By Pema Tsering
Bangkok, April 2013
The subject of Tibetan freedom is now part of media culture that reaches everyone who reads a newspaper or watches television. Everyone—from a Paris hairdresser to a Phnom Penh taxi driver—has heard that the Dalai Lama is in exile and that the Chinese are (at least by most opinions) illegally occupying Tibet. Pro-Tibet activists are becoming louder and more efficient at lobbying and spreading their message, which occasionally receives sympathy from some countries’ parliament. In spite of all this, nothing really happens, and the situation in Tibet remains the same. China, after all, is the United States’ banker; it is the world’s factory. Everyone makes money on China.
Thirty years of increasingly loud clamoring from the Tibetan diaspora has not changed anything for Tibetans in Tibet. The Tibetan community at-large is torn between those willing to negotiate with the Chinese government and adopt the view propounded by the Dalai Lama in 1988, and known as The Middle Way, one that accepts the concept of an autonomous Tibet; and a group of increasingly impatient and angry exiled youths who shun concessions and demand full independence.
My goal here is to examine the views of each group and how they deal with the Tibetan issue; to outline the differences between the claims made by the activists, and the reality of the actual situation in Tibet. Finally, I will offer alternative ways of preventing the Tibet issue from spiraling into a cycle of negativity and violence.
The Three Approaches:
The groups that support the Tibetan cause—all of whom live in exile—fall more or less into three groups:
1) The official view of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)—known informally as the Tibetan Government in Exile—is the Middle Way approach. The Middle Way position forgoes full independence for the sake of pragmatic resolution, and seeks autonomy under Chinese rule: one country, two systems. This position takes different forms, sometimes emphasizing the importance of including areas that are part of “Greater Tibet,” (the areas that have Tibetan populations within Chinese provinces) in their quest for autonomy; other times simply demanding respect for the rights granted to minorities under the Chinese Constitution. Their vision for the future rests on the hope that discussions with China and sympathy from the Chinese people, will act as catalysts for increasing self-determination in Tibetan areas and the what is now the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). It is a mixture of a call for the present Chinese system to allow more autonomy; and a demand for life under a democratic system, wherein Tibetans would be part of a Federation—a system similar to that of Russia.
2) The “Independentists,”—most strongly represented by the Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) and the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC)—want, as their name suggests, full independence. They have recently pulled out the 13th Dalai Lama’s 1913 Declaration of Independence (which followed several stints in exile and coincided with the toppling of the Manchu Dynasty) as a model of what they claim will happen in the near future: the toppling of the Communist Party of China.
SFT sees the Middle Way as another form of subordination, something that will place a lid on the current problems, allowing them to fester. They see the option of cohabitation, and of mutual respect between different ethnicities, as impossible. The Tibetan province of Amdo (which, although situated mainly in Qinghai, extends into parts of Sichuan and Gansu) has a large population of Mongolians, Han, and Hui (Chinese Muslims). All of these ethnic groups have inhabited these areas for several centuries. Ignoring the complexity of cultural diversity in these areas, SFT continues to tout that the solution to the Tibet problem is simply to be unruly and disruptive. They believe that in their call for Tibet’s freedom, the Chinese Government will be unable to bear the economical and social cost of refusing their demands, and will therefore seek negotiation with the Tibetan Government in exile. They also look to the conjectural disintegration of the Chinese empire, arguing that dictatorships can only last so long, and that the Tibetan people need only wait for that crumbling moment to arrive.
3) Finally, there are various Chinese dissident groups, carefully picked by the Tibetan exiles for their positive views on Tibet, which they express publicly. These views are more in-line with what the Kuomintang (who fell in the ’40s to the Communists) professed—that Tibet is a part of China, but with the rights that the advocates of the Middle Way request. They generally see the Tibetans’ partitioning from China to be a catastrophic mistake, and prefer the concept of an autonomous, non-militarized zone with opaque borders.
