Editorials are the opinion of the members of the Editorial Board. Editorials are by their nature opinionated, and are not intended to be "neutral." The Editors attempt to be fair in their analyses, but they are expressing their own opinions. The Editors invite responses from readers, especially if they disagree with an opinion expressed in an editorial.
Lobsang Sangay Walks the Middle Way in Washington
Autonomy, Ethnicity, and Self-Immolation. [READ MORE]
Nepal explicitly recognized Tibet as an independent country. [READ MORE]
Important questions about the revisions to the TIbetan Charter. [READ MORE]
The significance of the 2011 Kalon Tripa election results. [READ MORE]
The candidates' views on Tibetan autonomy within the PRC [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening the Tibetan government-in-exile, where the Kalon Tripa has an important role. [READ MORE]
We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening ties between Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. [READ MORE]
Fortunately, both major Kalon Tripa candidates have clearly stated their policies on this important issue. [READ MORE]
Unfortunately, Tibetan voters are in the dark on the sources of campaign funds. [READ MORE]
We are troubled by the personal attacks emerging in the 2011 Tibetan election. [READ MORE]
In this editorial, we examine key aspects of Tethong's policy on possibly the most important issue facing the electorate: the future course of the Tibetan struggle. [READ MORE]
While it is still too early to project with certainty the person who will win in March, it has become clear that he is the frontrunner. [READ MORE]
The Kalon Tripa race has its first Sarah Palin incident; Norbu asserted that Sangay stated he wants to be the "Obama of China." [READ MORE]
Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa
and the Problem With Proxy Websites
Widespread campaigning through the internet is generally a positive development, but the website for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa perfectly illustrates some drawbacks as well. [READ MORE]
It is our hope that clarity on these offices' responsibilities will help voters better evaluate the candidates. [READ MORE]
Lobsang Jinpa clearly set out some of his policy positions, which is a step that we hope other candidates will emulate. [READ MORE]
Youth v. Experience
Personality v. Policy
Of all the candidates, little is yet known about what they actually stand for. That is because, so far, their statements have been largely about the candidates themselves, rather than what policies they would implement if elected. [READ MORE]
The Zurich debate between Lobsang Sangay and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong shows stark differences. [READ MORE...]
The essence of Lobsang-la’s article is that the Tibetan voting process should be made easier. Some of his suggestions are good, but some seem politically naïve. [READ MORE...]
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The 2015-2016 Tibetan election season for Sikyong (prime minister) and Chitue (members of parliament) has officially begun. With the appointment of two additional commissioners, the CTA's independent Election Commission (EC) is up and running. It has announced the dates and some of the rules. Candidates are beginning to emerge.
The candidates so far
Primary voting will be on 18 October 2015, and the final vote will take place on 20 March 2016.<1> Already, the first Sikyong candidate has stepped forward: Tashi Wangdu, the head of the Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India and a former civil servant of the exile administration.
At a press conference held in Dharamsala on 10 June, Mr. Wangdu announced his candidature for Sikyong. Wangdu’s election motto is SEEN, an acronym for Sustainable, Education, Economy and Negotiation. The last point announces that he stands for the Middle Way Approach, a policy that is being pursued by the exile government.
Supporters of Speaker Penpa Tsering are starting to promote Mr. Tsering’s candidacy on social media (it is unclear whether he intends to run). Many observers assume that the incumbent, Lobsang Sangay, will seek a second term, particularly as his wife and daughter recently moved from Boston to Dharamsala.
Similarly, the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), the only political party in the exile community other than the still-untested Tibetan National Congress, has announced its nominations for Sikyong and Chitue. NDPT’s two prime ministerial candidates are Sikyong Sangay and Speaker Tsering. In its press statement, the NDPT said that the selection was done in conjunction with its regional chapters across India.
Whatever NDPT’s selection process may have been, the nominations are ironic given that NDPT officially stands for Tibetan independence and these two nominees strongly reject this position. It is also disappointing that NDPT did not put forth some fresh faces. By nominating two obvious candidates from the “establishment” who reject NDPT’s official position, NDPT may not have helped its relevancy or value-added contribution to Tibetan democracy.
There are likely to be exciting races for Chitue, including a newly-created seat for Australia/Asia-Pacific. Likewise, there is the possibility of candidates stepping forward who seek to have the pro-independence viewpoint represented in Dharamsala.
Since the preliminary is still a few months away, hopefully more candidates will emerge giving exile Tibetans multiple choices (including some gender diversity) through which to enjoy their democratic rights.
The EC’s new campaign rules and why they matter
At a press conference on June 10th, the EC laid out some much needed new campaign rules. We applaud Mr. Sonam Choephel Shosur, the Chief Election Commissioner, and his team for their leadership in creating and clarifying these rules.
Aside from a cap on campaign expenditures (discussed below), there are other important new rules the EC has decreed. It is now mandatory for any supporters to have written approval from their candidates, without which they cannot initiate any election campaign. (It is not clear how the EC plans to enforce this rule, or deal with any violations, or balance it with the rights of free speech and association).
Furthermore, the EC has declared that posters, pamphlets, banners and other campaign tools cannot include the Tibetan national flag, His Holiness’ photo, a map of Tibet, or the emblem of the exile administration. The EC also said that all printed materials related to the upcoming election must bear both the supporter’s name as well as that of the printer. The candidate and the candidate’s supporters and team handling press and publicity must inform the local EC office of the press and publicity that they will be doing.
Setting aside concerns about enforcement and free speech, we applaud the EC in promulgating rules that strengthen accountability and transparency in Tibetan democracy. As a further step towards this accountability and transparency, we hope that each candidate will formally designate a campaign manager. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for the campaign must rest with the candidate himself or herself.
Campaign expense rules, favoring India-based candidates and the incumbents
The new rules about campaign expenditures are a major development, with potentially far-reaching implications that are not entirely positive. A Sikyong candidate can spend no more than Rs. 800,000 (about US$12,500), and a Chitue candidate can spend no more than Rs. 300,000 (US$4,700). These amounts include any expense incurred by individuals or organizations supporting the potential candidates. The candidates and their supporters must submit their total campaign accounts to their respective regional election commissions before the announcement of the election results.
At first glance, many will likely applaud this rule. Financial transparency should have been requirements from the first election, but at least the EC is making a strong effort to address this now. Like other democracies' experiences with campaign finance control, however, there are some important details that will need to be addressed.
Rs. 800,000 may seem like a large sum at first glance, but actually the new expenditure caps are low compared to spending during the last election. During the 2010-2011 election, TPR documented the campaign finance information of the three Sikyong (at that time called Kalon Tripa) candidates.
TPR documented that Tenzin Tethong campaigned fairly actively, and voluntarily disclosed his funding sources in raising $29,978.<2> Tashi Wangdi, by contrast, was fairly limited in the scope of his campaigning, and he voluntarily disclosed his sources in raising $11,208.<3> Lobsang Sangay was vague about his sources (referring to “friends”) and would not disclose his total fundraising.<4> Given Mr. Sangay’s active campaigning and the absence of any other information, it might be reasonable to assume funding at least on par with Tethong if not higher.
If we equate funding with campaigning, then the new limits mean that a 2016 Sikyong candidate cannot campaign even half as actively as Tethong or Sangay did in 2011. He or she will only be able to campaign similarly to Tashi Wangdi in 2011 (that is: not much).
A candidate in 2016 will be especially constrained in their ability to travel extensively as Sangay and Tethong did, given that travel seemed to take up a major part of their expenditures. This constraint would be a special burden on a candidate from the West, who (like Sangay and Tethong in 2011) will have to fly multiple times to India, where the majority of voters reside. Conversely, this rule will give an advantage to an India-based candidate, who will not have to pay for such trips.
