to all that this special meeting does not have any agenda for reaching a particular predetermined outcome.

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The Dalai Lama

14 November 2008

Agenda for the Special Meeting in Dharamsala: By Dr. Lobsang Sangay

By Dr. Lobsang Sangay

A few years ago, a well-known liberal Chinese intellectual told me that the Communist Party of China is so shrewd that even if an official smiles at you, he was told to do so a month prior to your meeting. Everything is calculated and nothing is left to chance.

Recalling this advice, I have an uncanny suspicion about the timing of the vitriolic press conference, a week prior to the Special Meeting in Dharamsala, by the very Chinese officials engaged in dialogue with the envoys of HH the Dalai Lama. I fear it could be an entrapment or bait to provoke Tibetans, especially those attending the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Their main accusation is that the failure of the dialogue is the fault of the envoys and HH the Dalai Lama, because they were not sincere and have a hidden agenda for independence in the guise of autonomy.

Now if the Special Meeting resolves to cut off the dialogue and pursue independence, then the Chinese side could claim a Kodak moment and say We told you so! See: the Dalai Lama and his envoys are finally revealing their hidden agenda! They have been pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community: they sought independence all along! Of course, I cannot conclusively say this is the case, but given the hardliners' policies in Tibet up to now, anything is possible. Hence it is very important that attendees preserve a cool, collected and calm approach both in their rhetoric and in their recommendations at the Special Meeting.

Let me be clear about where I stand on the issue: the allegations made by the Chinese officials at the press conference are unacceptable and utterly irresponsible. I always believed, spoke, and wrote that the lack of progress in dialogue is entirely attributable to the hardline policies of the Chinese government. I was misquoted in an article that appeared in Phayul and was repeated by Jamyang Norbu, so let me clarify by citing an article published in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Journal of East Asia and International Law Based on columns by Nicholas Kristof in New York Times on August 7 and 14, I surmised that

It is amply clear that the Dalai Lama is willing to accept the present reality of socialism as an ideology and the Communist Party as the governing system in Tibet. In fact, the Dalai Lama simply wants the Chinese government to effectively implement its Constitution and laws that impact the Tibetan people. From a negotiation point of view, this is the most conciliatory position the Dalai Lama could take.

This is the same quotation I shared at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC on October 27th and in the Paris conference, and will share it in my upcoming visits to Tokyo, Dharamsala, Melbourne and Sydney. HH the Dalai Lama has been as flexible as he could and he cannot go any lower, the ball is squarely in the court of the Chinese government. If interested, the proceeding of the Woodrow Wilson Center will be available in video soon at:

Now let me share my thoughts on what we could discuss and humbly recommend at the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. Experts have concluded that any non-violent movement must adhere to three principles in order to succeed: unity, planning, and discipline. Without these three pillars, any movement is bound to fail. With them, one can't be sure of success but one can improve one's prospects. But ultimately the success of any movement depends on the global environment, and timing. This interestingly is akin to the concept of Leh, or Karma, in the Tibetan Buddhist lexicon.

Let me explain these concepts before applying them to Tibet and the Special Meeting in Dharamsala.

On the importance of the global environment and timing, let me begin with Gandhiji and Nelson Mandela, who are often cited as examples of leaders who led non-violent movements to success. It could be argued that though they played important roles, their success was partly determined by the global environment and timing. Gandhiji led a movement for equal rights for Indians in South Africa but failed. He returned to India and successfully led the Indian Freedom Struggle. However, if Gandhiji's leadership is the sole factor in achieving Independence, then India should be an exception in Asia; yet Burma and Sri Lanka also became independent around the same time (in 1948), primarily because of anti-colonialism sentiments all over the world and because the British empire was stretched too far to maintain colonies. If individual leadership is the determining factor, then Gandhiji should have been as successful in South Africa as in India; but he wasn't.

Someone who is regarded as successful in South Africa is Nelson Mandela. Though Nelson Mandela initially led the African National Congress and even formed the militant wing in the early phase of his involvement, he became more of a symbol than an executive leader because he was behind bars for 27 years, some of which time he passed in solitary confinement. However, he lived long enough to witness changes in the global environment and the timing of the anti-apartheid wave, which culminated in his release and election as the first President of democratic South Africa. This incomparable historical figure did not personally contribute much in the African National Congress, but his symbolic leadership and long life had an impact when aligned with the global environment and timing.

The point is simple: If the global environment and timing are ripe and Tibetans implement the three cardinal principles, then Tibetans will attain their objective. However, if the timing and environment do not favor us -- or, in the Buddhist sense, if we don't have Leh/Karma -- then it will continue to be a long hard climb to the mountaintop.

In this context, it will be unfortunate if the Dharamsala meeting ends up rehashing the old debate between Rangzen (Independence) and Umey Lam (Middle Path). Tibetans have debated this for several decades, and a few more decades will not settle the issue. Again this is not an exception with Tibetans, other movements in the past and in the future will have similar discourse. As stated earlier, one's objective is not the most important part of the movement, as the success of the latter will be determined by global environment and timing. No matter what objective Tibetans decide to pursue, if the environment and timing is not ripe, they will not succeed.