Group One—the followers of the Middle Way—has been quietly repeating phrases like, “Six million Tibetans in Tibet; 6,000 monasteries destroyed,” for the last twenty years, thus muddling the barrier between themselves and Group Two—the Independentists. (This notwithstanding the Dalai Lama’s consistent adherence to the Middle Way concept that he himself put forth in 1988.) The Chinese government has already conflated all Tibetans into one group. They have ignored the Dalai Lama’s retirement from politics and continue to consider the CTA to be his arm, essentially calling the Middle Way a disguised movement for independence. But not all without reason: Though endorsing the Middle Way is the official line, privately, the CTA—now untouched by the Dalai Lama—seems to be adding fuel to the Independentists, appearing at their functions and allowing themselves to be occasionally publicly seen with the “Rangtzen (Freedom) Warriors, self appointed “Freedom Fighters” who live and thrive in the Tibetan community in exile. This all makes CTA’s claim to the Middle Way a little shaky in the eyes of the Chinese.
Group Two is loud, and their voice dominates the media’s coverage of the subject. The SFT is a young and savvy group, efficient with acquiring the media’s attention, though their taste in heroes often borders on Bollywood entertainment (i.e Rangtzen Warriors and rappers). Aside from that, their manners and command of English are excellent, and they know how to pitch their arguments. They are very organized, and with hundreds of chapters all over the Western world, they are the only ones the world hears.
Both groups’ raison d’être is the Tibetan tragedy. Group Three uses the tragedy to support their claim for democracy in China. The recent immolations have given all three groups a very strong platform for discussion; the perpetrators attract attention without committing violent acts toward others. With this, they convey a constant reminder to the general public that the situation in Tibet is desperate. Along with great detail of each immolation, SFT fills the media with negative reports on life in Tibet, saying that the Tibetans in Tibet are not allowed to study Tibetan, that the nomads are all being forced off their land and parked in housing outside large cities, that life is hell on earth in Tibet, etc., ad nauseum.
Let me back up.
Up until the mid-20th century, Tibet--a civilization resting on the highest and largest plateau in the world--was one of the most isolated and self-protected places on Earth. The Chinese asserted their presence in Central Tibet from the early ’50s. They were cautious at first, and the cohabitation of the Dalai Lama’s Government and the CCP (the Communist Party of China) lasted an uneasy eight years, culminated with a revolt, and ultimately led to the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama into exile in 1959.
The decades that followed, the ’60s and the ’70s, were a time of great suffering and unparalleled destruction. In 1980, Hu Yaobang—a leader of the People’s Republic of China who in 1981 became Party Chairman—visited Tibet and was shocked by the state of utter poverty that he found there, and vowed to make amends. Like in the rest of China, communes were dismantled, trade was allowed, and borders were opened. Circulation between India and Tibet resumed and families were reunited. Dialogue was sparked and there was even talk of the Dalai Lama returning, at least for a visit.
But this all soon began to stall. The Tibetan Government in Exile wanted to extend the borders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to include what was called “Greater Tibet,” which comprises Tibetan ethnic areas that had once been part of Tibet around the 9th century, and were now incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. The Chinese could not consider dismembering four of their provinces and creating an autonomous region of such an enormous size. This created a stalling point. Finally, in 1988, the Dalai Lama publicly announced that Tibet sought a solution with China in the form of the Middle Way: autonomy and self-rule within China. This concession, which should have opened new doors, failed to do so. The issue of “Greater Tibet” continued to hang, the 1989 Tian An Men uprising in Beijing shifted the balance away from the reformists and the Chinese leadership changed course. The continuing rounds of talks led nowhere, though individuals continued to move back and forth, visiting family on either side.