As well as the new rule favoring an India-based candidate, such a cap also reinforces the advantage of incumbency. Sikyong Sangay has traveled extensively to basically every Tibetan community and settlement in exile, on official business. During these trips, he has not been reticent about promoting his administration. He is likely to travel more over the next year, and also use other official platforms like Tibet.net to communicate his message. The less frequent official travel by Speaker Tsering raises similar issues. This is the byproduct of being an incumbent, and a non-incumbent naturally does not enjoy this advantage.
The Tibetan democracy (like any democracy) must simply recognize that the incumbent holds a significant advantage, and consider whether the playing field can or should be leveled. For example, now that election season has started, what is the permissible dividing line between official travel and a campaign visit? What about official media outlets being used to promote an incumbent and his election manifestos? Should any of that expense be borne by the candidate instead of the CTA? Should any of that expense count toward the Rs. 800,000? The EC’s new guideline does not have any provision on these questions.
We expect that the Rs. 300,000 cap on Chitue candidates will be less of an issue, given the smaller geographic area of a Chitue's constituency. Unlike a Sikyong candidate, a Chitue candidate can focus on (for example) India, Europe, or North America, instead of needing to campaign everywhere. But this cap will still constrain a Chitue candidate's ability to campaign and travel.
Verification and loopholes?
The EC will need to work on how it can accurately verify the candidates' expenditures, and do so in a transparent way that treats every candidate the same. An official reliance on candidates’ voluntary reporting is ripe for exploitation, and should not be tolerated in any functioning democracy. Therefore, how will the EC ensure that the candidates’ voluntary reporting is accurate and complete? As a guardian of Tibetan exile democracy, the EC must “trust but verify” – including through the power to independently audit a campaign’s expenditures and receipts.
There is also a major loophole that needs to be addressed. The EC’s rules state that the funding caps apply to expenses incurred by organizations supporting the candidates, but what will the EC do if a candidate genuinely does not have control over the activities of some supporters? Is it reasonable in a democracy to assume that a candidate has an iron grip on all of his or her supporters? And on the flip side, how will the EC deal with an unscrupulous candidate who uses shadowy proxies, and then disclaims any connection?
Additionally, the EC has now put itself in a position where it must decide arcane accounting rules. For example, if a donor with access to the right equipment gives a candidate thousands of campaign DVDs as an “in kind” donation, how will that expense be counted? The cost to the candidate (free), the cost to produce (low), or the market value (higher)? Regarding travel expenses, what if a North America-based candidate has (or claims to have) a trip to India planned for family or religious reasons or has other business there -- can they add on campaign stops? If so then what part of the total trip is counted as a campaign expense?
In the United States system, campaign finance restrictions have caused many donors to divert their funding from candidates' campaigns to supposedly-independent and unaccountable entities called "super PACs" which are free of such control. This has been likened to the ability of water to always find its way through cracks and around dams. Similarly in the Tibetan context, it likely that the EC’s rule will cause some campaign activity to try evading this expenditure cap. The EC will then have to decide how it will react. Is it fair to penalize a candidate if he or she genuinely has no control over some supporters? And is it fair to the other candidates to allow an an unscrupulous candidate to skirt the rules by actively using shadowy supporters?
Hopefully the EC will determine a fair and transparent way to deal with these issues. This should be announced in advance, to avoid any risk of contentious decisions or disqualifications after the fact.
Predictions for the election: will the campaigns be clean or will we need some mops?
The 2011 election campaign was a historic and exciting development in Tibetan democracy. We also learned some important lessons. One was the need for campaign finance reform. TPR called for transparency during the 2011 election, because we believed that each candidate should disclose the sources of his or her funding, but without necessarily a cap on expenditures.<5> The EC has taken a different approach: a cap combined with, at least, disclosure to the EC of expenditures. It is not yet clear whether the EC will also look at the candidates' funding sources, which is crucially important, or whether the EC will make any of this information public for the voters to evaluate.
Another development during the 2011 campaign that we fear will re-emerge is the use of unaccountable surrogates. These individuals were able to make sometimes-incendiary statements or charges (occasionally anonymously), and the candidate was able to disclaim any responsibility.<6> We expect that, with the new expenditure caps, the use of such "unofficial" surrogates will only grow.
To be clear, we are not referring to ordinary citizens expressing their views for or against a particular candidate (which should be encouraged), but to the more organized efforts carried out perhaps in unofficial collaboration with the candidate. The EC’s rule on publicity materials will clean much of this up. But an unscrupulous candidate may still try to disclaim knowledge of third parties attacking other candidates.
We expect that such personal attacks will continue to be an issue in the upcoming election. This is especially because "unity" in the Tibetan community has suffered in the past few years. For example, if a pro-independence candidate emerges, we expect that he or she may be branded with absurd allegations about being "against" His Holiness, or claims that there is no room for differing views on this issue in the Tibetan government-in-exile. It is up to all candidates to stand together to not only decline to join in such attacks, but to actively and forcefully refute them. That is the best way to restore "unity".
Similarly, we expect to see more examples of the use of surrogates to attack candidates' history or finances. For example, during the March 2015 Parliament session, a Chitue seemingly out-of-the-blue brought up charges against Speaker Penpa Tsering. The Chitue repeated a claim made by the late Kalon Juchen Thupten, who condemned Tsering's alleged personal actions relating to the late Kathak Trulku and Tsering's alleged role in gaining control of a Kollegal carpet factory. In response, Tsering walked out of Parliament and resigned as speaker (he subsequently withdrew his resignation).<7> If Speaker Tsering runs for Sikyong, we expect that these issues may continue to follow him unless he addresses them openly.
Possibly not coincidentally, the allegations against Speaker Tsering followed a similar incident that occurred in the March 2014 Parliament session. Then, Sikyong Sangay was forced to address several questions raised about allegations first printed in the Asian Age.<8> One issue was whether Sangay signed (and avoided admitting) "Overseas Chinese National" papers for a trip to China in 2005. Another issue (apparently referring to Sangay's public mortgage documents)<9> was how he was able to pay off a quarter-million dollar mortgage just four years after buying his house in Massachusetts, and just a week before he became Kalon Tripa. In response, Sangay sidestepped the questions, including by conflating the purchase of a house with paying off the mortgage. As with Speaker Tsering, these charges (especially the mortgage issue, which emerged only after the last election) are likely to follow Sikyong Sangay assuming he runs again.
We hope that both Speaker Tsering and Sikyong Sangay address the relevant facts head-on. That way the voters can decide if there is anything to be concerned about, or whether the issues can be put to rest once and for all, and cease being used for distracting political attacks.
We also hope that all candidates call on their supporters and surrogates to focus on the policy issues that this upcoming election should really be about.<10> Most importantly, we hope that the candidates can vigorously debate three pressing issues: (1) the future course of the Tibetan freedom movement, including how one even defines "freedom", (2) how to restore true unity to the Tibetan community with respect for diversity of opinions and freedom of speech, and (3) the future of the Tibetan settlements in India and Nepal. The 2016 election is a historic opportunity for the Tibetan people to strengthen our democracy. We look forward to a productive and constructive election season.
<8> http://youtu.be/gT7TYMZcU8Q (at 1:02)
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
On April 15, 2015, the Chinese Government issued its latest White Paper on Tibet.<i> China has issued at least 13 White Papers to justify its occupation of and policies in Tibet. These White Papers are not only government propaganda but an expression of official Chinese policy on the Tibetan issue. This most recent White Paper is primarily devoted to explaining China's reasons for rejecting the Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) Middle Way Policy (Tib. Ume Lam) for Tibetan autonomy. The full Middle Way Policy is expressed in the 2008 Memorandum<ii> and the 2010 Note.<iii> Additional comments and clarifications were made by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay in 2013.<iv>
Tibetan history and pre-1959 society
The recent White Paper on Tibet is divided into five sections. Section one is about the Chinese Government's claim of Tibet being part of China for centuries and how supposedly backward and feudal was old (pre-1959) Tibet. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goes to great lengths to explain how old Tibet was a dark and terrible place for the "serfs" (their term for the Tibetan poor and commoner classes) and how the Tibetan aristocracy and clergy (including His Holiness the Dalai Lama) allegedly abused the Tibetan people. This is all done to justify why the PLA had to invade Tibet in 1949-50 in order to "liberate" it.
