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The Middle Way: A Highway for Solving Tibet’s Agony

By Nawang Phuntsog:
In the on-going discussions regarding Tibet’s status among nations, there are two main ideological perspectives – autonomy and independence. These two points of view have been debated, often acrimoniously, for over six decades, and yet a solution to the vexed Tibet question remains elusive. Invariably, the rhetorical gyrations have often generated more heat than light. Two unfortunate facts have, however, remained unchanged. One, the immeasurable suffering of Tibetans in their occupied country has indeed escalated. The repressive policies have become so oppressive towards Tibetans, young and old, nuns and monks that many Tibetans are resorting to self-immolations as acts of resistance. Second, the “Tibet issue” remains as one of the most intractable human rights problems in the world.

A direct relationship exists between the mercurial rise of the Chinese economic prowess and the concomitant human rights violations perpetrated against Tibetans. A myriad of high-tech surveillance gadgets now monitor every movement of Tibetans especially in Lhasa. The most holy place in Tibet has now been turned into one of the most heavily guarded and militarized-zones in the world. The news reports trickling out of Tibet conjure up a terrifying image that the whole country is like a gigantic prison camp. This is a telling commentary for a PRC government that proclaims to have liberated Tibet several decades ago!

Drawing inspiration from a glorification of our past history, the independence protagonists are locked in a by-gone era, when Tibet enjoyed its sovereign status and signed treaties with neighboring countries as equals. Unless the Chinese Government purges all the libraries and museums in the world, there is no way that it can rewrite Tibetan history. His Holiness has candidly stated, “The Chinese government wants me to say that for many centuries Tibet has been part of China. Even if I make that statement, many people would just laugh. And my statement will not change past history. History is history”. Although history is a source of solace and induces pride and confidence in one’s heritage, one must avoid essentialising it, using a romanticized past to address pressing issues of the day at hand. The independence protagonist’s lack of articulation of a strategy to achieve its lofty goal is a problem in itself. Tibetan history is a poor guide for solving the present existential conundrum of Tibetans.

On the other hand, the autonomy protagonists neither deny the past nor turn a blind eye to the urgency and the gravity of the present. Rightly described as “ a mutually beneficial policy based on the principle of justice, compassion, non-violence, friendship and in the spirit of reconciliation for the well-being of the entire humanity”, the Middle Way (MW) policy is indeed revolutionary and visionary in terms of its scope and impact. The inclusion of the spiritual dimension into the political process is a refreshingly new paradigm that “would surely set a new benchmark in a world troubled by ethnic conflict” (Davis, 2008). Inclusivity rather than exclusivity is the bedrock strength of this approach. A spiritual perspective has the sacrosanct ability to transcend self-serving political, social, historical, and economic barriers, which are pernicious stumbling blocks for peaceful solutions. This groundbreaking ideology is destined to become an important area of scholarship in the future and may well be replicated in other strife-ridden settings for arriving at mutually beneficial solutions.

With the goal of securing genuine autonomy as enshrined in Mainland China’s law on National Minority, the Middle Way has garnered international support and has at least opened the doors for negotiation. In recent months, however, the MWA has come under serious criticism and its effectiveness has prematurely been questioned by a handful of Tibetan writers and few disgruntled politicians. This development is in sharp contrast to the way it is being hailed as “the most pragmatic proposal” by many Chinese intellectuals. According to Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) 2012, Chinese legal and academic scholars, from March 2008 to May 2010, published over 900 journal articles highlighting the crucial role of MW for resolving Tibet issue. DIIR (2012) further cites that on May 3, 2009, about 100 Chinese intellectuals, democracy activists, writers, and students submitted a signed petition to His Holiness, in New York, USA, thanking Him for the unwavering emphasis on MW for resolving the Tibet issue peacefully and non-violently. As a Tibetan, I was deeply moved by such genuine gestures from a group least expected. At the same time, it was disappointing that the same DIIR (2012) publication had no mention or inclusion of a single exiled Tibetan writer. It was not clear if the sole focus of the publication on Chinese intellectuals precluded Tibetan writers, or there was a total dearth of scholarly writings on this topic from exiled Tibetans. If the latter is the case, let us join the chorus in unison with the Chinese intellectuals who “are victims of the same authoritarian rule (Xia, 2012).” Xia (2012) further poses intriguing fundamental questions “ whether Tibetans would continue to be Tibetans if there were no Buddhism” and “if the Chinese intellectuals would still be “intellectuals” if they do not have the right to free and independent thinking and the right to pursue truth.”