Throughout the ’90s and the first decade of the 20th century, Tibet and the refugee community continued to evolve, each in their own way; Tibetans in Tibet, exited by the newly found freedom, set about to build back their lives and their monasteries, while those in exile continued to hope for a solution that would bring about a swift return. When it stalled, they began to hope for China’s collapse, which in their eyes would be a cause for a positive change. Instead, the exiles watched as China’s economy rose, giving it an increasingly important role as a player in the world economy. In response they stepped up their efforts of claiming human rights abuses, winning some media attention and respect, especially after the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The whole effort of gaining attention (sometimes apparently for its own sake) became a force in and of itself.
The evolution of life in Tibet from 1980 is a complex subject. In the early ’80s, the economic freedom brought about by Deng TsiaoPing that swept over China greatly raised the living standard of ordinary Tibetans. Then the changes going on in China began to seep in and with that the collisions that inevitably come when a messy new meets struggling old. Schools were opened; a limit on three children was strictly imposed; towns were built in the middle of the pasture; and consumer goods became part of everyday life. The Chinese policy makers viewed this as a sign of progress that they had introduced to a backward area. They said they wanted to bring economic development to Tibet and the Western provinces. University departments began research programs on the yak and modernized ways to conduct animal husbandry. Most of these moves, however, were experimental and untested. The Chinese scholars tended to stay out of the field and few of their ideas had any practical applications. The nomads viewed it all with resignation, suspicion and contempt. With its typical top-down approach, the government imposed new rules to improve the input on the high plateau: It imposed fencing, luring the nomads into owning their land; its search for a meat market allowed the number of cattle to rise to dangerous levels. The nomads followed the rules they couldn’t avoid, but continued to do things their way when they could.
Other aspects of modern life became popular: motorbikes, solar panels, cotton and wool cloths, shoes, hats and ready-made clothes became available on the market. Supplies became easier to get, and less time was spent making everything by hand. The price of wool was high and brought in extra income. The first generation of schooled children brought in the rewards of government jobs that diversified family income.
But becoming a part of the global scene had its drawbacks, too. In 1990, the global price of wool fell, and with it, so did that of other commodities. By 2000, the government job market was oversaturated, and the children who had been to school no longer wished to become nomads. Even if they tried, their years out of the pastoral system made them lose their edge in a harsh life that requires highly toned herding skills obtained since childhood. These youths found themselves stuck between two worlds—the developing Chinese economy and the Tibetan traditional way of life; their education level, centered on Tibetan, afforded them the skills of poets and writers but little else. It was no match for the competitive Chinese job market. Though some managed to modernize traditional trading methods and became wealthy in the process, most couldn’t compete with the enterprising Chinese that were making their way inland in search of new markets. They continued to barter with the Hui Muslim or Chinese middlemen who bought their raw materials, transforming them and reaping the added value, the way they had for centuries. Schooling and the three-child policy made for too few people to look after too many animals. Emphasis on the meat market led to overgrazing; there were simply too many animals for too little pasture. Those who were denied schooling for the sake of their family herds grew bitter, resenting their lack of literacy, feeling that life had passed them by. Everything happened too fast, there was no time to adjust and diversify efficiently.
The CCP still sets the rules in rural areas, as it does everywhere else. Many of the local officials are issued from Tibetan families, but most of the higher-level ones are Chinese. Officials receive instructions and objectives from higher up that they try to fulfill; their rise in the system depends on it. A social scientist in Beijing has an idea on how to reduce poverty on the plateau and passes it down. The idea translates into number projections and five-year-plans that include model farms and industrial areas; it induces meetings in prefectural towns that include lively parties, quick announced visits in the field that ensure positive reports for their superiors, which in turn secure their promotion or at least maintain their privileges. In the midst of all the politics and bureaucracy, no one seems to be bothered by the fact that these developments mean little in terms of practical application, no ones seems to question the lack of a trained personnel in the field who will see to the development of such ambitious projects.