Logically, however, if China had sovereignty over Tibet during its "feudal" period, then should not China be held accountable for the purported abuses heaped upon Tibetan "serfs" by the ruling classes? Why did China allow such abuses to occur for centuries if they had the ability to stop it since they ruled Tibet? In other words, if Tibet were always part of China, then whatever problems existed in old Tibet are also the fault of China. So China is essentially arguing that it had to "liberate" (invade) Tibet due to problems that are, by China's logic, China's own fault. In any event, such arguments about "social backwardness" are typically used by colonial regimes to justify their invasion and occupation of other lands. These arguments could just as easily have been made by a British or Japanese colonial administration on Chinese lands.
Several scholars have written about Tibet's history in this respect, so there is no need to go into great length here.<v> In sum, we note that China's position on Tibetan history neglects to mention that the Yuan Dynasty was a Mongol empire, and the Qing were Manchus who had conquered China (and other lands). Neither the Mongol Yuan nor the Manchu Qing ever administered Tibet as part of China, or considered Tibet to be part of China. When the Republic of China was founded (1912), it had no actual or legal control over Tibet and Tibet remained independent in all aspects until at least 1951.
Tibetan culture, development and environment
Section two of China's latest White Paper is devoted to explaining how the CCP has allegedly promoted Tibetan culture and religion, improved the economy, educated the masses, protected the environment, and raised the living standards of ordinary Tibetans.<vi> There is little or no mention about human rights which suggests a complete rejection of the numerous charges and evidence of human rights abuses by Tibetans, human rights NGOs, and foreign governments. To the CCP, it's as if there are no human rights issues in Tibet.
With respect to the economy, Andrew Fischer has written extensively about how China's development in Tibet has not benefited the Tibetan people, and in fact leads to Tibetan marginalization in their own land.<vii> And Michael Buckley has written about how Chinese development, particularly dam building, is severely damaging not only Tibet's environment but adversely affecting neighboring nations.<viii>
Our only addition is to note that the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) per capita GDP in 2013 was approximately US$ 4,209 (and this is inflated by China's urban spending),<ix> while Bhutan's per capita GDP in 2013 was about US$7,196.<x> Given that Bhutan is culturally similar to Tibet, and in 1951 was in a similar economic position as Tibet, one could extrapolate and assume that Tibetans would have been better off economically if China had never invaded their homeland.
Rejection of the Middle Way Proposal
The next two sections of the White Paper concern China's response to the Middle Way proposal. China unequivocally rejects the Middle Way as an attempt to set up a semi-independent regime as an interim step to full independence. China equates the Middle Way's request for a "high degree of autonomy" with asking for independence. Curiously, in last year's White Paper on Hong Kong, China characterized Hong Kong has having a "high degree of autonomy" and seem satisfied that such autonomy did not mean independence for Hong Kong.<xi>
Why can Hong Kong enjoy a high degree of autonomy but not Tibet? We addressed this question in a prior editorial, which explained that China views autonomy as a temporary tactic to ease "lost" territory back into the "motherland". China does not consider autonomy as a permanent situation, which makes this issue a key stumbling block for Tibetan autonomy demands.<xii>
China also accuses the Dalai Lama and the CTA of seeking to restore the old "feudal" system and to set up an alternative political system that removes Tibet from central government authority. The CCP officials who wrote this White Paper must not have heard or read the Sikyong's 2013 comments that the CTA is not seeking democracy for Tibet, and will accept Communist Party rule (albeit with more ethnic Tibetan Party members in control of local affairs). Clearly, the new interpretation of the Middle Way not only doesn't challenge Communist rule; it accepts it.
China also accuses the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles with inciting or orchestrating violence in Tibet against China (i.e. the 2008 protests) and with instigating the self-immolations in Tibetan areas. Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) is singled out in the White Paper and attacked for supporting resistance inside Tibet.<xiii> Notably, China's White Paper is devoid of any credible evidence to support these accusations.
The last section concerns the CCP's attitude toward the Dalai Lama. On the one hand, the CCP has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of being a "serf lord" and "slave owner" and His government of abusing the common people. On the other hand, the CCP admits the 17-Point Agreement promised to preserve the Dalai Lama's traditional authority, acknowledges the Dalai Lama's influence to this day in Tibet (at least with respect to Tibetan dissidents), and nominally appears to be willing to discuss the conditions of the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet. These arguments are inherently inconsistent. How could someone accused of being a despotic ruler have such influence and loyalty among ordinary Tibetans inside Tibet to this very day, and also be welcome to return (so long as certain conditions are met)?
The take-away from China's latest White Paper is that the Chinese Government will never accept any degree of autonomy for Tibetan areas or loosening of its political and economic stranglehold over the Tibetan Plateau. According to China, all of the talks between Chinese and Tibetan representatives for the past decade were not about Tibet's political status, but only about the conditions for the Dalai Lama's return. The White Paper makes clear that China never intended in good faith to discuss the terms of the Middle Way. China has made it abundantly clear that the Middle Way and Tibetan autonomy are non-starters. The CCP appears unwilling to compromise on any issues concerning Tibet.
The CTA's response to the White Paper was to lambast China for whitewashing the tragic reality of Tibet.<xiv> However, there has been no response or discussion so far from the CTA on whether it still makes sense to pursue the Middle Way policy, or how the Tibetan side can convince China to accept it given China's unambiguous rejection.
The situation inside Tibet has only deteriorated since 2008 when the Memorandum of Genuine Autonomy was published. The CTA has conceded Communist party rule for Tibet, no democracy, and has accepted the stationing of PLA troops in Tibet. As we wrote in a prior editorial, the current policy is more of a "Partial Middle Way" for limited autonomy.<xv> But even this limited form of autonomy for Tibet has been rejected by China.
It remains to be seen what, if any, further response there will be from the CTA to the recent White Paper rejecting the Middle Way. China seems unfazed by the CTA's international campaign to promote the current interpretation of the Middle Way, which reduces the Tibetan side to passively waiting for China to accept something it says it never will. China also seems unwilling to loosen restrictions on speech and religion in Tibetan areas and is hell-bent on removing Tibet's natural resources to China's industrial and overcrowded eastern regions.
We urge the CTA and the Tibetan exile community to discuss alternative ideas and policies. After more than two decades with little or no positive results, it is indeed long past the time to re-consider whether the current policy still makes sense, or whether it should be revised in light of actual conditions in Tibet and China.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The importance of ‘unity’ or doktsa.chikdril is one of the most repeated messages from inside Tibet. Brave singers have extolled unity in numerous songs and courageous writers have written about it in poems, essays and books despite harassment, torture and imprisonment by the Chinese authorities. In exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and elected Tibetans leaders have continuously urged Tibetans on both sides of the Himalayas to remain united to sustain the struggle in the long run and achieve its goal. In fact, Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay declared ‘unity’ one of the three guiding principles of his administration.
However, in a sad and disappointing development, divisiveness has overshadowed the March 10 commemorations of Tibetan National Uprising Day in Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile capital, and New York, the largest Tibetan community in North America. The questions are why, why now, and how to repair this rift.