There is a fear that these two groups are starting to resemble political parties with opposed agendas and fierce emotions. It is unfortunate that some pro-Rangzen people claim that they are the more patriotic and accuse Umey Lam of sacrificing more than a million Tibetans who died for independence. On the other hand, some pro-Umey Lam people accuse pro-Rangzen people of being disloyal and in fact anti-Dalai Lama. To claim superior patriotism and loyalty is inherently divisive, as we observed in the recent American Presidential campaign. To avoid this scenario, we must avoid labels, factions and vitriolic rhetoric against each other.

The most disturbing trend is for each side to cherry-pick evidence from the recent uprising in Tibet as support for their side. Advocates for Rangzen note that some protesters were carrying the Tibetan national flag and shouting Bo Rangzen, and infer that Tibetans in Tibet are for Independence. Umey Lam people point out that many Tibetans were shouting 'Long Live the Dalai Lama' and carrying his photograph, and therefore, the uprising was intended to support Umey Lam.

The lesson Tibetans should learn from the recent uprising in Tibet is not whether they are for Rangzen or Umey Lama, because Tibetans in Tibet have divergent views, as is the case in exile. It is as a united front that Tibetans in Tibet demonstrated, with protesters from all walks of life and the three regions of Tibet. Though divergent in their views, united they protested and sacrificed their lives. One didn't hear anywhere that some Tibetans were allowing or forbidding the shouting of certain slogans, or dividing into competing groups. Admirably, they did not bicker over who is for Rangzen or Umey Lam, but protested in unity and now suffer collectively. The Chinese government is not differentiating whether protesters are for Umey Lam or Rangzen; they all are harshly and equally punished. The sacred lesson Tibetans should learn is that unity is first and foremost. It is also verified and concluded by experts that without unity, movements are doomed to fail. Woeser also concurs that unity is paramount at this critical juncture. The choice is clear: Unity or Failure.

It is paramount that the Dharamsala meeting focus less on ideology and objective than on planning. Planning has two categories: Strategy and Tactics. For Strategy, three actors and factors interact to determine the outcome of the movement. These three actors/factors are: a) one's own people, both in exile and in Tibet, b) the opposition, that is, the Chinese government, and c) the international community. Any strategy should take account of these factors and actors and lay out a plan of action based on them. Tactics will be events and activities organized at the local level, such as conclusive hunger strikes, creative protests, productive dialogue, etc.

Tibetan planning should address three strategies which Chinese hardliners may pursue:

1) Wait for the passing of the Dalai Lama,

2) Divide the exile Tibetans from those inside Tibet, and

3) work for the demise of the exile government. We should adopt a three-pronged counter-strategy:

I) Appeal to HH the Dalai Lama to appoint a Fifteenth Dalai Lama:

The Chinese hardliner strategy is to wait for the passing of HH the Dalai Lama (whom we all hope lives very, very long into the future) but the appointment of the Fifteenth Dalai Lama could foil their strategy. Of course the Chinese government will try to raise political objections but they will do that even if Tibetans follow the traditional protocol of reincarnation. To settle the Fifteenth Dalai Lama, the Chinese government will spend billions of dollars, because to legitimize their candidate would fatally wound the Tibetan movement.

To prevent such exploitation, as mentioned in interviews by His Holiness himself, it would be wise for HHDL to appoint a young man of fifteen or twenty years of age, perhaps with part Monpa heritage in view of the importance of the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the dispute between India and China.

It is universally accepted that the present Dalai Lama is a major asset during this tragic phase of Tibetan history. What could be better than to have a Fifteenth Dalai Lama similar to the present one, and this possibility increases if the next one is educated and groomed by the present one, thereby enhancing his credibility and leadership skills.

There are religious precedents for the appointment of a successor, including a teacher of the Dalai Lama himself. More importantly, Tibetans believe that the reincarnate lamas upon death are reborn through the womb of the mother. However, being born through the womb of the mother is only a process: what is crucial is the capacity of incarnate lamas to transfer their soul/consciousness through the womb of the mother. If so, the same spiritual mystical capacity could be utilized to transfer the soul/consciousness to an adult of the lama's own choosing. The exile movement will immediately gain an adult Fifteenth Dalai Lama to lead it, avoid past historical messy transition between Dalai Lamas, and effectively foil Chinese hardliners' expectation that the exile movement will weaken with the passing of the Dalai Lama.

The Fifteenth Dalai Lama should be the constitutional head and spiritual leader akin to the King of Thailand, but responsibilities of government and day-to-day administration will be solely in the hands of the democratically elected Prime Minister. This would give Tibetans a dual legitimacy under the rubrics of both spirituality (for traditional Tibetans, including inside Tibet) and democracy (for democratic countries around the world). These dual ideologies will stand as a counter-thesis to the Communist one-party system of China.

