Reflections on the Future of the Tibetan Struggle

  by Tsering Topgyal

It is clear that the Chinese expect the Dalai Lama to submit to the status quo and give up any hope of real autonomy for Tibet. This is unacceptable to most Tibetans. It is important that we clearly recognise and face up to this reality. Accordingly, we should not expect much from the dialogue process. This is not to say that we should terminate dialogue altogether.

Any strategy should reconcile means to ends in a context of interdependent choice. Two parties in a conflict have their own goals and means, but rather than mindlessly pursuing a goal and expending one’s resources, cutting−edge strategic theory advises that a sound strategy always calibrates to the means, expected changes in the means and intentions and anticipated responses of one’s adversary. The Tibetan national struggle is no exception to this strategic theorem.

Most Tibetans have a clear appreciation of our strengths and weaknesses and those of the Chinese. Clearly, Tibetans lack material or hard power resources such as a major economy and military strength, but have considerable soft power derived from our Buddhist culture and favourable images. China has considerable hard power resources and some soft power. This explains the discrepancy between high levels of public support and deplorable governmental positions on Tibet in the Western countries. China’s intransigence also reflects this reality. What does this mean for the Tibetan struggle?

The above reality dictates that we moderate our short to mid-term objectives, keeping in mind that Sino−Tibetan politics will not end with an agreement with Beijing. Meanwhile, we should concentrate on mitigating weaknesses, augmenting capacity, devising innovative ways of campaigning and preparing for windows of opportunities in the future. There are four dimensions where capacity building and innovative campaigning should focus.

In exile, we should strengthen the institutions of our government by reforming to deepen democratic practice (giving roles to non−Gelugpas in the search for the next Dalai Lama and in the Council of Regents, turning the Dalai Lama Institution into a constitutional figurehead and replacing the Region- and Sect−based electoral system with multi−party system) and adapting to the changing realities of exile such as emigration to the West by nurturing young Tibetans born and raised in Western countries to play leadership roles in the future and hiring from their ranks to fill up posts in the Representative Offices.

In Tibet, we should build the capacity of our brethren by helping build schools and hospitals in the rural areas, helping them to study in colleges in developed countries and educating them about their rights under the Chinese Constitution and Autonomy Laws.

In China, we should continue to engage the government without expecting to achieve our objectives right away, mindful of the glacial changes in the Chinese body−politic. Since our soft power originates partly from non−violence and dialogue−orientated struggle, it makes even more sense to continue dialoguing as a matter of strategy. At the same, we can adopt a more action−orientated strategy to be more in the face of the Chinese leadership.

We should also see the wrenching but liberalising socio−economic transformations in Chinese cities as opportunities for political and spiritual work. We should open second fronts of our political and religious pursuits, which as of now are geared mainly towards the West, to win over the Chinese people. Translating the websites and promotional materials of the Tibetan NGOs, Tibet Support Groups, exile Monasteries and Dharma Centres into Mandarin Chinese would perhaps be a good start.

Internationally, we should seek out and win over people who may be unaware of, uninterested in, or ambivalent about the Tibet issue, not just preach to the converted. We should closely monitor the ever−changing international balances of power and patterns of enmity and amity in relation to China and seek new allies in peoples and governments, who may come handy during windows of opportunity in the future.