Events in Dharamsala
In Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) and Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet pulled out of the annual March 10 protest organizing group. The protest march takes place annually from the H. H. the Dalai Lama’s temple to Lower Dharamsala.
Each year on March 10, after the official function and speeches, the protest march is traditionally led by the five major NGOs – the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), Students for a Free Tibet-India (SFT), National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), Gu-Chu-Sum, and TWA.
This year, during a meeting of the five NGOs to discuss the annual protest march logistics, TWA demanded to have a set of pre-decided slogans vetted by all the organizations, unlike before. Three NGOs (TYC, SFT, and NDPT) suggested that people should have the freedom to choose what slogans to chant and what to write on their placards. They further suggested that if slogans were to be pre-approved for the occasion, then the three important slogans should be: Independence for Tibet; China out of Tibet; and Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tibetans chanted these three slogans on 10 March 1959 during the National Uprising. TWA apparently disagreed with this and walked out. Gu-Chu-Sum also failed to agree to the suggestion and left.
For background on the political stand of each association: TYC, SFT and NDPT stand for a free and independent Tibet as their aspiration to end China’s occupation of Tibet, whereas both TWA and Gu-Chu-Sum have chosen to support the official position of the Middle Way Approach to solve the vexed issue of Tibet.
Every year until now, diverse slogans coexisted in freedom. What sparked TWA and Gu-Chu-Sum’s extreme position this year? What changed?
Events in New York
In New York City, a similar issue of divisiveness and intolerance of free expression arose, also for the first time.
The March 10 protest in New York is traditionally organized by six groups: the Tibetan Community of NY/NJ (TCNYNJ), Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), US-Tibet Committee (USTC), Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC), Regional Tibetan Women’s Association (RTW), and Chushi Gangdruk. This year, TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk demanded control of the messaging and speakers of the March 10 event in NYC. These four groups would not permit any slogans like Free Tibet or Independence for Tibet. TCNYNJ even announced on its official Facebook page that other signs, signs brought by the people, were prohibited at the march. This note was soon taken down; the organizers seemed to have realized how draconian and ridiculous this would look.
Since 1959 when the Tibetan people first spontaneously rose up against the occupying Chinese forces, the March 10 protests have been a protest organized by the people and for the people. Our Tibetan term for the protest, Mimang Gerlang (literally: private uprising by the people), emphasizes its spontaneous, individual and grass-roots nature. March 10 doesn’t belong to any particular group or organization; it belongs to the people.
Ultimately, supporters of the Middle Way and supporters of Rangzen want the same thing: freedom for Tibetans inside Tibet and resolution of the Tibet issue. SFT and USTC did not object to anyone promoting or supporting the Middle Way, but they wanted space to voice their own views too. However, the other four groups opposed anyone calling for a free or independent Tibet (slogans that were perfectly acceptable in years past). Because these four groups would not allow SFT or USTC to have their own speakers or slogans, and would not allow them to use the slogans that Tibetans have raised since 1959, SFT and USTC withdrew from this year’s March 10 organizing committee.
TPR editors have been informed that at the rally at the United Nations, the organizers (TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk) would not permit anyone or any group who supported independence (such as SFT, USTC, and Tibetan National Congress) to participate or even join the March 10 protest. These groups participated anyway, as was their right as free citizens and loyal supporters of Tibet.
There is an appalling video circulating that appears to show a march organizer asking the New York Police Department (NYPD) to exclude these pro-independence groups from the event. It is a tribute to the NYPD that the police officer instead cited everyone’s First Amendment right to free speech. It is deeply shameful if a Tibetan member of the March 10 organizing committee needed this lecture from an American police officer.
It is truly a sad day if a Tibetan tries to get the police to exclude a fellow Tibetan from the March 10 commemoration, simply because that Tibetan supports independence. The Chinese government must be gloating.
Unity, Diversity, and Free Expression
The March 10 National Uprising Anniversary and its commemoration is the heritage and duty of every Tibetan. Almost every Tibetan in exile has memories of participating in this annual protest; perhaps perched on a parent’s shoulders, perhaps leading the chants with a bullhorn.
No political association, individual, or governmental body has an exclusive claim on this historic day. March 10 belongs to the entire Tibetan people.
The March 10th Anniversary is not a day to bring differences to the front and hamper our overall strength and unity in our community. It is a day to honour all those who sacrificed their lives for the cause, to remember them and reaffirm their place in our history and to renew our dedication to Tibet’s struggle for freedom. This is not a day to prove a point.
The actions of TWA and Gu Chu Sum in Dharamsala and TCNYNJ, RTWA, RTYC, and Chushi Gangdruk in New York, by refusing to compromise with anyone who disagreed with them and excluding anyone who had a different view, send the wrong message to Tibetans in exile, Tibetans in Tibet, and to Tibet supporters. Tibetans are united on many issues such as human rights, environment protection, freedom of speech and religion, cultural preservation, etc. We must not allow political differences about Middle Way or Rangzen to divide us; ultimately this hurts the Tibetan cause.
Healing the Divide
It is time for the CTA to step up and take leadership in actively promoting unity. Soon after he was elected, Lobsang Sangay said in an interview: “Unity is the most important. Without unity it is almost impossible for any exile movement to have the strength to take the movement forward to success.”
It is not enough for the CTA to make passive statements, however, especially when the past couple years have seen increasing divisiveness in the Tibetan exile community. This divisiveness has coincided with the current CTA leadership aggressively promoting its new interpretation of the Middle Way, with tactics that (purposefully or not) have had a chilling effect on free speech, have marginalized pro-independence supporters as almost “anti-Dalai Lama”, and have sought to make acceptance of one particular policy the litmus test of political orthodoxy (e.g. see here, here and here).
When we ask what has changed, when until now Tibetans of differing viewpoints could still commemorate March 10 united as Gangchenpas, we cannot help but wonder: what role has been played by the chilling effect created by the current CTA leadership’s campaign?
But let us set aside the CTA leadership’s contribution to, and perhaps even responsibility for, the current dis-unity. The fact is, the CTA leadership now has an obligation to actually lead. Passivity should not be acceptable, and exacerbating the problem should be unthinkable. That means accepting responsibility, and taking concrete action to fix problems.
For example, we suggest that the CTA leadership consider these seven steps:
1. Officially declare that loyalty to Tibet, regardless of whether one is a Middle Way supporter or a Rangzen supporter, is the only loyalty test that matters, and officially disavow the divisive tactics used in New York;If the CTA were to show courage and leadership in actively taking steps to promote true unity, then that would be a major achievement to benefit all Tibetans.
There can and should be differences in political aspiration and approaches in our struggle for freedom. To have different positions and standpoint is the very essence of democracy. Indeed, diversity of opinion and freedom of expression are cornerstones of a democratic system. However, varying political outlooks should in no way divide us on such important historic occasion as March 10. We must stand in unity.
At a time when China is facing grave internal crises – ranging from aging population, environmental catastrophe, endemic corruption and economic slowdown – and at a time when some of the foremost China-watchers write about possible ‘Chinese crackup’, we should have our feet firmly on the pedal to increase the strength of our non-violent struggle and stand in unity with our sisters and brothers inside occupied Tibet.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Photo: Woeser (Lhasa, December 2014)
As 2014 draws to a close, it seems like a good time to look back at what the past year has meant for the cause that animates every Tibetan heart: the struggle for freedom in Tibet. There are many ways to look at this question, and we encourage authors to send in their own perspectives. In the spirit of furthering this discussion, there are a few developments this past year that we think may impact the ground reality in Tibet.
The year 2014, tragically, saw the number of self-immolations inside Tibet since 2009 rise to 136, and a total of 142 including Tibetans in exile since 1998. These numbers each represents a human being who chose to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their nation and their religion.
