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Tibetan Independence is the Only Path Forward: Fifteen Basic Questions and Answers

posted Oct 5, 2014, 2:42 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Oct 5, 2014, 2:43 PM ]
By Tibetan National Congress

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1. Why is the CTA’s new policy being called the “Partial Middle Way”? Isn’t it the same as the Middle Way?

Under His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s previous Middle Way proposal, an autonomous Tibet would be “democratic” and have its own “government institutions and processes.” By contrast, the new Partial Middle Way renounces democracy, accepts the current structures of Communist Party rule in Tibet, and agrees to China’s unlimited right to militarize Tibet. Under the Partial Middle Way, the only significant change compared to the current governance in Tibet would be more ethnic Tibetans installed in the current Beijing-controlled structure.

The Middle Way was a compromise between occupation and independence. Now, the Partial Middle Way is a compromise between occupation and the Middle Way.

2. Wait. How can there be real autonomy in Tibet if the Communist Party stays in charge? The Party controls everything and is above the law. There are even Party cells in every office and monastery. If this structure stays in place, what would actually change?

Exactly. This is not change, and this is not autonomy.

3. Some people say that the Partial Middle Way is no different than what’s in the 2008 Memorandum and 2010 Note. Is this right?


These Partial Middle Way policies are nowhere in the text of the Memorandum and Note. But let’s just assume for the sake of argument that you could find an ambiguous phrase in the Memorandum that might somehow be consistent with the Partial Middle Way. The fact is: when the Memorandum and Note came out, no one understood the Middle Way to mean abandoning all hope for democracy and embracing Communist rule.

So whether this policy change came about in 2008 or 2013, the official goal has now drastically changed. When the Sikyong talks about his policies toward China, he is no longer describing what was once understood as the Middle Way.

4. Don’t we have an obligation to do something now to alleviate the crisis in Tibet?

Our first obligation is to listen to what Tibetans in Tibet are saying. Many self-immolators have called for independence (rangzen) or freedom (rangwang), but none have called for autonomy (rangkyong). Certainly none have called for continued Communist rule. The same is true of the 2008 uprising. Isn’t it wrong for Tibetans on the outside to use the crisis to justify imposing a policy that not a single self-immolator has actually called for, and which actually betrays what most of them are calling for?

5. Isn’t supporting Rangzen going against His Holiness?

His Holiness has said many times that He encourages all Tibetans to make their own decision on this question. In fact He has publicly encouraged Rangzen supporters to present their case to the Tibetan people. Furthermore, the Middle Way actually depends on the existence of a viable Rangzen alternative, or else there is nothing to be in the “middle” of. There is no antagonism, since the Middle Way depends on Rangzen for its very definition.

6. Aside from those Tibetans who support autonomy because they think His Holiness wants them to, how many actually want to be part of China?

His Holiness openly supported Rangzen for decades. How many Tibetans advocated being part of China — or embraced Communist rule — before then?

If His Holiness reverted back to His previous decades-long support for Rangzen for whatever reason, how many Tibetans would still support being part of China? Think about it.

7. Wasn’t the Middle Way already adopted through referendum?

No it wasn’t. Even if it were, any democratically-adopted policy can always be discussed and changed later. That’s democracy.

There was a proposed referendum in 1995. Of some initial responses (almost exclusively among Tibetan exiles, due to obvious restrictions inside Tibet), a large majority refused to participate in the referendum, because they felt conflicted between voting for Rangzen and going against His Holiness or voting for the Middle Way and rejecting the hitherto sacred goal of independence. Officially, this impasse was interpreted as meaning that 64% of exile Tibetans had declared that a referendum was unnecessary, as they would support whatever His Holiness said. So no referendum was ever held.

Later in 1997, the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile adopted resolution number 12/4/97/46, accepting “whatever decisions His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes.” In 2011, His Holiness retired from politics and devolved His political authority.

Ultimately, the Partial Middle Way is now so far from the substance of the Middle Way that even this tenuous connection is irreparably broken.

8. Doesn’t supporting Rangzen condemn the Middle Way as a failure?

Not at all. Thanks to a quarter-century of the Middle Way, Tibetans can now irrefutably prove “we tried”. Under international law, the right of self-determination can include independence if autonomy is unworkable through no fault of the people seeking self-determination. The quarter-century of the Middle Way lets Tibetans prove they tried their utmost, and this gives legitimacy to a renewed demand for Rangzen.

9. Sometimes there are rumors that the “dialogue” with China is nearing a breakthrough, for example that His Holiness may be allowed back to Tibet. Would supporting Rangzen undermine this?

China has been holding out similar promises since 1979. This is part of a cynical policy of delay, a strategy known in Chinese as tuõ yán zhèng cè. It has had the additional effect of dividing and confusing the Tibetan movement. How many times will we Tibetans fall for the same tactic?

