Karma Choephel

Karma Choephel during the Special Meeting in Dharamsala. (Yeshe Choesang)

The Special Meeting called by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India closed today with a strong endorsement of the ‘Middle Way’ approach, which seeks a genuine autonomy within the framework of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but also clearly stated that exile Tibetans might take a position seeking independence if results of engagement were not evident “in the near future”.

Many delegates had specifically urged for the Dalai Lama’s envoys not to be sent again for talks to China, a position that has been noted in the final declaration of the meeting. Delegates told ICT that among most participants, there was a recognition of the importance of retaining some form of engagement with China, with many urging increased efforts to reach out to Chinese people, and Beijing was blamed for the lack of results from the latest round of talks, not the Middle Way approach or the Dalai Lama.

The Special Meeting also provided a strong endorsement of the Dalai Lama’s leadership. Karma Choephel, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, said today: “We re-affirmed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the sole representative and leader of the Tibetan people. [Participants in] the Special Meeting prayed that he is not to talk about semi-retirement or retirement.” Karma Choephel also said that delegates called upon the Chinese authorities to stop the hostile criticism of the Dalai Lama, and re-asserted that he is not to blame for the Spring Uprising, despite Beijing’s attempts to do so. He said that there would be no compromise on the issue of non-violence, and that no alternative would be considered.

The Dalai Lama did not attend the meeting this week, saying that his presence might inhibit discussion, but he has been briefed on the proceedings and will address the delegates and press tomorrow morning.

According to Karma Choephel, “The majority is for the continuation of the Middle Path policy. But if the policy does not produce any results in the near future for solving the Tibetan issue, then the Tibetan people will be forced to change policy to that of [seeking] independence.” Although a specific time-frame was not given, delegates said that periods of two to three years had been discussed but not agreed.

“There is no surprise in the endorsement of the Middle Way approach or strong condemnation of China’s anti-Dalai Lama campaign. The tactics of the Chinese government in undermining the Dalai Lama are clearly having the opposite effect the Tibetans have asserted once again that he represents their interests, and not the Chinese state,” said Mary Beth Markey, Vice President for the International Campaign for Tibet. “Beijing should find more elucidating and troublesome the rejection of the current process of dialogue and the trending away from this approach, including towards a pro-independence alternative. China could very well lose control of this process.”

More than 500 Tibetan exiles attended the six-day meeting, where there was intense debate on the current round of talks with China, which began in 2002, the Middle Way approach, independence as an ideal or strategy, and the impact of the current crackdown in Tibet. Delegates reported an atmosphere of solidarity and a sense of urgency, as well as respect among participants for the diverse views expressed.

After an introductory session on Monday, participants were divided into sub-committees for a week of discussions. All 15 subcommittees had submitted their recommendations, which will be made public tomorrow, according to Karma Choephel.

The Special Meeting stated that “Chinese misrule and bad policies” were to blame for the uprising across the Tibetan plateau beginning in March and lasting for several months. It also “rejected outright” the new Chinese government measures on the need for government approval of reincarnate lamas.

A Tibetan researcher who participated told ICT: “This is really democracy in action. I was discussing Tibet’s future with the Dalai Lama’s sister and several cabinet ministers, as well as other Tibetans from different parts of the diaspora. This was an unprecedented gathering of Tibetans with many perspectives from all over the world that marks a real step forward for the exiles in considering new approaches and strategies.”

The Dalai Lama’s envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, who is based in Europe and who attended all of the discussions, said: “There was a strong sense of responsibility among the participants, as well as a deep sense of urgency emerging from the difficult situation inside. Everyone has taken note of the uncompromising stand of the Chinese government but there is no one way that is so convincing that everyone would agree without exception. There is a more developed political consciousness; people are aware that the future of the Tibetan people is dependent on the development of the situation in Tibet and China and the international environment.”

The meeting took place in the context of a propaganda offensive against the Dalai Lama and the government in exile by Beijing. In a bid to pre-empt the conclusion of the meeting, Beijing again accused the Dalai Lama of covertly campaigning for independence in a commentary by Xinhua.

The U.S. government reiterated its support for continued dialogue on November 21. The White House stated that President Bush, in his last meeting as head of state with Chinese President Hu Jintao, in Lima, Peru, “encouraged the Chinese to continue their dialogue with the Dalai Lama” about the fate of his homeland of Tibet and “also expressed his long standing commitment to religious freedom.” These remarks, suggesting a view that the dialogue should be about the future of 6 million Tibetans, as Tibetans say, rather than the personal fate of the Dalai Lama, as the Chinese demand, may indicate a frustration with the Chinese approach to the talks.

New ‘Charter for Engagement’ launched

A new ‘Charter for Engagement in the Future of Tibet’ has been launched by Tibetan exiles working with Tibetans in Tibet, committing to “engage directly with the challenges facing Tibetans on the plateau” and build a new consensus on the future of Tibet. The initiative, which is sponsored by the Washington, DC and Tibet-based organization, Machik, is outlined on the website Charter for Engagement, and reproduced below. It is signed by prominent Tibetans including the well-known writer, Woeser, who lives in Beijing.


We live in uncertain times. As the new millennium unfolds, we find ourselves caught in the tired politics of the past while our Tibetan sisters and brothers on the plateau bear the burden of marginalization and dispossession. Yet in this moment of political exhaustion, something new is stirring. Guided by a social vision that places unyielding faith in the promise and decency of humanity, a collective desire to seek new pathways toward meaningful and transformative change is now awakening. The change we seek requires a new political and moral imagination-one that trusts in humanity’s potential to embrace a politics of love over a politics of fear.


In these uncertain times, there is an urgent need to redefine the collective task that lies ahead. Any meaningful change for Tibet will require a collective response from the heart-one that transcends differences of language, culture, region, ethnicity, religion, history and education. The challenges of our times can only be solved by working in solidarity and partnership across political, cultural and linguistic divides. Where there is mistrust and resentment, we must work to bring confidence and understanding. Where there is despair and desperation, we must work to inspire hope and empowerment. Where there is cynicism and hostility, we must build faith in the possibility of creating a shared stake in transformative change. And as we seek to breach the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our times, we must find the courage to cross uncharted terrain as we re-envision our broken world as one animated by an abiding human love.

  • Engagement. As Tibet approaches a new threshold, we commit ourselves to engaging directly with the challenges facing Tibetans on the plateau-challenges such as that of language and cultural loss, economic marginalization, resource distribution, land management and the delivery of quality education, healthcare and other social services.
  • Solidarity. We commit ourselves to this direct engagement as an act of love and solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet. We know the wrongs of the past, but we choose to look to the future-the future of those who make their lives on the Tibetan plateau and the future their children will inherit.
  • Nonviolence. Our commitment to engagement is firmly rooted in the principle of nonviolence. Knowing that all life is interdependent and that we are caught in a web of mutuality, we are determined to become the change we seek by finding pathways to social change that value and respect every human life.
  • Building New Capacity. As we seek to engage directly in helping build the future of Tibet, our priority should be to invest in Tibetans themselves. By creating new opportunities for building capacity, knowledge and experience, we will empower a new generation of Tibetans to develop the skills and competence necessary to steward their communities into the future.
  • Building a New Consensus. In embracing the principle of engagement, we commit ourselves to forging a new consensus on the future of Tibet. We will gather and form a new global community around this consensus-one that includes citizens of China as well as that of the world-and through these partnerships, synergies and new bonds of trust, we will find our best hope for meaningful, transformative change for Tibet.

To add your voice to the Charter for Engagement, go to http://www.charterforengagement.com/