II) Division between Tibetans inside and outside Tibet:
To show solidarity with Tibetans inside Tibet, it is not enough to have lofty words to describe their sacrifices. Exile Tibetans must actively demonstrate their respect and provide humanitarian aid. Exile Tibetans should observe a Day of Solidarity and Unity. They should create a Solidarity Fund to educate children of people who died during the recent uprising in Tibet. For nomads and farmers, perhaps providing Dri and Sheep could go a long way toward replacing the income of breadwinners who were killed or have been imprisoned. Tibetan associations around the world could thus shoulder their responsibilities in raising fund, and individual Tibetans could form groups to sponsor a child or two in their own familial communities.

Even though funding could be marginal and might not be able to help as much, this act would raise a sense of solidarity among Tibetans inside Tibet, to see tangible evidence that their brethren in exile care about them. Such a sense of solidarity would go a long way in sustaining bonds between two divided families. When Tibetans from Tibet come abroad, they will see that exile Tibetans observe a Day of Solidarity in remembrance of their compatriots in Tibet, which could be quite moving for them. At present, we don't have a single day celebrating Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. It is time we have one. Just as Jewish people say after their Passover meal, 'this year in exile, next year in Jerusalem,' we would end the Day of Solidarity with a similar saying: this year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa. Such ceremonial practice would help make emotional connections between younger and older generations as well as between Tibetans in exile and those inside Tibet.

III) Preventing the demise of the exile government
Since the exile government is the center of the movement, it is vital to preserve and sustain it, without which the movement will fizzle away. However, we lack both the kind of natural resources and the kind of large ethnic constituencies around the world which have helped other peoples garner support. It is reported that there are 500 million Buddhists in the world, with 200 million in China, but given China's influence over these Asian countries, it is difficult to gain access and form alliances. Those with religious affinity and ethnic kinships like Bhutanese, Kalymks and Mongolians are small and weak and so couldn't provide much support even if they wanted to. Consequently, the responsibility is squarely on the shoulders of every Tibetan, and it is especially important for the younger generation to step up to share the honor and burden of the future of the Tibetan movement. To strengthen and sustain the exile government, like other constituencies, Tibetans need a thousand millionaires and possibly billionaires who will provide funding, a thousand professionals providing technical support, and know how, a thousand Ph.Ds providing political and strategic expertise on every aspect of Tibet, in the context of China, Asia, Europe, North America and the rest of the world.

Fourthly-and this is my favorite -- we should have a thousand lawyers who will advocate, file law suits, fight defamation, and provide leadership to the Tibetan movement. It is not an accident that great leaders of successful movements were lawyers, such as Gandhiji, Nehru, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln, who ended the slavery system in America. Barack Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer made the impossible possible by becoming the first Black President in a country with a white majority. Even in China, Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Le Keqiang, who are touted as the next top leaders, both have legal diplomas.

It is paramount that Tibetans train themselves as lawyers if they want to lead the Tibetan movement. A degree in law opens the door to a financially stable career with flexibility to switch to government, NGOs, Multinational corporations, international organizations, or private practice. A law degree is a win-win proposition. The days of college-degree leadership will soon be over and we must try to become like the Jewish and successful Asian minorities in America: the most educated, affluent, and now powerful constituencies in the most powerful country in the world. Tibetans mantra should not be simply get a degree and make a living rather get an advanced degree, make good living and serve the cause effectively.

It is time we aim high and be able to stand tall on our own feet. Finally we must continue the strategy of pursuing dialogue with Chinese people, and for some of us, with Chinese scholars and students. This is simply because if one studies most of the successful non-violent movements, one finds that one of the key factors has been dialogue, through which understanding and support for your cause can develop. Gandhiji met with British people from all walks of life seeking support, including the famous actor of the time, Charlie Chaplin. Of course Miss Slade, the daughter of Admiral Sir Edmund Slade, nicknamed Mirabai for her fierce devotion to Gandhi, functioned as his secretary in foreign correspondence and stayed with him in his Ashram. Similarly Nelson Mandela and the ANC actively sought and received support from Afrikaners in South Africa, while Martin Luther King, Jr. enjoyed the support of many White Americans and walked side by side singing "we shall overcome,"- and they did.

It is important to remember that it was White Afrikaner F.W.D. Clark who signed the release of Nelson Mandela, negotiated and shared the transition power and handed over the Presidency to Mandela. Similarly, it was the White President Abraham Lincoln who ended the Slavery system in 1860, White President Lyndon Johnson who signed the Civil Rights Act in 1965 which allowed African Americans to vote and it is the White majority who voted Barack Obama to be the President of the United States of America. So dialogue, understanding and cooperation are tested tactics of successful non-violent movements.

Also remember 150 years ago, there was slavery system in America but every slave who defied and escaped the cruel clutches of their masters, made a living, fought for their dignity and rights, send children to schools, asserted generation after generation for right to vote and get elected, cumulatively contributed towards the election of Barack Obama as the President of America. Similarly, if every Tibetan asserts and participates in the movement with determination, dedication and due diligence, combined with unflinching unity, sound planning and discipline on non-violence, Tibetan movement can be as strong, sustainable and successful as many other movements. If the environment and timing are right, we shall overcome, one day soon!!! Looking forward to more ideas, substantive dialogue in the Special Meeting. This year in Dharamsala, next year in Lhasa!

The author is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the twenty-five Young Leaders of Asia as selected by Asia Society, a global organization based in New York.


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