x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tibetan exiles discuss China policy

Tibetan exile leaders opened week-long talks today over the direction of their movement to win autonomy from China.

Deputy Speaker of Tibetan parliament in exile, Gyari Dolma, right, and the speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, Karma Choephel, left, during talks on Tibet, in Dharamshala, on Nov 17 2008.
Deputy Speaker of Tibetan parliament in exile, Gyari Dolma, right, and the speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, Karma Choephel, left, during talks on Tibet, in Dharamshala, on Nov 17 2008.

DHARMSALA, INDIA // Tibetan exile leaders opened week-long talks today over their hopes to win autonomy from China after the Dalai Lama expressed frustration over years of fruitless talks with Beijing. The meeting was called by the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled spiritual leader, following his comments last month bemoaning the lack of any progress by his envoys in talks with the Chinese government since 2002.

Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, called for an "open and frank discussion" and new ideas. He said in an opening speech to the hundreds of delegates that the meeting may not necessarily lead to a new approach with China and that any new path needs to have "the clear mandate of the people." The Dalai Lama was not expected to attend any of the meetings, said Lobsang Choedak, the press officer of the government-in-exile. Yesterday, the Dalai Lama's envoys to the last round of talks with Beijing said that they had presented China with a detailed plan on how Tibetans could meet their autonomy needs within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. The plan says the constitution "contains fundamental principles on autonomy and self-government" that would allow Beijing to "respond to the uniqueness of the Tibet situation."

It calls for the protection for the Tibetan language and culture, restrictions on non-Tibetans moving into Tibet and the rights of Tibetans to create their own government that would "have the power to execute and administer decisions autonomously." But China apparently rejected the plan and recent "Chinese statements distort the position and proposal we have outlined in our paper."

Chinese officials said no progress was made in the talks two weeks ago, calling the Tibetan stance "a trick" and saying it lacked sincerity. "The Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government-in-exile cannot be held responsible for the failure of the Chinese to respond to our sincere and genuine attempts," said the Dalai Lama envoy Lodi Gyari, who has participated in all eight rounds of talks since 2002. "The Chinese leadership keeps on saying that the doors to a dialogue are always open but they haven't shown any willingness to take any step, however small, forward," he said.

China has dismissed this week's meeting as meaningless, saying the participants do not represent the views of most Tibetans. Beijing says the Dalai Lama and his followers are seeking outright independence from Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama has declined to offer his views on the future of the movement because he said he did not want to tilt the debate in any particular direction. Karma Chophel, speaker of parliament in the government-in-exile, said more than 8,000 of 17,000 Tibetans recently surveyed in Tibet about their view said they would follow any decision by the Dalai Lama. More than 5,000 said they wanted Tibetan independence, more than twice the number who wanted to continue with the current approach, he said.

China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for 700 years, although many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time. Chinese forces invaded shortly after the 1949 Communist revolution and the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 amid an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese rule. A senior Chinese official said that Beijing is open to further talks with the Tibetans. The Dalai Lama voiced his impatience with China last month and appeared to give up hope of achieving a form of autonomy from Beijing that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion. He said: "As far as I'm concerned I have given up."

* AP