This is what the life of most Tibetans, both inside and outside the TAR, looks like; it is a decent life for some, but a harder one for others. Many youths, with no direction—who are confused by change and who have no one to direct them—live aimlessly, riding their motorcycles, playing pool and drinking beer on the money from their parents’ sold cattle. One learns to avoid talking in public places, in front of strangers, or on the government-tapped phones about politics, the Dalai Lama, the TYC or anything else about life in exile. A strong monastic presence persists, keeping people together as it did in the past, and giving them hope that even though life is hard, there are other rewards ahead. Thousands of monasteries have been rebuilt in the last 30 years, and signs of a rich and very traditional cultural life can be seen everywhere.
There are many problems in Tibet, and there are varying shades of truth circulating in the media. It’s true that there are arrests and that some nomads have been parked in shoddy housing. It’s true that there are Chinese think-tanks and social sciences institutes that so desperately want income figures to rise that they devise elaborate plans with little chance of succeeding in high-altitude areas. It’s true: They talk of raising sheep in glass houses. They talk of bringing Holstein cows to Tibet in order to increase milk productivity. They talk of parking the dris and dzomos in fenced-off, farm-like areas where they would lose the benefit of the rich pasture ecosystem; or ridding areas of pigs—an important source of income and food for poorer households—because one official decided he didn’t like pigs. They talk of selectively raising only sheep or yak in certain areas, which would be detrimental to the ecosystem of the environment. It’s true; they talk. But fortunately, they seldom act.
There is talk, but fortunately little action. No one wants to be on the field, to risk failure and have social problems on their hands, and as a result most of these plans end up as model farms, or are timidly begun and slowly ignored by the nomads, and never enforced. Lately, the reforms have become easier to implement; hand-outs to fix existing houses, insurance for dead animals (though this encountered many problems and was dropped in some areas) and subsidies for the very poor. Actual implementation of any of the schemes depends very much on the mindset of the local officials and how they choose to dispense the funds they receive from the Central government.
Though the exile groups claim that it is difficult to obtain exact information about what is happening in Tibet, they make little apparent effort to acquire any. Tibet inside and out of the TAR is no longer closed. Thousands of Tibetans visit their families in Tibet every year, coming and going quietly. There is also extensive research by Western scholars conducted on the field since the ’80s, which has grown into a very vast body of publicly available information—the Case Western Reserve, among others. In spite of these resources, the activists seem only interested in detailing abuses, which they use to support their Human Rights issues. The rest—the everyday life of the majority of people—gets little attention. It is almost as if people outside of Tibet are afraid that they may have something positive to say about life there.
All over the world, SFT chapters are campaigning for the rights of the Tibetan people. They lobby politicians in the US, Europe and Australia; they organize demonstrations and events. They make young Tibetans in India and the West feel purposeful by giving them an opportunity to seek publicity, and to experience media advocacy. All this allows the Tibetan youths to become a part of a cause; after all, they claim that they are challenging the giant, the CCP. SFT encourages visits to Tibet; they send members loaded with biased ideas to look only for evidence that would justify those ideas. This is easy to find in Lhasa with its tight security and abundance of armed guards and in the newly built towns in the middle of the pasture. They debate point by point how nomads are being driven off their land, deplore tourism in Tibet, and seek to boycott Chinese goods. Becoming a part of SFT is ‘cool’; one attends meetings, creates new chapters, becomes part of a larger whole, singing “Free Tibet!” and distributing stickers. Rappers and singers are enlisted. Older Tibetans look at SFT members with affection, thinking that they haven’t forgotten who they are, that at least they still fight for their identity. They are all the media and the public ever hears about Tibet. The other groups—the researchers and the NGO’s who work outside of Tibet, who do have the insight and the facts to paint a realistic picture of life in Tibet—their voices get drowned by the loud clamoring of the youths.
Black-and-White Claims in a Reality of Shaded Grey
SFT insists that the ultimate Chinese aim is to remove the nomads from the pasture. They claim that climate change is the reason why the Tibetan plateau is depleted, that overgrazing is a pretext to park the nomads in urban housing and let the pasture regenerate. The truth is much more complex; there are too many animals, herding is the nomads’ only skill so they increase the numbers to boost their earnings. Cash can buy motorcycles, televisions, and now cars. There were fewer animals in the past, and fewer needs, (though local wars over grazing rights were a frequent occurrence). It is dangerous for the nomads to advocate that overgrazing exists; it gives a reason for the implementation of strange experiments that got some of them parked into towns. The nomads have no other form of income; they have no modern skills to use their natural assets; basically, they have no other choice but to continue to do what they are doing now—herding, which leads to overgrazing.
SFT uses the photos of the new towns and nomad housing to verify their charge of resettlement. These forms of housing exist all over the plateau, a trend that began in the 70’s at the time of the communes and called “winter settlements.” In those days, they were built of wood and stone, and offered winter shelter. People were given the permission, and built these houses themselves with materials belonging to the community. The present scheme—which is entirely funded by the government and is implemented whether or not the idea is agreed to by the beneficiaries—began en masse around 2000. It is still referred to as “winter villages,” and in most places, the houses are distributed on a lottery system, free or subsidized. In some areas, the contractors and local officials took big cuts, and in others, the nomads were penalized for not moving in. The settlements are in the village’s administrative center, along with the school, the monastery and the CCP office. They are meant to offer a home for the winter months and a place where older people can stay with children attending the local school, while the rest of the family is out in pasture.
I could site many other cases involving differing reports on education or the use of Tibetan language, but my aim is not to catalog the differences and misinterpretations propagated by Tibet Support groups. The aim is to evaluate the constructive aspect of the activist strategy and the effect that such strategies hold, in Tibet especially.
The Opening of China, The Loosening of Tibet
China has lived under dictatorship for the last sixty years. The Chinese people have grown used to difficult conditions, and even after the open-door policy (as implemented by Deng-xiaoping in the ‘80s.), when the system eased. They swim their way around the hurdles caused by corruption or abuses of power by officials, they know how to wait and adapt, and as a result, most Chinese now live normal lives. Things may be unfair but they have learned that ruminating on the injustices of this world doesn’t make their problems go away. They have realized that outsmarting the system through loopholes is better because it gets them what they want without the risk.
The open-door-policy had been slower in remote areas, especially in Tibet and the Western provinces of China that are the home of several million Tibetans. In spite of that, between 2003 and 2008, the system progressively eased to allow more and more movement; private schooling, and an increasing number of NGOs provided help in training and education; passports were issued, and for those who could afford it, opportunities to travel and study abroad became available. Local officials, eager to participate in developments that could earn them a promotion, welcomed new ideas. Tourism was on the rise, and with it so were jobs for many young Tibetans who had learned English abroad. In 2006, tens of thousands of pilgrims from Tibet crossed the border to attend the Kalachakra Initiation in Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh. Special buses that drove right through the border Tibet-Nepal border in Dam were arranged to accommodate the flow between Katmandu and Lhasa. In 2004, there was even talk of issuing permits to all the Tibetans in exile who wished to visit their families, and of cancelling special permits to Lhasa altogether.
2008: The Tightening of Tibet
Then came the riots in 2008; everything clamped down. NGOs were evicted, schools were shut down, English programs were halted and their students disbanded. The Plateau became closed to tourists for months at a time, and passports were no longer renewed. Most people accepted this change quietly; they had seen worse, but cynicism and hopelessness once again settled in. Many tour guides went out of business and went for other occupations. In 2012, about 20,000 pilgrims crossed the border to attend the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya. On their return, a great number were arrested and placed in hotels (that they had to pay for) to receive ‘special reeducation’ that lasted from ten days to a month. Others, from Kham and Amdo, were ordered to return to their homes without stopping in Lhasa. Since the self-immolation in Lhasa of two Tibetans from Qinghai in 2012, the TAR once again closed its doors to all Tibetans without special permits. While the Tibetan activist groups loudly claim their rights to Tibet, that they will force the Chinese out by making their lives impossible, the people in Tibet suffer those consequences: They watch the little freedom they had waited so long for be taken away; they watch as their life, once again, falls under the iron-fist-rule of the CPA. Things begin to look more hopeless and depressing. The only hope they can cling to is that the world is watching; that people outside of Tibet care; that the activists, whom they believe to have powers well beyond reality, will set things right.