This year was the 55th anniversary of the 1959 Uprising, the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Tenth Panchen Lama, and the 25th anniversary of HH the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Peace Prize. It was also the 26th anniversary of His Holiness’s Strasbourg Proposal that laid the foundation of the Middle Way proposal, as well as the 25th anniversary of martial law in Lhasa and the Tiananmen massacre a few months later. These anniversaries are important milestones to see where we have come from, and to ask where we are headed.
Winning by not Losing?
There are a few different ways to look at developments in Tibet in 2014, and it would be understandable to look at them with a certain amount of despair. From one perspective, the odds for Tibet seem long, the obstacles great. From another perspective, however, there is actually a great deal of hope for Tibet’s nonviolent cause – hope that is grounded in military strategy, no less.
According the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, “it is an axiom of guerrilla warfare that insurgents can often win simply by not losing.” Essentially, a weaker group can prevail against a foreign occupier by holding on and altering the occupier’s cost-benefit analysis. The occupier does not know when or where the next challenge to its authority will come, so it ratchets up its control everywhere. This simultaneously alienates the local populace (even those who are normally not political) and also increases the material and psychological cost to the occupier. Through this dynamic, the passage of time actually puts increasing pressure on the occupier.
There is a great deal of literature on this, from T.E. Lawrence and films like The Battle of Algiers, to the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Even Mao Zedong’s “People’s War” is based on similar premises. SFT’s Tibet Action Institute has a brilliant analysis of altering the occupier’s cost-benefit analysis in the Tibetan context.
Applying this to Tibet
All this is to say that Chinese rule in Tibet in 2014 may have gotten less secure, not more. In large part because of the nonviolent self-immolations, Chinese armed forces have been forced into a posture similar to that of an occupier facing a guerilla movement. One only has to look at Woeser’s photos of armed police and brigades of fire-fighters surrounding the Tsuklhakhang in Lhasa during Ganden Ngamchoe. In using such bluntly oppressive tactics, the Chinese forces have abandoned any pretense of vying for the “hearts and minds” of the Tibetan populace more than 50 years after the occupation began. Indeed, greater suspicion is even falling on Tibetans who are Party members and others who, ideally, would form a group that an occupier would seek to coopt.
Photo: Woeser (Lhasa, December 2014)
Meantime, leaked Chinese military documents released by TCHRD describe the “psychological traumas” caused by the horrors of their jobs for the Chinese armed forces in Tibet. Obviously the Chinese leadership has proven itself willing to use whatever force it deems necessary to protect its rule. But at the very least, an occupying power that has alienated the local populace, and whose own armed forces are suffering psychological trauma from the occupation, is probably not moving the situation toward a successful resolution.
So could Tibetans be winning by not losing? Certainly one shouldn’t be too confident, but one can make a case for suggesting that the answer to this question is: “Maybe”. In this scenario, the Tibetan strategy would be to “not lose”, i.e. to hold on, and to do what is possible to drive up the costs of the Chinese occupation. If so, then these developments in 2014 seem significant:
• In February 2014, the U.S. appointed a new Special Coordinator for Tibet, whose rank as Undersecretary ensures that the Tibet issue will get visibility in the State Department, and demonstrates to China that the issue is not going away for the U.S., which is China's most important foreign relationship.
All these developments support Tibetans’ ability to “win by not losing”, by simply keeping the struggle going and denying China the ability to settle the issue even after a half-century of occupation.
Photo: Woeser (Firefighters, Lhasa, December 2014)
Meanwhile in China in 2014, Xi Jinping consolidated power through purges, including of leaders with powerful bases such as Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua (incidentally, both of whom with their own connection to Tibet policy). Xi has even broken the cardinal rule of post-Tiananmen Chinese politics (that Politburo Standing Committee members are immune from purges), which is either bold or desperate or both. At the very least, it is clear that Chinese politics is in a state of dramatic flux. This comes at a time when the much-vaunted Chinese economy is facing a major slow-down as well as unsustainable speculative bubbles in the real estate and fixed-asset sectors.
On its periphery, China in 2014 has faced a simmering insurrection in Xinjiang/East Turkestan, a new and vibrant pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, increasing skepticism in Taiwan, and outright alarm by neighbors with territorial disputes such as Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
On the world stage, China’s alliances in 2014 have faced challenges. Russia is now facing Western sanctions and a plummeting currency. China’s former vassal Burma is moving away from its orbit (but worse for Tibet, China is exercising more control over Nepal, a development India can hopefully reverse for the sake of its own security). Even Cuba, China’s long-time fellow Communist state, appears to be on the verge of a new and more positive relationship with the U.S., with implications for its traditional closeness to Beijing.
Looking Ahead to 2015
What are the implications for Tibet of all these developments in 2014? As amateur observers we are not in any particular position of expertise. But from our perspective, there may be cause for long-term optimism despite how desperate the situation may look at times.
2014 has seen acts of great bravery and sacrifice inside Tibet, demonstrating that the Tibetan spirit is strong after a half-century of occupation. 2014 has seen China resort to draconian crack-downs, basically giving up on any possibility of ever winning Tibetan “hearts and minds”, at the cost of psychological trauma to its own forces. 2014 has seen Tibetan representatives in exile, and especially His Holiness, keep the issue on the world stage, as well as giving China a figurative bloody nose through the Nobel Summit triumph. And for China, 2014 has seen political flux, major socioeconomic threats, and geopolitical challenges.
As Buddhists, Tibetans believe in impermanence. Does this extend to the ability of China to sustain its occupation of Tibet? With so many factors in flux in the world and in China, does a nonviolent application of the guerilla warfare tactic of “winning by not losing” apply to Tibet? Perhaps developments in 2015 will make an answer more apparent.
We conclude this 2014 review with these words by poet/activist Lhasang Tsering:
You can hold on to your goal and your purpose;
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review (TPR) was interested to read an October 31, 2014 statement entitled “Tibetan Political Review and Yellow Journalism” on the official CTA website by the CTA Press Officer. As a small, all-volunteer review, we appreciate the Press Officer's response to our editorial ("The Cost of Missed Opportunities"), and we have published his statement on our website.
We have determined that our editorial is factually accurate, and we stand by it. We specifically appreciate the Press Officer’s candidness that the CTA’s passivity on Ilham Tohti came from a fear that action “may jeopardize an ongoing process.” If we understand the Press Officer correctly, the CTA chose to be silent so as not to jeopardize its Partial Middle Way efforts.
While the Press Officer’s lengthy statement on TPR was posted to Tibet.net, the CTA website never had similar statements on the far more important issues of Hong Kong, Ilham Tohti, Scotland, etc. Judging by its overall messaging and advocacy (not limited to its website), the CTA is simply not prioritizing these issues.
The Press Officer calls it “damning” that, when we mentioned the two Nobel laureates’ visit to Dharamsala, we did not say they were there at the invitation of the CTA. This was irrelevant to our argument, which was: the timing of the visit was coincidental and the Cape Town campaign was led by other groups. The Dharamsala event was planned far in advance. Absent divine foresight, this was simply a happy coincidence.
Additionally, we hope that in the future the Press Officer will avoid inflammatory language such as “appalling”, "damning", and “preposterous” (these words are not even used against the Chinese government). Such emotional rhetoric is not helpful to a civil and constructive discussion.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
One of the hallmarks of inspired leadership is having the vision to proactively turn events into opportunities. Another hallmark is being secure enough to give credit where it is due. In this respect, developments over past month indicate that the leadership of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) still has room to grow.
Certainly the CTA has undertaken praiseworthy action recently. In a recent editorial, we applauded the CTA’s Ume Lam campaign, calling it a “breath of fresh air”. Also, the Kashag’s Democracy Day statement on September 2 had a newly-declared focus on “civility” – something desperately needed in Tibetan exile polity.
