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MWA, Rangzen, and the Future

posted Jun 30, 2015, 5:57 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 8:32 PM ]

By Jeffrey S. Inglis

This article follows up on the Final Declaration of Rangzen Conference conducted in May 23 and 24 of 2015 in New Delhi.

I wish to congratulate the leaders, the organizers and the participants of this important conference. It has the potential to become an ongoing event that will be of fundamental importance to the future of Tibet.

owever, if that is to happen, I suggest that the conference agenda become much more comprehensive in at least acknowledging the vast array of complex and challenging issues.


Tibet is not in control of its own destiny. Try as he did in the 1980’s, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) was not able to convince China to negotiate a new relationship and status with Tibet. And while sympathetic, the rest of the world did very little to push or encourage China. They did give HHDL a Nobel Peace Prize for at least trying.

The future of Tibet is inexorably tied to the future of China. Since none of us can predict how the future will unfold, it is most beneficial to be as prepared as possible for whatever may occur. Think of it as long-term contingency preparedness planning.

MWA and Rangzen

In the Declaration, reference was made to what is apparently a state of discomfort and anger between some of the adherents of Rangzen and others, who I take to include adherents of the Middle Way Approach (MWA). Apparently everyone is calling for "unity," apparently in the hope that people will join "their side." I was dismayed to read that message.

It is very clear in my mind that MWA and Rangzen are not in competition with each other, but that they work best when they coexist together in complementary benefit to Tibet and the Tibetan people. One is not better than the other, nor is one more right than the other. Their ultimate value can only be known in the future.

Historical Background

There are four conceptual frameworks for viewing and discussing the political relationship between China and Tibet.

1) The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), first declared in 1954. Much of it is modeled after the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union, but there are some significant differences. For example, while the Soviet constitution creates a federal system and contains an explicit right of secession, the Chinese constitution creates a unitary multi-national state that explicitly forbids secession. (1)

In reading the Constitution, it is not difficult to note that countless actions undertaken by the state are not in compliance with the Constitution; nor is it difficult to understand that the lack of compliance enjoyed by the state is due to the absence of legal and political accountability mechanisms. (2)

2) In 1984 the PRC promulgated The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL). It appears to be the implementing legislation for those sections in the Constitution dedicated to the issue of regional autonomy. Perhaps it originated as a quid pro quo for something else. (3) In any case, while it details a wide range of rights and powers related to regional autonomy, it also contains a multitude of provisions giving the central authorities broad powers to inhibit and otherwise control any decisions made by regional authorities. What Beijing may giveth, Beijing may also taketh away.

According to a review and analysis of REAL by the Loyola University Chicago International Law Review:: “The deficiency of legal and political mechanisms to put the ethnic autonomous laws into force not only resulted in limited exercise of the autonomous power but also, in some extreme cases, threatened the mere existence of the ethnic minority autonomous areas.” (5) Page 259

On the next page, it summarizes the reduction of the six articles on regional autonomy in the 1954 version of the Constitution to one article in the 1975 version in this way: “These absurd constitutional changes clearly demonstrate the historical shortage of legal guarantees of ethnic minority autonomous powers.” (5) Page 260

3) MWA Given the legal conundrum/morass of REAL, it is not surprising that HHDL, the CTA and, indeed, the entire Tibetan movement makes little or no mention of it, instead preferring to promote their own version of regional autonomy as described in the many documents relevant to the Middle Way Approach (MWA). (6) The MWA is a loose collection of goals and principles enunciated over the span of a few years by HHDL. It is wonderfully reasonable, compassionate and idealistic, creating hopes of significant autonomy and visions of Tibet becoming a buffer “Zone of Peace” in between the Asian giants of China and India. It is also woefully deficient in structural and implementation mechanisms.

4) The final conceptual framework is Rangzen independence, which gives the most autonomy possible within the structure of a contemporary nation-state. As I understand Rangzen, there is at least a general agreement that it means the achievement of independence for Tibet through non-violent efforts and struggle. An admirable goal, and it is philosophically consistent with HHDL’s vision of a Zone of Peace.

Zone of Peace

The idea of His Holiness to create of Tibet a Zone of Peace is a wonderful idea. Now if only we could make the whole planet into a Zone of Peace. Unfortunately, his presentation of the concept may have created some problems for our “friends” in Beijing.

Imagine for a moment that you are a CPC Political Analyst sometime back in the 1980’s, and your assignment is the Dalai Lama and Tibet. One fine morning someone brings to your attention the new MWA webpage, which you note contains the following two statements:

“Treading a middle path between these two [status quo and independence] lies the policy and means to achieve a genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. (6)

“At the same time, they [the Tibetan people] do not seek independence for Tibet.” (6)

So, you print off copies and bring them to the next Staff meeting, where the boys from the Politically Correct Ideology section have a look at them. “Not bad,” they’re saying. “At least he’s moving in the right direction.”

Sometime later, the webpages for the Five Point Peace Plan and the Strasbourg Proposal are brought to your attention. Contained within them are the following statements:

“The establishment of a peace zone in Tibet would require withdrawal of Chinese troops and military installations from the country.” (7)

Every Tibetan hopes and prays for the full restoration of our nation’s independence.” (8)

Upon reading these, the boys from the Politically Correct Ideology section break out into laughter and guffaws, offering up the Mandarin equivalent of: “Yeah, right. Don’t think so, Jackson.”

With that, the decision is made to revive the “Dalai Splittest” theme.

Analysis of Perspectives

In the eyes of the Chinese, Tibet belongs in the REAL structure, and it may never willingly agree to have Tibet in an MWA-type framework, with its greater autonomy, for two reasons:

1) the other ethnic groups would demand the same status, and

2) that would be tantamount to conceding that the Tibetans are correct; that they are an invaded and occupied land.

In the same way, Tibetans would never agree to live under the existing REAL framework for two reasons:

1) no real autonomy exists under the REAL structure, and

2) that would mean that they would be agreeing that Beijing is correct, that Tibet is a part of China.

This situation appears to be a perpetual stand-off, with both sides talking past the other and neither side able or willing to move off its stance.

If nothing changes within China, nothing changes for Tibet.

Getting There from Here

One of my disappointments in the Rangzen Declaration is the absence of discussion on how Rangzen might be realized. Nothing was said about how to get there from here. In fact the only stated goal is the return of HHDL to the Potala.

Now, if one is talking about HH the 14th DL, then there is a finite and limited amount of time remaining and available to achieve this goal. What is the vision for how this will occur? What are the plans for making this happen?


As I understand Rangzen, there is at least a general agreement that it means achieving independence for Tibet through non-violent efforts and struggle. That may be possible, but sustaining and protecting Tibet as modern nation-state without violence may not be a realistic goal.

The vast majority of contemporary nation-states have military resources and security infrastructures necessary and sufficient to defend themselves against hostile external threats, as well as to protect its citizens from internal strife and violence. Small states with insufficient resources have usually made security arrangements with their large neighbors.

For example, San Marino, Andorra and the Vatican depend on Spain, France and Italy for their security and existence. The Baltic nations are scrambling to increase their security arrangements with the West now that they have watched the Russian bear chewing on the Ukraine’s backside.

The decision on what to do about violence will be fundamental to the sustainability of Tibet as a nation-state.



China has a complete collapse a la USSR. The Soviet Union ceased to exist and all of the previous member republics were technically free to go their own way. The Baltic Republics, the five “Stans” (Kazahkstan, etc.), Georgia, etc. all left and set up their independent shop.

Belarus and Ukraine achieved technical independence, but Moscow put a Stalinist stranglehold on both, from which only the Ukraine has escaped, and only partially at that.

This scenario would have Chinese security forces either being withdrawn to the Han heartland, or being abandoned in place. One assumes that either India or the UN would assume temporary control of security, while Tibetans from around the world poured into their homeland eager to rebuild their country. Rangzen achieved.

But an easy victory does not ensure the safest future. The question remains: how good are the Tibetans going to be at defending themselves and their new-found freedom, especially in a decade or two when China gets back on its feet and starts feeling grumpy about having “lost” Tibet.

Will Tibet be ready? Or will it repeat what it did in 1950? (9)


China goes through an internal crisis resulting in a considerable weakening, but not a total collapse. This scenario would have minimal Chinese security forces remaining in place to guard the important buildings and transport facilities. This scenario is the most challenging for Tibetans, for it leaves three options.

1) Do nothing. Then nothing inside Tibet will change

2) Begin negotiations with China on an MWA-type of configuration.

