Tibet Leaders Bid to Revive Drive for Autonomy from China

New Delhi:  Senior Tibetan exiles will meet revered spiritual leader the Dalai Lama this week to kick-start a new push for greater autonomy from China as they try to halt a horrific string of self-immolations.

Exiles in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala will launch a media campaign on Thursday in a bid to pile global pressure on Beijing to resume talks on the issue of autonomy.

The campaign includes a website and social media sites to improve understanding of the "Middle Way" approach for autonomy which the Dalai Lama has long advocated, rather than independence.

The move comes amid a growing sense of desperation among Tibetans against what they view as Chinese oppression of their religion and culture in their homeland.

More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, with most dying of their injuries, in a gruesome protest against Chinese rule of the isolated territory.

"We have appealed to Tibetans not to resort to self-immolation and appealed to the Chinese government to listen to the people and not respond with more repressive policies," Dicki Chhoyang, information minister for the exiled Tibetan government, said.

"This is a campaign to show that there is a reasonable solution on the table," she told AFP.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after invading, and considers the Himalayan region an integral part of its territory.

Beijing says it has brought economic development to Tibet and has questioned the sincerity of the Dalai Lama, who fled for India after a failed uprising in 1959. Beijing accuses the Nobel Peace Prize winner of supporting separatism and violence in the region.

- Talks impasse -
Beijing broke off talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys in 2010, and refuses to deal with his administration, including Tibet's prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay. It has issued no comment on this week's meeting.

Sangay was elected to the new position in 2011 after the Dalai Lama gave up political duties, but the Harvard-educated scholar lacks the spiritual leader's high profile.

Despite his political retirement, the Dalai Lama is likely to take centre-stage on Thursday for the launch in Dharamsala as organisers seek to generate maximum publicity for their cause.

The "Middle Way" includes handing Tibetans decision-making positions in the region. Sangay says it does not pose a threat to the Chinese Communist Party's rule.

The approach was endorsed by US President Barack Obama in February when he met the Dalai Lama in Washington, a move that angered Beijing.

Robbie Barnett, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University, said the approach has not made major progress since the Dalai Lama retired from his political position, despite its backing from the US and other Western governments.

Barnett said Tibetan leaders have failed to appease vocal critics within the exile community who call for Tibetans to push for total independence and who argue that Beijing will never agree to any concessions on autonomy and the return of exiles.

"Talks are always possible, but any positive outcome would require exceptional skill and patience on the Tibetan side, and a shift in policy direction by the Chinese side," he said.

China held nine rounds of dialogue with the Dalai Lama's envoys from 2002 to 2010 before they stalled, and the process produced no visible results.

Barnett also said Tibetan leaders are aware that they only have a limited amount of time to utilise the Dalai Lama's star power now that the totem of the Tibetan movement is winding down at the age of 78.

"The issue facing exiled Tibetans is how their movement will retain a significant role beyond the lifetime of the Dalai Lama," he told AFP.

"Or whether they can get Beijing to agree to negotiate with them after the Dalai Lama era, and as China grows in power."

NDTV Beeps - your daily newsletter

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................