But while these welcome CTA initiatives have focused on internal public opinion in the Tibetan community, it is impossible not to notice a certain passivity by the CTA recently when it comes to the outside world, including China. The leadership’s inaction has been especially notable in the cases of Hong Kong, Ilham Tohti, the Scottish referendum, and the Nobel Summit.
Hong Kong Democracy Protests
As unprecedented pro-democracy protests shake Hong Kong and the Beijing government, it’s natural that Tibetans might wonder what the CTA's position is. This is especially so when the global press is condemning the Chinese government for the “fiction” of Hong Kong’s autonomy. Yet the CTA has been silent.
Umbrella Revolution - Photo on right courtesy of tibet.net.
By contrast, the International Tibet Network issued a compelling statement of solidarity with the people of Hong Kong, as did ICT. The current CTA leadership cannot be expected to take a similarly strong stance. But the White House managed a diplomatically-worded statement of support for the "aspirations" of the Hong Kong people. And even Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, usually one to seek good relations with Beijing, criticized the actions in Hong Kong and urged China to embrace democracy.
Some may wonder why the CTA should bother making its position on Hong Kong known. The answer is simple: the success of Hong Kong’s "one country, two systems" model has direct implications for the CTA's Middle Way policy. Events in Hong Kong are testing how an entity under Beijing's control can exercise internal autonomy. There is a tug-of-war between Beijing's emphasis on "one country" and the protestors' emphasis on "two systems". The outcome will shape hopes for the Middle Way, since Hong Kong’s advantages make a best-case scenario for successful autonomy in China.
Equally relevant for the Middle Way, according to the New York Times, “the talks [between the Hong Kong government and the protesters] provide a useful delay for the government, helping to sap the energy of the protests without promising a meaningful compromise.” Observing what the New York Times calls a “conscious element of the government’s strategy” in Hong Kong, the Tibet movement should consider how to avoid a similar trap.
There are of course some important differences between the demands of the Middle Way and the Hong Kong protesters. The Sikyong has made it clear that he seeks autonomy under the weaker Article 4 of the Chinese constitution, not the stronger Article 31 that is the basis for the Hong Kong system. Also, the current CTA leadership has now modified the Middle Way to exclude democracy (the "Partial Middle Way"), whereas the protestors in Hong Kong are demanding genuine democracy.
It is hard to understand the conspicuous silence coming from Dharamsala. Surely the CTA's silence does not stem from any discomfort over supporting democracy for Hong Kong, when the Partial Middle Way has renounced democracy for Tibet.
No one expects the CTA to do everything with limited resources. But we believe that the CTA had a missed opportunity to make statements of support for Hong Kong which are still in line with CTA's existing policies. CTA could have:
- expressed support for the people of Hong Kong as they seek the autonomy already promised in China’s Basic Law for Hong Kong
Even if the CTA happens to be engaged in back-channel dialogue with China (which occurs occasionally, usually when China wants to deflect pressure on itself), it’s hard to argue that the CTA’s silence benefits anyone. On principle alone, CTA should have welcomed the Hong Kong people's desire for democracy and autonomy. Strategically, this would have shown CTA's strength and confidence in the principles driving the Tibet movement, which would have been a good thing, even in a putative dialogue with China. It would also have earned allies. After all, the Tibetan people are a stakeholder in this issue, and keeping silent on the issue has meant giving a pass to the Chinese government on whether it lives up to its promises of autonomy.
How does China’s apparent refusal to abide by its own promises to the people of Hong Kong (with eerie echoes of Tibet in the 1950s), and its use in Hong Kong of talks as a stalling tactic, impact the CTA’s decision to commit all its efforts to its current strategy? It's an important question to consider, and perhaps a question that our elected representatives could have put to the Chinese leaders.
As with the situation in Hong Kong, China's unjust lifetime imprisonment of Ilham Tohti goes directly to the key principles of the Middle Way. Tohti is a moderate Uyghur scholar who devoted his life to increasing understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese. Far from being a separatist, Tohthi was perhaps the leading advocate of the sort of sensible ethnicity policies that might improve Chinese-Uyghur relations.
While other respected Uyghur leaders like Rebiya Kadeer say that only independence can protect the Uyghur people, Tohti’s scholarship sought a way for the Uyghurs and Han Chinese to live together. It was therefore an especially major blow for the prospect of Chinese-Uyghur coexistence when the Chinese authorities imprisoned him.
The International Tibet Network and others issued strong statements. But this is not the same as the Tibetan government-in-exile taking action.
So, given how closely Tohti’s policies mesh with the Middle Way, it is baffling why the CTA has been silent on his imprisonment. It is hard to think of anyone else in China who is a more prominent advocate of the sort of ethnic autonomy provisions sought by the Middle Way. Unless we are missing something, the CTA’s passivity seems like a strategic mistake and an unprincipled abandonment of an ally.
Additionally, it would have been helpful if the CTA had explained to the Tibetan people what China’s mistreatment of Tohti (together with its actions in Hong Kong) might mean for the Middle Way. Do these developments impact the strategy or likelihood of success? Why or why not? The Tibetan people deserve to know the thinking of their elected representatives.
Scotland Independence Referendum
We previously wrote about the Scottish independence referendum and why it was good for Tibet. But while prominent prominent Tibet groups were using the Scottish referendum to push the Tibetan cause (here and here), the CTA was notably silent.
Obviously one would not expect the current CTA leadership to have advocated Scottish independence. But it would have been smart to try to insert the question of Tibet into the conversation, as many other groups did.
Even under its current policy toward China, the CTA could have praised the British government’s democratic and rational approach to resolving the question of whether (and how) two peoples stay together. It’s a shame this opportunity was lost.
Additionally, when the Scottish pro-independence forces seemed to be on the verge of victory, the British government became nervous and decided to offer Scotland new autonomous powers if it stayed. It would be helpful to hear the CTA’s thoughts on this strategic dynamic, where pro-independence advocates actually helped the pro-autonomy camp as well.
The CTA’s passivity has been especially pronounced on the World Summit of Nobel Laureates. When the South African government refused to issue a visa to His Holiness, the issue was simply one of standing up for His Holiness and the principles He represents. Although the Chinese government had pressured the South African government, the issue was safer since Beijing was not directly involved. Yet the CTA missed the chance to stand up for His Holiness.
Instead, the charge was led by the Tibetan National Congress (TNC), which mobilized 10,000 people through a petition to the Nobel laureates to “relocate or boycott” the summit. Signatories on this petition included notable politicians, intellectuals, and artists. The F.W. de Klerk Foundation, one of the Summit organizers in South Africa, wrote that the TNC campaign “may lead to the cancellation of the Summit”.
A few days later, the Summit was in fact cancelled when six Nobel laureates decided to boycott it (TNC called for relocation to Rome, and as of the date of this editorial, this looks likely). This was a major embarrassment for China, and a significant victory for the Tibet movement. It is especially significant that this was the third time that South Africa denied His Holiness a visa, but this was the first time the South African and Chinese governments received such dramatic blow-back.
Unfortunately, the CTA leadership was silent on this entire issue until the day when the Summit cancellation was announced. That day, two Nobel laureates happened to be in Dharamsala on a long-scheduled visit timed with Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.
In fairness, the CTA leadership cannot be expected to do everything, and it must pick and choose what to prioritize. But it was disappointing that the CTA leadership thanked only the Nobel laureates for their boycott and for standing with His Holiness.
While these Nobel laureates indeed deserve the Tibetan people’s deepest gratitude, the de Klerk Foundation made clear that TNC’s campaign was directly responsible for the Summit cancellation. Even if the CTA leadership was uncomfortable recognizing TNC’s role for some unknown reason, at the very least there should have been recognition of the petition’s prominent supporters, who put their names on the line to stand with His Holiness. The Kashag’s declared emphasis on “civility” should include a simple “thank you” when appropriate and give credit where credit is due.
