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Speaker of Tibetan parliament-in-exile Karma Choephel

Tibetan exiles worked Tuesday to hammer out a new strategy for their fight against Chinese rule in the region, after the Dalai Lama called for fresh guidance from his followers.
More than 500 prominent Tibetans have gathered at the government in exile’s base in northern India to debate whether to ditch the Dalai Lama’s push for “meaningful autonomy” in favour of a demand for full independence.

B. Tsering, a delegate and president of the Tibetan Women’s Association, said the week of discussions could re-define the movement.

“Everyone feels the big responsibility entrusted to us,” she said after the first sessions of debate. “And there is concern that we are trying to come up with a solid strategic plan in just a few days.
“We are working in groups of 40, hearing representatives express the opinions that they have collected.”

The Tibetan Women’s Association has long supported the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” autonomy policy, but Tsering said it was now time to ask if a new approach was necessary.
“All of us are aware that the Dalai Lama has left no stone unturned in his work and yet he has not had any breakthrough,” she said.

“If at the end of this week the majority feel we should stick to the ‘middle way’, we have to think how we can make it work better. Maybe we have to seek alternatives.”

The Dalai Lama, who is not expected to attend the talks, said earlier this month that the “middle way” had failed, and he was now asking fellow Tibetans how to proceed.

A growing number of young exiles favour a call for independence, but such a policy switch would likely see a sharp drop in international support for their cause — and could also split the community.
Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, a delegate and member in the parliament in exile, said the meeting, which began Monday, was also focused on the current situation in Tibet.


Prime Minister of Tibetan government in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche (L)

In March, protests against Chinese rule in the capital, Lhasa, erupted into violence that spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.

Tibet’s government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent Chinese crackdown. China has reported police as killing just one “insurgent” and blames Tibetan “rioters” for the deaths of 21 people.

Phuntsok said the Dharamshala talks had already revealed some reluctance to abandon the Dalai Lama’s moderate stance.

“The debate over the ‘middle way’ or independence has started, but changing policy is not easy,” he said. “Perhaps we still have to give more energy to the present approach to see if it can work.”
Phuntsok described the meeting as “good brain-storming” that would result in a clear idea of Tibetan opinion.

The strategy session has no policy-making power — any recommendations would require the approval of the Tibetan parliament — but the prime minister in exile said the outcome would be influential.

“The atmosphere has been rather emotionally charged due to the repression in Tibet and the mixed feelings we have of fear and hope,” Samdhong Rinpoche told reporters on Tuesday.
“We are sincerely committed to democracy, and that means respecting the public opinion that is being sought in this meeting.”

The Dalai Lama was smuggled out of Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, since when thousands of his followers have also fled.

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China said Thursday a meeting of Tibetan exiles in India next week would “get nowhere”, saying the participants did not represent the views of most Tibetans. China also warned India from allowing such separatist activities on its soil. 

“The people planning or attending this meeting do not represent the majority of the Chinese people. Their separatist attempts will get nowhere,” AFP reported Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang telling reporters in Beijing. 

“The Chinese government is solemnly against any international activities aimed at splitting China,” Qin said in response to a question on Beijing’s attitude toward the gathering at a regularly scheduled new conference.

Many exiles are impatient with the Dalai Lama’s call for “meaningful autonomy” for his homeland and there are growing calls for outright independence from China. 

“The Indian government has made solemn commitments on several occasions that (it) does not allow any activities on its soil aimed at dividing (China),” Qin said, when asked about the meeting at the press briefing. “We hope that this commitment can be fulfilled,” Qin added. 

More than 500 leading Tibetan exiles will gather for a “special meeting” in Dharamsala, which serves as the base for the Tibetan Government-in-exile, next week to discuss the future of their freedom movement.

The meeting is the largest of its kind in 60 years and was called by the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama in response to lack of any signs of progress in the dialogue process and the worsening state of affairs within Tibet following widespread anti-China protests that broke out in the region earlier this year. 

The Dalai Lama last month said he was losing “faith and trust” in dealing with Beijing for a negotiated settlement over the future of Tibet. The Dalai Lama complained, even after pursuing his middle-way policy of seeking “real and meaningful” autonomy for Tibet for a long time, there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side.

The gathering will be held Nov. 17 to 22. 

India, which shares close historical, cultural and religious ties with Tibet, has been home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees after the Dalai Lama and his supporters fled to India in 1959 following a failed anti-China uprising in the region. 

The latest round of talks between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama ended inconclusively this month, with Beijing emphatically ruling out every Tibetan proposal for a greater autonomy within the constitutional framework of PRC.