Negotiations with China will be very tough, especially when negotiating styles and methods are so different. Recently we have seen an example of the Chinese style with the students in Hong Kong. The final outcome had already been decided in Beijing before sitting down with the students. My understanding of the Tibetan style is one of openness and sharing, making sure that everyone gets some benefit from the process.

The western style is different yet again, with the final outcome to be determined by the negotiating process, and with details being revealed only as negotiations proceed. The goal is to get your opponent to agree to what you want. Their motivation includes believing that it is the best deal they are going to get from you, and that any alternative would be worse.

Somewhat akin to the game of poker, which can include bluster and bluffing as techniques.

3) For Tibetans and the Chinese, the worst case scenario is armed rebellion. Are the Tibetans prepared to do that if negotiations break down?

Will China be bluffing when they say they can bring more troops in? Maybe the Uyghurs and the Mongols are so successful with their own rebellions that they are tying down every available division of Chinese troops, and they have none to spare. This is where intelligence information comes into play, to help one side interpret the extent and truth of a bluff.

The decision to fight or to settle can only be made at the moment based on an assessment of probabilities. If the likelihood of winning an armed rebellion is low, a negotiated settlement a la MWA is likely to be the best option. That would mean an agreement to significant levels of autonomy, and a permanent status guaranteed by China and the other involved parties. It would certainly be better than the current status quo, and would avoid the many headaches that go along with being an independent nation-state. And it keeps everything consistent with Ahimsa.

On the other hand, if the likelihood of armed rebellion being successful is high, it might make worth the shedding of Ahimsa in order to achieve full independence. The benefit to this is that, by engaging in a successful armed insurrection, Tibetans would learn how to manage violence and to organize and administer themselves in an efficient manner, giving them the experience that they would need to successfully build, manage, defend and sustain Tibet as an independent country. This will be needed when China regains is strength and decides it wants Tibet “back.”

The model for this can be found in Yugoslavia during WWII. Tito was the leader of the Partisans fighting against the occupying Axis armies.

The Allies decided to support him, and in two years of fighting and organizing, he had the basic components of a government in place. Thus was born the new Yugoslavia. That the Serbs later demolished everything that Tito built up does not detract from his accomplishments. (10)


One can only wonder about the wisdom of the decision by the PRC to proclaim areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang to be historically and integrally part of China, for it does tend to limit their options. If, instead, they had proclaimed areas such as these to be conquered lands, they could have then changed their minds and cut them loose at any time. As it is, they have shackled themselves, and have eliminated that easy option.

The future is impossible to predict. That said, if Tibetans are sufficiently prepared, they will be able to take full advantage of opportunities that present themselves. That will require leadership that is flexible, pragmatic and sufficiently dynamic so as to be able to deal effectively with all possible scenarios.

It might be worth considering adopting REAL to meet the needs of the Tibetans. Even if an MWA type of negotiated settlement is arrived at, it will still need to be written into Chinese law. If the Tibetans can find a way to make a version of REAL acceptable, what with the appropriate changes and adjustments, the Chinese might feel less threatened and may take it very seriously. REAL 2.0

Closing Whimsy

My favorite fantasy scenario is this: “Padmasambhava is reincarnated and goes to work kicking some serious Chinese booty. Rock 'n' Roll, Guru Rinpoche. May your Vajrapani be pure and potent. Om Mani Peme Hum.”

(1) Wikipedia


(3) My speculation is that it was part of a deal arrived at when Nixon and Kissinger went to China in 1972. When the agenda turned to Tibet, Mao and Zhou Enlai might have asked that the U.S. cease their support of the Khampas. Nixon would have rightfully responded with: “Well, what are you going to do for the Tibetans?” To which Mao and Zhou might well have asked: “How do you handle the issue of the Indians in the USA?” To which Nixon would have responded: “They have their own laws and legal standing.” To which Mao and Zhou could have said: “Well, what if we pass a new law dealing with the rights of all of the ethnic minorities in China?” To which Nixon would have said: “Works for me.” (Speculation all mine. JI)



5) The Loyola University Chicago International Law Review: published in Issue 2 of Volume 9, Spring/Summer 2012:




9) Into Tibet, 2002, Thomas Laird

10) Eastern Approaches, 1949, Fitzroy Maclean

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