The Sikyong wrote in his doctoral dissertation on Tibetan democracy in 2004, “the most public and even transparent support of the people demonstrated through democratic processes of election, free speech, and various other forms of participation strengthen and sustain the government in exile.”
We agree fully with the Sikyong’s statement. Our observations of some missed opportunities by the CTA leadership stem from our fervent wish to see the Tibetan government-in-exile succeed. Like the Sikyong, we believe that a vital part of democracy is the people expressing their views about the performance of their elected government, and this editorial aims to play a small part in that.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Like many other Tibetans, we were grateful that Kasur Lodi Gyari decided to share his rich knowledge of the Tibetan struggle in his recent article. Gyari Rinpoche has decades of service and sacrifice, and few individuals can compare with his experience or involvement with some key defining events in recent Tibetan history.
We hope that our editorial will further the conversation that Gyari Rinpoche’s article initiated and encourage Tibetans and Tibet supporters to join the debate in a civil and constructive manner. With this motivation in mind, we also did not want to repeat points made elsewhere. Migmar Dolma and Tenzin Kelden have already written a response to Gyari Rinpoche’s piece. We highly recommend reading both the original article and their thoughtful response.
Based on all this, we would like to offer a few thoughts Gyari Rinpoche’s recent article.
Unity of Cholka-Sum (the Three Provinces of Tibet)
Gyari Rinpoche’s article has this to say about the unity of Tibet's territory:
“The geographical boundary of Tibet under the erstwhile Gaden Phodrang government was not as the same the one we have created in our imagination. Some even believe, including many of our supporters, that prior to the 1940s all the three regions of Tibet were under a united independent nation. However, this is not really the case. […] For example, I have heard this explanation by advocates of independence. Why are we not seeking independence since the United Nations has passed three resolutions on Tibet in which there is reference to right to self-determination. […] However, if they argue independence based on that resolution, then it naturally creates suspicion and doubts; one, whether they are aware of the historical boundary of Tibet; secondly by using such an explanation, could the objective of struggle be a different one.”There is a critical factor that Gyari Rinpoche’s article appears to overlook, which would eliminate the need for asserting such "suspicions and doubts". U.N. General Assembly Resolution 1723 (XVI) does not refer to self-determination for Tibet (which might or might not be argued to mean the jurisdiction of the Lhasa government in 1951). The resolution refers to self-determination for "the Tibetan people", which means the entire Tibetan people.
In making a case for independence, for example, the Tibetan National Congress writes, “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.… An independent Tibet can extend to the entire Cholka Sum.”
Under international law, the Tibetan people have the right to self-determination. At face value, this means all Tibetans, but where should the territorial boundary be drawn? Here, Gyari Rinpoche’s article touches upon a legitimate issue – though not one requiring any “suspicion and doubts”. One has to look at the specific circumstances to see how self-determination is applied in drawing a boundary. Will it include every single Tibetan regardless of where they live? Obviously not the Tibetan neighborhood in Chengdu or Haidian (in Beijing). But it should for the Tibetan Plateau. Unlike for example in Scotland, Tibet’s recent history involves fluctuating borders and the ebb and flow of political control. Fortunately, though, even the Chinese government considers basically the entire Cholka-Sum that is outside the T.A.R. to be Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties, strengthening the Tibetan case for self-determination using the boundaries of Cholka-Sum. Certainly there is no reason to categorically state, as Gyari Rinpoche’s article does, that self-determination would not include all Tibetans in Cholka-Sum. As Tibetans, we need to put forth the strongest case under international law for implementing self-determination in relation to the boundaries of Cholka-Sum (which even China implicitly recognizes). It does not make sense to conclude at the outset that this is impossible, when the case is actually fairly strong.
Tibet (Cholka-Sum) as divided into the T.A.R. and Tibetan autonomous
counties and prefectures. Click to enlarge.
As an experienced diplomat, Gyari Rinpoche may have a different view of this argument and if so the Tibetan people would benefit from his perspective. But at the very least, it should be made clear that the U.N. resolution called for self-determination for the entire Tibetan people, not for some truncated territorial administration. *
We are also confused why Gyari Rinpoche’s article makes a categorical statement that it was “not really the case” that Tibet was historically united. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s March 10th address in 1973 contains a detailed discussion of times when Tibet was unified under the Dharma Kings, Sakya lamas, Fifth Dalai Lama’s Ganden Phodrang government, etc. There was likely a reason His Holiness chose to discuss this history. This history was not “created in our imagination.”
Gyari Rinpoche’s dismissal of the historical unity of Tibet as a country also appears to contradict the 1991 U.S. Congressional resolution declaring that “Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Quinghai, is an occupied country under the established principles of international law.” When the U.S. Congress condemned “the illegality of China's occupation of Tibet,” it was clearly referring to the entire Cholka-Sum. **
Notably, when this Congressional resolution was passed, Gyari Rinpoche was the head of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). ICT was instrumental in lobbying for this resolution’s adoption, and for a long time rightfully celebrated it as one of its more important legislative victories. If this accomplishment were backed away from now, it would be a very sad self-inflicted wound on the Tibet movement.
Personally, we have never met an independence supporter who is only seeking independence for western Tibet. Gyari Rinpoche may have something concrete in mind when he warns of this possibility by “some people”, and if so we sincerely hope he shares these facts. Otherwise the risk is that others may seek to distort Gyari Rinpoche’s words to engage in baseless scare tactics.
Unity of the Tibetan cause
Gyari Rinpoche eloquently writes that losing the moral basis of the overall Tibetan cause is “more grave than the argument between the Middle Way Approach and independence”.
He also notes that “irresponsibly criticizing others [is] the misuse of democratic rights.” This argument is not unique to Tibetan society, and in fact is part of the debate in international human rights. In the U.S., the typical example is that yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is not a valid exercise of free speech. Generally the right of free speech should be balanced against the rights and safety of others.
Yet, universal human rights do not recognize the right of others to escape unwanted criticism, or words they do not like. It can be legitimate to sometimes restrict free speech to achieve a compelling societal interest through the least-restrictive means possible, but this is otherwise a very dangerous slippery slope. Simply referring to concepts like “responsibility” without more, and without defining who decides what is “responsible”, seems like an injustice to the universal human rights we all hope for in Tibet. But we might be missing Gyari Rinpoche’s point.
Likewise, universal human rights do not recognize a test of worthiness for a speaker. So we were troubled when Gyari Rinpoche’s article referred to “some people who can hardly utter a single word against [China] but has the capacity to criticize His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration in volumes.” If a point is valid about the CTA, then it is valid regardless of whether the speaker also criticizes China. And if the most vociferous critic of China makes an unfair criticism about the CTA, that does not thereby make it valid.
With these points in mind, we believe that Tibetan society would take a step towards greater unity. It would allow the open, respectful discussion between Middle Way and independence that Gyari Rinpoche’s article describes so poignantly.
Gyari Rinpoche states the Tibetan struggle is not for democratic rights but for preservation of Tibetan culture and identity. While we do not disagree that Tibetan culture and identity are part of the struggle, the statement about democracy is surprising and seems at odds with the historical record. For example, in 1963 the CTA, under the leadership of His Holiness, promulgated a proposed Constitution for a free and independent Tibet. In the Foreword, His Holiness stated that this Constitution was “intended to secure for the people of Tibet a system of democracy based on justice and equality and ensure their cultural, religious and economic advancement.” Even earlier, in His 1961 March 10 Speech, His Holiness stated that “[n]ew Tibet will need thousands of trained and skilled men and women, necessary to bring Tibet in consonance with the spirit of democracy without losing our cultural and religious heritage or our soul.”
