Tibetan exiles agree to follow 'middle way'
By SAM DOLNICK,Associated Press Writer AP - Sunday, November 23
DHARMSALA, India - Hundreds of Tibetan exile leaders debating how to advance their struggle for freedom agreed Saturday to continue to follow the Dalai Lama's path of compromise with China, delegates said.
Tibetans from all over the world have met for six days in Dharmsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile, to discuss whether to press on with a path of compromise with China _ dubbed the "middle way" _ or call for independence for the Himalayan region.
"The majority is supporting the middle way," said Youdon Aukatsang, a member of the Tibetan parliament.
She said the stance will be reviewed at some point in the future if China persists in not granting the region autonomy.
The Tibetan spiritual leader has sought substantial local autonomy for Tibet to protect its unique Buddhist culture, rather than independence from China.
The delegates "reaffirmed that they will follow the Dalai Lama in whatever path he deems most appropriate," said Tenzin Tethong, a former prime minister of the government-in-exile.
Tethong said any decisions reached at the meeting must be approved by the Tibetan parliament, which reconvenes in March.
The delegates also recommended that Tibetan leaders stop sending delegates to meet with Chinese officials "for the time being until we are convinced China is serious about negotiating, and so far China is not serious," said Sonamtopga, a participant in the meeting.
"We are not saying 'end the dialogue' but the formal negotiations must stop now, at least until they invite us," Aukatsang said. "We did our best and the Chinese have not responded favorably."
A formal announcement of the meeting's outcome was expected later Saturday.
Participants have said throughout the week that it was unlikely that the meeting would result in a dramatic break with the Dalai Lama's approach. A number of delegates called for taking a harder line against China, but the consensus seemed to hew toward a more conservative strategy.
The Dalai Lama called the meeting after publicly expressing frustration over the failure of his approach to gain greater autonomy for the region. He has declined to discuss his preference for the best strategy forward, not wanting to tilt the debate.
As a result, the meeting has been an exercise in democracy as the Tibetans tried to formulate a plan without the guidance of "His Holiness," a man they view as closer to a god than a mere leader.
The Dalai Lama was expected to address the delegates Sunday.
Many Tibetans said the opportunity to present their own opinions was a liberating experience that they hoped would lead to more open discussions.
"We really need to think for ourselves and be independent," said Tenzin Nyesang of Boston. "People are being very receptive. This meeting was very peaceful."
For its part, China has made clear that it will not yield in its hard-line approach toward Tibet.
The Dalai Lama's "so-called 'middle way' is a naked expression of 'Tibet independence' aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history," said an editorial Friday in the official Tibet Daily newspaper.
While China allowed the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau to retain their limited democratic governance after returning to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s, they have refused to offer the same concessions to Tibet.
"Any acts to harm or change Tibet's current basic political system are in diametric opposition to our country's constitution and law," the editorial said, in a signal to the exile leaders gathered in Dharmsala.
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