Serendipitously, I found that the situation of Tibetan protagonists for autonomy or independence share a striking resemblance to that of the ancient Arabian tale, “The Camel’s Nose in the Tent.” This parable may appear a bit off track but the analogous similarities may shed light on the complicated Tibetan context. In its contemporary reality, Tibetans are like the camel negotiating with the owner, the Chinese counterpart, who have propped their own tent on the camel’s land. Extending this analogy further, autonomy protagonists have at least begun negotiating while the independence group is busy questioning the legitimacy of the tent and its owner. The latter group is also critical of the effectiveness of Middle Way (MW), which is the democratically established modus operandi for resolving the Tibet issue. The current Central Tibetan Administration, under the leadership of Skyikong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, has made repeated assurances that his government-in-exile “remains steadfastly committed to the Middle Way and to the resumption of dialogue between Beijing and Dharamsala to resolve the issue of Tibet.” Time has come to present a strong united front with one loud voice that reverberates in all corners of the world. Nothing is more urgent than the mission to bring an end to the agony and intolerable sufferings of Tibetans in Tibet.

The MW policy has evolved over the years with its early incarnation in the now-infamous 17-point Agreement that was reached between the PRC and the then Tibetan Government in 1951. Legal scholars believe that this agreement is indeed the precursor to the concept of “one country, two systems” when it was applied to Hong Kong and Macau with their high degrees of autonomy (Davis, 2012). Davis (2012) further notes that Tibetans are the only national minority with which PRC has entered into a bilateral agreement. Yet, China’s hard line repressive policies have frequently hindered its acceptance on the international stage. The denial of genuine autonomy to Tibetans smacks of racism when Hong Kong and Macau have had higher degrees of autonomy for a long time.

MW is a measured and calculated strategy for solving the Tibet issue. The Law on Regional National Autonomy (LRNA), as enshrined in the PRC Constitution, provides for the protection of minority concerns in the areas of language, education, political representation, and the use of local natural resources. Crafted with logical precision and legal clarity, the Tibetan Memorandum of Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People (2008) is the blueprint for the implementation of MW within the PRC’s Constitutional framework. It is in PRC’s interest to take all the necessary steps to resolve the Tibet issue. Legal scholar, Davis (2012) believes that “ a confident and secure Tibetan community within China would surely offer China greater security than a distraught and downtrodden community effectively under military occupation.” In the interest of promoting sustained stability of economic, security, and international relations, China’s protracted and prolonged delay in solving the Tibet issue is counter-productive. China must recognize that the continued marginalization of Tibetans engenders resentment, alienation, and mistrust that may well lead to civil disobedience and resistance movements unseen so far in the region. It is timely that the Chinese leadership must think outside of the old box and take bold and visionary steps to solve Tibet issue.

Tibetans are a proud race with distinctive history, culture, and language seared deep into the psychosocial fabric of their life. Tibetans are also progressive and embrace modernity, democracy, and development while maintaining fidelity to their core cultural values. Tibetan Buddhist culture is a serious academic research in many parts of the world. Tibetan scholars collaborate with scientists in exploring the intersection of Buddhism with cognitive science, environment, neuroscience etc. Tibetan Diaspora has roots in well over 30 countries where Tibetan ethnicity has not hindered one’s ability to identify with the nationality of the host country. Hence the exiled Tibetan communities returning from different countries will contribute vibrancy, human capital, and international experiences for the rapid economic, cultural, and educational development of Tibet and will enhance international stature for PRC. The Middle Way must then be celebrated and implemented as a mutually beneficial approach.

Davis, M.C. (2012). Tibet and China’s National Minority Policies.
Orbis, 54 (3), 429-446.
Davis, M.C. (2008). Establishing a Workable Autonomy in Tibet. Human
Rights Quarterly, 30, 227-258.
Department of Information and International Relations. (2012).
Middle Way Policy and All Recent Related Documents. Dharamsala:
DIIR, Central Tibetan Administration, H.P. India.
Xia, M. (2012) Self-Immolations and Chinese Intellectuals. SunAffairs
Weekly, v35.
(Source: Phayul)

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