Tibetan exiles stick with 'middle way' _ for now
By SAM DOLNICK,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, November 23
DHARMSALA, India - Tibetan exiles decided Saturday against pushing for independence for the Himalayan region, but for the first time in decades said they will take up that radical course if China refuses to grant their homeland autonomy soon.
A pivotal meeting ended with hundreds of Tibetan exile leaders from around the globe reaffirming support for the Dalai Lama's path of measured compromise _ a push for autonomy called "the middle way" _ but also said it is time to end talks with Beijing.
"Looking at the doings of China in recent times, we will not send the envoys for further contact," Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, told reporters after the meeting.
She said that "there was a majority for the middle way" and called for the exile government to press on with that approach.
But the leaders also vowed that if moderation doesn't produce results soon, they will call for independence _ a dramatic break with a decades-long conciliatory approach to Beijing.
"If China does not respond positively to our initiative, there is no other options left for us than to go for independence," Gyari said.
She did not mention a specific time frame, and took no questions.
China says Tibet has been Chinese territory for 700 years, though many Tibetans argue it was effectively independent most of that time.
Since Communist troops swept into Tibet in 1950, Chinese authorities have crushed any sign of Tibetan nationalist sentiment. An independence movement would be near impossible, at least in the foreseeable future, and China has long made clear it will not accept autonomy for Tibet.
On Friday, an editorial in the official Tibet Daily newspaper said the "so-called 'middle way' is a naked expression of Tibet independence aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history."
Because of talk like that and Beijing's repeated harsh denunciations of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leaders said the exile government should stop sending envoys to talks until China moves to reopen negotiations.
The latest round of talks failed after the Chinese rejected a detailed plan calling for protection of the Tibetan language and culture, restrictions on non-Tibetans moving into Tibet and the right of Tibetans to create an autonomous government.
The decisions by the 581 exile leaders who came to this week's meeting from around the world are only recommendations for the Tibetan parliament, which is to meet in March. To many, the session was a reminder that although Tibetans do not have a country, they do have a bureaucracy.
The Dalai Lama called the meeting in Dharmsala, the north Indian mountain town where has lived since fleeing Tibet following a failed rebellion in 1959.
He summoned the exile leaders after publicly expressing frustration over the failure of his approach to yield results with China's government, but he declined to discuss his preference for future strategy, saying he did not want to sway the debate. He planned to address the delegates Sunday.
The meeting was meant to be a trial run in democracy, a chance for Tibetans to formulate a plan without guidance from the person they nearly all call "His Holiness." But instead, the gathering largely became a confirmation of their reverence for him.
"We have reaffirmed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the sole representative and leader of the Tibetan people," Karma Chophel, speaker of the exile parliament, told journalists. "The Tibetan people will follow any policy decision taken by His Holiness the Dalai Lama."
Chophel said his priority was presenting a united front to Beijing, where Chinese leaders contend the Dalai Lama doesn't represent Tibetans.
Still, while no Tibetan would publicly say anything even hinting at disrespect toward the Dalai Lama, some delegates said it was time to chart their own path.
"We really need to think for ourselves and be independent," said Tenzin Nyesang, 28, of Boston.
A substantial minority of delegates _ many from the younger generation _ argued strongly for putting aside "the middle way" and pushing for independence.
"I don't think any other solution can guarantee the survival of Tibetan culture," said Tenzin Tsundue, 33, a poet who participated in the debate.
But even some delegates who backed an independence movement expressed support for the cautious outcome, saying the open debate and the measured steps were valuable.
"We don't want the Tibetan government to turn its ship 180 degrees and do something ridiculous," said Jamyang Norbu, a writer and a delegate in the independence camp. "Take your time."
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