Even if there were some truth to these recurring rumors (which there haven’t been for over 35 years), China would only likely be forced into this by the threat of a strong Rangzen movement.

10. Won’t going back to Rangzen alienate India and other free countries?

Tibetans and the CTA had good relations with India for many years when Rangzen was the official CTA policy.

Today India is recognizing China as its number-one strategic threat: far better for Tibetans to nonviolently advocate Rangzen, with the renewed possibility of Tibet as a buffer zone, rather than the Partial Middle Way’s embrace of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s unlimited right to militarize Tibet. In fact it is the Partial Middle Way that risks alienating India.

As for other free countries, let’s be clear on the limits of foreign support: others will not deliver Tibet on a silver platter regardless. With a shift to Rangzen, Western support for Tibetan human rights and refugees will continue, given deep Western sympathy for Tibetans. Some foreign politicians may become more afraid of engaging on political matters, while others will maintain their principles. Others will decide that their interests are actually more aligned, now that Tibetans are standing up to a Chinese government that increasingly threatens the West and other countries in Asia.

11. Isn’t autonomy the more realistic solution?

First, the new Partial Middle Way doesn’t even promise autonomy. It just seeks a Communist Party- controlled Tibet with more ethnic Tibetans in the government, which at the higher levels could mean just more Party hacks like Ragdi, Legchok, and Pema Choling.

Second, there is no realistic hope for autonomy given the nature of the Chinese government. If independence is 90% unrealistic, then autonomy is 100% unrealistic. Let’s be serious: China rejects even the almost-meaningless Partial Middle Way. The Chinese government has no desire to compromise, and the Partial Middle Way depends on China’s desire to compromise for its entire premise. All the power is ceded to Beijing, and the Tibetan side is left permanently waiting and waiting. It’s said that it “takes two to tango” — and the Partial Middle Way leaves Tibetans stuck without a partner.

12. Isn’t autonomy the only way to ensure the unity of the three Tibetan provinces (Cholka Sum)?

First, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that the Chinese government is open to uniting all Tibetan areas under a theoretical autonomy deal. In fact, Beijing has repeatedly rejected this. So the Partial Middle Way cannot deliver the unity of Cholka Sum, since it depends on Beijing’s good will.

Second, the legitimacy of independence is based on the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination under international law. Self-determination is a right held by peoples, not territory. Even China recognizes all of Cholka Sum as Tibetan (as Tibetan regions, prefectures, and counties), so even China doesn’t deny that this territory is Tibetan. The entire Tibetan people have the right to assert their independence. An independent Tibet can extend to the entire Cholka Sum.

13. Isn’t it impossible to achieve independence without violence?

The Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi proved this wrong. Lithuania’s nonviolent independence from the Soviet Union was another dramatic example. In fact, a recent study about nonviolent resistance movements shows that they tend to be more successful in achieving their goals, even against authoritarian regimes.

14. If I support Rangzen, shouldn’t I take that advocacy to the international community and China, and leave the CTA to pursue its Partial Middle Way?

No. All Tibetans have the right — and duty — to constructively participate in Tibetan democracy. That means lobbying our elected representatives and voting our consciences. The point of democracy is that government reflects the will of the people, and the Tibetan people have the right and duty to shape our government’s policies.

The Tibetan exile community is small in number, but thanks to His Holiness’s vision, we are a strong, passionate, and active community. We must work constructively together to collectively determine what is the best strategy and goal for Tibet and Tibetans.

15. Okay, so what should be done differently?

There are four simple truths that will drive a renewed Tibetan Freedom Struggle:

  1. The ancient Tibetan nation is proud, strong, and enduring. The Tibetan people in Tibet are more united and determined than ever in the wake of the 2008 uprising and self-immolations.
  2. As Buddhists, we believe in impermanence. We recognize that great powers rise and fall — and every empire ends. Other captive nations like Lithuania and East Timor have broken free of seemingly hopeless occupation, and Tibet will be no different.
  3. China’s fracturing politics, endemic corruption, environmental destruction, ethnic conflict, militant nationalism, and unsustainable economy will inevitable lead the Chinese empire to stumble, which will be Tibet’s moment to use the nonviolent “Lithuania model” to break free (see here and here).
  4. Tibetans must prepare for and hasten that moment. We must strengthen our internal capacity, lay the groundwork to make our legitimate case for independence, and relentlessly and nonviolently push back against the Chinese empire in the same way that countless other formerly colonized nations have broken free.

In our hearts, we Tibetans know that Rangzen is Tibet’s right, and that only Rangzen can guarantee Tibet’s future. The time to stand for the truth of Rangzen is now.


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