Tibetans in Tibet caught on quickly that rioting would only bring more repression, so they chose non-violent demonstrations and self-immolation to express their dissatisfaction with the increasingly tense situation. When one person self immolates, others feel encouraged to follow, especially if the last had been a prominent and respected person. The activist groups watch eagerly, documenting each one, praising the immolators as heroes, a proof to the world that Tibet is being oppressed beyond tolerance, justifying their campaign. But they have little idea of the mood in Tibet when self-immolation happens. The news spreads quickly; people exchange sad whispers and sighs; they continue to worry that this one, like those in the past, will set off another. Communities become tighter as they mourn the dead; Losar (the Tibetan New Year) becomes quieter; people shun singing and dancing, the only things that lighten up the hard life of a farmer or a nomad. And all this time, everyone waits and wonders when the next clamp down will occur.
In November 2012, when the number of self-immolations reached close to a hundred, a strange rumor began to circulate. The rumor suggested that if the numbers reached the magic number of 200, an unknown force out there will answer their prayers; the Dalai Lama will come back, freedom denied will be restored, Tibet will be free, the wishes expressed in the last spoken words of the self-immolators will be granted. In a move to find the perpetrators, the authorities (who claim that the self-immolations are orchestrated by the “Dalai Clique”) harass innocent people from India or Nepal visiting their families in a show of finding culprits. It is difficult to say that self-immolation is “non-violent.” Rather, it is directing violence on oneself instead of on the outside. Aside from creating despair and increasing unease with the authorities that don’t know what to think or how to react, they are much talked about and little understood. They offer no pragmatic solution, and only feed the fire of the activists who themselves, in spite of their claims, do little more than create noise.
The Dalai Lama always urges his people to earn the sympathy of the Chinese people. He means it. The SFT and the Tibetan Government in Exile endorse this view, and in their own limited ways seek out a Chinese audience to attempt dialogue and get their point across. In the case of the former, the definition of “Chinese People” seems limited to dissident groups that they exchange with in Western countries; and in the latter, talks with the Chinese government. But what about the several billion Chinese out there? The Chinese people at-large (that is, the ordinary people living in China) have little sympathy for Tibet, in general. Fed negative press by the official media, they know nothing of the wrongs that were perpetrated. They know that life was bad, but theirs was just as bad. They even view the Tibetans with envy; they get subsidies and have a right to have 3 children. “What are they complaining about?” they often express. “How is their life any worse than ours?” Even those who are educated and who have been in the West have a difficult time assessing the past in relation to Tibet. Many, like Tibetans, are Buddhists themselves and are fascinated that such an exotic place as Tibet still exists. They want to see its culture alive, hear its story told. They are aware of the often senseless policies that direct life on the Plateau, but don’t see fomenting despair as a constructive solution.
SFT and the other groups never talk about the Chinese NGOs who head Tibetan projects aimed at giving local populations more say in their lives, acting as a buffer for circumventing, toning down or getting rid of the top down local policies with their often absurd projects. They teach local Tibetans how to claim their rights according to the Chinese constitution, how to stand up against illegal mining and how to manage their assets more efficiently. They give courses in leadership, management, Chinese and English. They look for ways to bring hope and to legally circumvent the system the way they have learned to do.
Tibet needs hope and happiness more than anything else. People need courage and the belief that their lives are going somewhere—that they are worth living, that there exist ways to better their existence within the present circumstances.
