Tibet movement takes a stop-gap remedy for dissent
AFP - 2 hours 33 minutes ago
NEW DELHI (AFP) - - A gathering of leading Tibetan exiles last week witnessed a rare debate on the future of their movement, but failed to bring the dream of a free Tibet any closer to reality, analysts say.
The unprecedented conclave in the exiles' Indian base of Dharamshala wound up on Saturday with the nearly 600 delegates backing the Dalai Lama's long-standing policy of seeking autonomy, rather than independence, from China.
If that was a victory for Tibet's spiritual leader, it was one that will cause few sleepless nights for the Chinese authorities, according to Barry Sautman, a Tibet expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
"It's all words in the air to them," Sautman told AFP. "As far as they're concerned, the exiles can huff and puff all they like, but they're blowing no one's house down.
"The bottom line is still the same: Unless China suddenly collapses, Tibet will not be independent, nor will it be granted any meaningful autonomy on a par, say, with Hong Kong," Sautman said.
The week-long Dharamshala meet had been presented as an opportunity for younger, more radical Tibetan exiles to voice their frustration with the Dalai Lama's "middle way" of seeking concessions from Beijing through talks.
Their voices were not only heard but also credited in the conclave's final report which noted the "strongly expressed" views of those who insisted that complete independence should be pursued if existing policy continued to yield no results.
The pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) took this as tacit admission that the "middle way" was making no headway.
"It is a gradual shift that has come from a collective, democratic set-up," said TYC vice president Dhondup Dorjee.
"This was a good beginning at a critical time," Dorjee said.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a Tibet analyst at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said he had been "impressed" by the level of open debate in Dharamshala which he stressed was unprecedented in Tibetan history.
While extremely pessimistic of any concrete results emerging from further talks with China, Kondapalli said he was optimistic about the health of the Tibet movement.
"China would like the movement to become more extreme so that they can denigrate it in the eyes of the international community. In that sense, Beijing might be disappointed with the outcome in Dharamshala," he said.
The Chinese government has always vilified the Dalai Lama as a scheming separatist with a covert independence agenda supported by a clique of like-minded advisers.
Most analysts agreed that the 73-year-old Tibetan leader, who fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, had been strengthened by the conclave which reaffirmed his core role in the leadership of the Tibetan movement.
"It was a strategic move," Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet expert at Westminster University in London, said of the decision to call the meeting in the first place.
According to Anand, the Dalai Lama had registered the growing sense of frustration within the Tibetan community and the need to provide it with an outlet before it boiled over untended.
"He knows he must do his best to secure the future stability of the Tibetan movement before he dies or has to step down," Anand said.
Whether his position was strengthened by the meeting or not, the Dalai Lama must now return to the challenge that he has struggled with for decades for so little reward.
His options appear as limited as ever, faced with an implacably intransigent government in Beijing and an international community which, while sympathetic, remains extremely wary of expressions of support that might anger China.
"A lot will depend, as it always has, on what happens inside Tibet itself," said Martin Mills from Aberdeen University.
In March, protests against Chinese rule in the capital, Lhasa, erupted into violence that spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.
Tibet's government-in-exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in a subsequent Chinese crackdown.
"Events in Tibet tend to drive the issue and serious unrest in the future could bring new factors into play, especially with a new president in the White House," Mills said.
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