Moreover, democratic rights were clearly a part of His Holiness’ original Middle Way Policy. In 1987, His Holiness proposed a Five Point Peace Plan which included respect for democratic freedoms in Tibet. In His (now-withdrawn) 1988 Strasbourg Proposal, His Holiness stated that the “Government [of Tibet] should be comprised of a popularly elected Chief Executive, a bi-cameral legislative branch, and an independent judicial system.” And in His 1989 March 10 Speech, His Holiness made clear that “[t]he struggle of the Tibetan people is a struggle for our inalienable right to determine our own destiny in freedom [and] is a struggle for democracy, human rights and peace.” Although the Middle Way Policy was changed by the CTA in 2008 and 2010, it was only in 2013 that Sikyong Sangay explicitly stated that the CTA was not seeking democracy for Tibet, a statement that surprised many Tibetans and Tibet supporters.
A few final thoughts
Gyari Rinpoche is one of the “Founding Fathers” of TYC so his views of why the organization was founded are of course important. And he eloquently writes about TYC’s goal of promoting unity. Yet when he argues that TYC was not founded “solely” to promote independence, this seems an unnecessary point. TYC’s founding resolution has four points, including not just “independence” but also “national unity” etc.
Logically one could equally say that TYC was not founded “solely” to promote national unity. We say this not to argue but rather to agree that both goals exist in TYC’s founding resolution. In any case, this is a debate that should be up to TYC.
We think it is worth noting that of the three other TYC co-founders, one has come out in favor of self-determination, and another joined the pro-independence Tibetan National Congress before he passed away. Gyari Rinpoche himself resigned his role in dialogue with China as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy in 2012 out of “utter frustration” with the lack of any progress. Given the interest generated by Gyari Rinpoche’s article, the Tibetan people could have benefited from an enlightening public debate among these three Founding Fathers about these topics.
Clearly, Gyari Rinpoche is part of a generation that has a great deal of experience and perspective to share. As the Tibetan people – and especially the younger generation – grapple with the important choices ahead, the Tibetan cause benefits by having a strong historical perspective. We look forward to these constructive discussions continuing.
* NOTE: Gyari Rinpoche mentions that some seek MWA, some seek independence, and some seek self-determination. However, self-determination is an international right the Tibetan people have. MWA, independence or some other form of self-rule are goals that Tibetans may seek based on that right. Self-determination is not a goal or choice itself. There really is not a debate whether Tibetans have the right of self-determination. The debate within the Tibetan community is whether Tibetans should exercise that right to seek some form of autonomy or independence.
** NOTE: This resolution is a non-binding "sense of Congress" resolution that lays out the Congressional position but does not set policy for the Executive Branch.
By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Many Tibetans eagerly followed the Scottish independence referendum. Now the results are in and 55% of voters chose to stay with the U.K. We believe that this entire referendum process is a positive development for Tibet.
The many parallels between Scotland and Tibet are striking. The Scots are a proud highland nation with a long history, like Tibetans. The Scots number 5.3 million, to 6 million Tibetans. The U.K. depends on Scotland for many of its natural resources like oil, while China exploits Tibet’s minerals and hydro resources. The British military stations all its nuclear weapons in Scotland, while the Chinese military considers Tibet an important strategic base. Many English have an emotional attachment to the idea of their country including Scotland, while many Han Chinese currently cannot conceive of their country without Tibet.
The differences between Scotland and Tibet do not need stating: the Scots live in a democracy that respects human rights, Scotland has its own parliament and some autonomous powers, and no Scot has been sent to prison or tortured for nonviolently advocating independence or autonomy this century.
There are several reasons why the outcome of the Scottish referendum has been good for Tibet.
The very fact that the British government ever agreed to respect the outcome of the Scottish referendum is a stunning example of the very best in democracy and self-determination. Simply put: the British government was prepared to let Scotland go, if the Scottish people wanted to. And the democratic decision-making process over this monumental question did not lead to instability; ultimately it may have even strengthened the British union.
This is a shining example of how a civilized country respects the right to self-determination. Ultimately, it didn’t matter if “losing” Scotland would be economically, militarily, or emotionally hard for the U.K. That is because Scotland was not Britain’s to “lose” – Scotland belongs to the Scots, and it is their right to decide whether to stay or go. The rest of the U.K. can only try to convince the Scots to stay.
A few Chinese are apparently noticing this example. According to Foreign Policy:
Seemingly addressing the referendum -- and perhaps Beijing's propensity to quiet alleged separatists in western regions Tibet and Xinjiang with force -- one wrote pointedly, "there's nothing wrong with undertaking a referendum, without outside interference, to determine the future of a people." He applauded U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's reliance on "persuasion, not mobilizing troops" as the only "civilized and respectable way" to maintain unity. Another user wondered aloud "why every time I hear about dissolution, it's outrageous, heinous, the end of the world. What's so wrong with splitting up?" One was indifferent to the vote's outcome, writing, "The fact that a people comprising one-third of the land mass of the existing country can vote on their own independence is already amazing."
However, Chinese government’s outlook on issue is clear as Premier Li Keqiang told British Prime Minister David Cameron that China wanted to see a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom". Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, is quoted in South China Morning Post as saying: "From the Chinese official perspective, the People's Republic of China has never been kind to the idea of such referendums for Taiwan or anywhere else within what's considered Chinese territory."
The Scottish referendum embodies the principle that the political ties that bind one people to another must be made through consent.
The corollary to this is that a civilized country knows it is not the end of the world if a people under its rule wants to secede. Life goes on, and maybe even better in the long run. (Think: even from China’s perspective, it “gave up” Mongolia and China is fine. Chinese nationalists gripe about a few Pacific islands but not about Mongolia. China has moved on.)
Internally among the Scottish people, it was exciting to see the impassioned debate between those supporting independence and those who wanted to remain within the U.K. While some anti-independence politicians were accused of fear-mongering, on the whole the debate was carried out with democratic vigor. It was especially interesting to see the Scottish National Party’s detailed blueprints on its vision for what an independent Scotland would actually look like.
Interestingly, the referendum only had one question: “should Scotland be an independent country?” Prime Minister Cameron took a calculated risk in not allowing a choice for greater Scottish autonomy. At the last minute as it looked like “yes” might prevail, London promised Scotland greater autonomy if “no” won. This meant that a “no” vote could have either supported the status quo or greater autonomy. From a democratic perspective, this muddied the water a bit, and shows the importance of having any referendum’s questions be set out with integrity.
The Scottish referendum also proves that a civilized country uses persuasion and incentives to convince a people to stay, rather than threats or military force. The three major U.K. political parties’ last-minute pledge promising greater devolution of power to the Scottish parliament very well could have decisively swung the tide of the vote to “no”. But this would not have happened if it didn’t look like “yes” was about to win.
That is why Time Magazine declared that the Scottish “independence movement has lost the vote but won the argument.” Thanks to the independence movement, led by the Scottish National Party, the status quo will change. London will have to carry through on its desperate, last-minute promise to devolve greater powers to Scotland.
The real winner in the Scottish referendum has not been the “yes” or “no” campaigns. The real winner has been the Scottish people. In exercising their right to self-determination, they (and they alone) have made their choice based on their own wishes and interests. One day surely the Tibetan people will do the same.
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By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review is deeply honored to receive the 2014 Lhakar Award for Journalism. Since its founding in 2010, TPR has strived to provide a constructive discussion of the important political issues facing the Tibetan nation, and especially to provide a forum open to all viewpoints. We would also like to congratulate the other Lhakar Award recipients this year: Kenpo Kartse, Chungdak Koren, Jigme Ugyen, Lhamo Tso, Alan Cantos, and Jose Esteve.