DHARAMSALA, India: Tibetan leaders opened a six-day meeting over the direction of their struggle with China on Monday, after the Dalai Lama, the region’s exiled spiritual leader, expressed frustration over years of fruitless talks with Beijing.
The meeting here in northern India, called by the Dalai Lama, comes after 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 Tibetan government-in-exile, called for an “open and frank discussion” and new ideas. Much of the debate is expected to boil down to two main choices: to continue pushing for Tibetan autonomy or beginning a movement for independence.
Rinpoche 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 the meetings, said Lobsang Choedak, press officer of the government-in-exile.
On Sunday, the Dalai Lama’s envoys to the last round of talks with Beijing said in a statement that they had presented China with a detailed plan on how Tibetans could meet their autonomy needs within the framework of the Chinese Constitution. Their 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.”
But China apparently rejected the plan and recent “Chinese statements distort the position and proposal” outlined in the paper, the statement said.
Chinese officials said no progress was made in the talks two weeks ago, calling the Tibetan stance “a trick.”
“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 Lodi Gyari, an envoy of the Dalai Lama 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 the meeting this week 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 said they would follow 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. He did not offer any details about how the survey was conducted.