The SFT activists feed on negativity, and negativity breeds despair. It creates a blind spot to optimism, the driving force for seeking solutions. It encourages people to believe that the only way they can be useful and serve their nation is by lighting up like a torch; that their worth as a human being doesn’t go beyond that. “Tibet burns” is a favorite slogan for the Rangtzen Warriors and rappers.
Yes, Tibet burns. And what happens after it has all turned to ash?
In a free society everyone is allowed to express their views. Activism is necessary to balance options. But the problem now is that there is little out there to balance the Tibetan activist movement. The Tibetan diaspora is rich in talent and groups doing everything from blogging to painting to music to banking and new business ventures. Many have visited Tibet and some have worked for NGOs there, but few have sought to go further, to make their life there. There are no precedents, no structure, and no encouragement from inside Chinese-ruled greater Tibet. There is no one outside who encourages it, either, or sets the tone—no route to follow. And even if it is possible, it is difficult to be the first. Tibet’s future relies on someone being the first; others will follow.
What Tibet Needs Now
What Tibet needs now is constructive energy. The fall of the Chinese dictatorship—in spite of all the brave words and comparisons to the Arab Spring dramatically uttered in Union Square on March 10th of this year—is no more certain than North Korea deploying a nuclear weapon. Even if it were to happen, it could give rise to unprecedented chaos—something even the Dalai Lama does not wish for. The views of the Chinese government and those of the Tibetan government in exile are at such odds that the gap could take years, and generations to close. What happens in the meantime? A whole society in Tibet is beginning to fall into a negative spiral of violence and despair. Waiting for the political climate to improve is not an option; there will be little to save if one does.
What Tibet needs now is to survive, and surviving means being smart. One has to look for and take advantage of what opportunity presents itself—to be ready for setbacks and slaps in the face. If one falls, one has to be ready to rise at the slightest easing. It is difficult, it is not pleasant, it is dangerous and it doesn’t bring fame and glory. One has to swallow one’s pride and control one’s anger, open one’s mind and be ready to love and forgive. But the results come, slowly, but surely. They come in finding ways to gain support within the system, that leads to improving people’s morale and livelihood, the keep culture alive, to give Tibetan tools that will allow them to economically, culturally and spiritually become masters of their own lives, in the context of a growing China.
The Middle Way and Independentists depend on certain opportunities that no one can foresee or control to reach their goals. They think that they carry the whole of the burden of the future for Tibet, but what are they offering? Extreme views and hope for talks with an adversary that holds all the cards. Their presence adds diversity and options, but it cannot be the only one out there. There should be a parallel force that has no official or political mandate but interacts with people in China at all levels with no political overtones.
There needs to be a constructive force that enlists a different kind of support; the kind that engages in finding solutions for everyday problems and concerns of the type the NGOs have been trying to do for the past few decades, though not always successfully. This force must seek to move forward regardless of political change. It should interact with Chinese people and organizations who are already supportive of Tibet and have done work in the area. It should share and benefit from their experience, and find another level of Chinese officials to talk to—not about politics but about education and economic development. It should convince them that there is no risk in trying new things. They should be like an alternative force bringing change that fits the Tibetan situation and temperament, change that will take root regardless, waiting for a better day.
The Tibetan diaspora is full of talent, hope and resourcefulness. This new generation should be this force and they should enlist the goodwill of others who want to see Tibetans be part of the 21st century in their own country. It should be a force that shuns politics and divide, that is ready to work with whatever it has to work with, that is strong in diplomacy and innovation, that is not scared by the walls that come up constantly. It should be force that builds confidence and convinces China that a happy, constructive Tibet is better for everyone. This is much more difficult to achieve than encouraging desperate acts and following the “all eggs in one basket” approach of the activists.
This is entirely possible. There are many out there waiting for opportunities. Someone has to start.