Middle Way or bust

The year 2008, for many reasons, is likely to go down in the annals of recent Tibetan history as a watershed year. This was the year when Tibetans in Tibet, 49 years after the takeover of their country, demonstrated clearly and loudly that they were still unhappy under Chinese rule; when a new generation of Tibetans in Tibet, spanning the entire society from monks and nomads to farmers and students, became politicised; and when the Tibetan movement assumed a pan-national character, involving people from all three traditional provinces of Tibet in a united and hitherto unprecedented manner. Finally, this was also the year when the Dalai Lama's Middle Way approach, which gives up the demand for independence in return for genuine autonomy, and which he has pursued patiently and unwaveringly since the late 1980s, finally crashed in the face of Beijing's unequivocal rejection. Now, a year on from the widespread anti-Chinese demonstrations of spring 2008, and six months since the 'special meeting' convened by the Dalai Lama to discuss future options for the Tibet movement, it is time to face up to some harsh realities.

After years of leading Dharamsala up the garden path of promised negotiations, Beijing unceremoniously and unambiguously pulled the rug out from under the Dalai Lama's envoys in November 2008. At that time, it categorically rejected his Middle Way approach and the formal proposal that emerged from it, the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People. Not only this, Chinese officials even dismissed the right of the Dalai Lama to represent the Tibetan people. In a news conference in Beijing on 12 November, Zhu Weiqun, the Executive Vice-Minister of the United Front Work Department, accused the Memorandum of seeking "half-independence" and "covert independence". Furthermore, he stated: "We talked with Mr Lodi Gyari" – the Dalai Lama's special envoy – "and his party only because they were the Dalai Lama's private representatives. And we merely talked about how the Dalai Lama should completely give up his splitting opinions and actions, and strive for the understanding of the central authorities and all Chinese people so as to solve the issue concerning his own prospect. We never discussed the so-called 'Tibet issue'."

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian