Editorials are the opinion of the members of the Editorial Board.  Editorials are by their nature opinionated, and are not intended to be "neutral."  The Editors attempt to be fair in their analyses, but they are expressing their own opinions.  The Editors invite responses from readers, especially if they disagree with an opinion expressed in an editorial.

  • Why the Scottish Referendum was great for Tibet By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review   Many Tibetans eagerly followed the Scottish independence referendum.  Now the results are in and 55% of voters chose to stay with ...
    Posted Sep 20, 2014, 5:26 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • TPR's Statement on Receiving 2014 Lhakar Award for Journalism By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review   (Click photo to enlarge) The editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review is deeply honored to receive the 2014 Lhakar Award ...
    Posted Sep 2, 2014, 6:08 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Happy "Captive Nations Week"   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama followed all his predecessors since Harry Truman and officially proclaimed the commemoration of “Captive ...
    Posted Jul 30, 2014, 6:03 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Who’s the Boss?: China’s White Paper on Hong Kong   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  On June 10, 2014, China released a White Paper on Hong Kong’s regional autonomy known as “one country, two systems ...
    Posted Jul 10, 2014, 12:49 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • A "Partial-Middle Way" Campaign is Launched in Dharamsala   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  In early January 2014, a TPR editorial called for a more level-headed debate on independence/autonomy for Tibet.  That editorial ...
    Posted Jun 9, 2014, 8:08 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • "Getting to Yes" in Sino-Tibetan Dialogue   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  The classic negotiation book “Getting to Yes”, by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher and anthropologist William Ury, describes how a successful ...
    Posted Mar 7, 2014, 6:26 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Dharma Kings: Recalling the Tibetan Empire Era   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Many Tibet supporters know that Tibet was an independent country prior to the 1949-50 invasion by the People’s Republic ...
    Posted Feb 8, 2014, 6:15 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Freedom, Independence, and Autonomy: A Little More Accuracy Please   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  As part of TPR’s effort to contribute toward a more level-headed discussion on the independence/autonomy debate, we believe ...
    Posted Feb 3, 2014, 7:33 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Stumbling Toward a More Level-Headed Debate on Independence v. Autonomy in 2014?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  For those interested in the development of the Tibetan people’s young democracy in exile, 2013 saw some dramatic internal developments ...
    Posted Jan 9, 2014, 5:59 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Living at Gunpoint: A review of Woeser and Wang's "Voices from Tibet"   By Bhuchung D. Sonam (Member of the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review) Review of Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage by Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong Translated ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2013, 6:58 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Our Belated Response to the Sikyong's "Ten Questions"   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Photo: DIIR/Tibet.net In August 2013, on the anniversary of his second year in office, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay gave an ...
    Posted Dec 19, 2013, 6:11 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Infected with Politics: WHO and China Turn Public Health into Political Battleground   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  On October 14th, the doctors at Delek Hospital, the main hospital for the hundred and fifty thousand Tibetan refugees in India ...
    Posted Dec 22, 2013, 5:08 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Tibetan Democracy Takes a Step Backwards   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  On September 20, 2013, the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE) spent an entire session censuring Member of Parliament (MP) Karma Chophel ...
    Posted Oct 24, 2013, 6:39 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Response to Chitue Jamyang Soepa by the volunteer editors of The Tibetan Political Review བོད་ཀྱི་ཆབ་སྲིད་བསྐྱར་ཞིབ་དྲ་ བའི་དང་བླངས་རྩོམ་སྒྲིག་པ་དག་གིས་སྤྱི་འཐུས་འཇམ་དབྱངས་བཟ ...
    Posted Oct 23, 2013, 5:55 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Hu Jintao's Genocide Indictment: What Does it Mean?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  The scene: Zhongnanhai Home for Retired Comrades, Beijing   The cast: Hu Jintao and his Personal Secretary   Date: 7:00 a.m ...
    Posted Oct 13, 2013, 8:42 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • A Fake Potala, and Fake History   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review    The great American author William Faulkner wrote, in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It's not even ...
    Posted Aug 6, 2013, 5:53 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Tashi Delek Comrade? The Sikyong Accepts Communist Rule in Tibet   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review    In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC on May 8, 2013, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay made three ...
    Posted Jun 4, 2013, 5:36 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • To Be or Not Be: Should Tibetans in India Assert Indian Citizenship?     By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review   During Hu Jintao’s visit to Delhi in March 2012, about 200 Tibetans found themselves summarily detained for peacefully expressing their ...
    Posted Apr 26, 2013, 6:17 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Will the Tibetan Parliament’s March 10 Statement Chill Free Speech?     By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review   In its March 10 statement this year, the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile made a far-reaching assertion.  The Parliament warned the ...
    Posted Mar 25, 2013, 6:33 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Parading the Red Flag and Its Dangers   By the Editorial Board of Tibetan Political Review, March 12, 2013 Events At a press conference in Dharamsala, India, on 17 February 2013, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee said that he would ...
    Posted Mar 14, 2013, 7:38 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • February 13: A New Tibetan Holiday     By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  February 13 has emerged as a potentially important new holiday in the Tibetan calendar, in a development that could indicate new ...
    Posted Mar 13, 2013, 8:41 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Revisiting the "Tenzingang Incident" after the Delhi Rape/Murder Case   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  The topic of gender violence has been in the news recently, unfortunately, following the horrific rape suffered by a 23-year ...
    Posted Jan 21, 2013, 2:03 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Tibetan Translation: Can Some Good Come From the RFA Controversy? ཨེ་ཤེ་ཡ་རང་དབང་རླུང་འཕྲིན་ཁང་གི་རྙོག་གླེང་ནས་དོན་འབྲས་བཟང་པོ་ཞིག་བྱུང་ཐུབ་བམ། available ...
    Posted Jan 2, 2013, 7:04 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Interpreting Hu Jintao's Speech at the 18th Party Congress   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Outgoing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Hu Jintao delivered a long speech to the 18th Party Congress that was published on ...
    Posted Dec 18, 2012, 6:47 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Can Some Good Come From the RFA Controversy?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Watching the Radio Free Asia (RFA) controversy unfold has been a painful process, not the least because it threatens to overshadow ...
    Posted Dec 8, 2012, 5:57 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Tibetan Translation: Are the Speaker and Kalon Tripa stifling free speech? ཚོགས་གཙོ་དང་སྲིད་སྐྱོང་རྣམ་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་སྨྲ་བརྗོད་རང་དབང་བཀག་སྡོམ་བྱེད་ཀྱི་ཡོད་དམ། available at ...
    Posted Oct 24, 2012, 6:12 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Tibet Fund Receives $2 Million, and Searches for a New Executive Director   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  In an exciting development, Tibet Fund has been awarded a $2 million grant by the U.S. Agency for International Development ...
    Posted Jun 9, 2013, 5:22 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • The Speaker and the Kalon Tripa Respond to the Free Speech Suppression Controversy   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  It appears that the Speaker of Parliament and the Sikyong (formerly Kalon Tripa) both used their closing speeches at the Special ...
    Posted Oct 12, 2012, 12:02 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Why China's Next Leader Is Unlikely to be Soft on Tibet   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  Some in the Tibetan exile community and Tibet supporters have stated hopefully that Xi Jinping, expected to be the next President ...
    Posted Oct 5, 2012, 6:37 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Are the Speaker and Kalon Tripa stifling free speech?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  A certain defensiveness is settling over the elected leadership of the Tibetan government-in-exile (TGIE).  The self-immolation crisis in ...
    Posted Sep 24, 2012, 6:24 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Addressing a Future Kalon Tripa Vacancy   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review Now that His Holiness has devolved all his political powers and the Kalon Tripa is the political leader, the time has ...
    Posted Sep 3, 2012, 5:47 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • A New “Contact Group” for Coordinated International Diplomacy on Tibet?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review At a time when Tibetans mourn the 49th self-immolation in Tibet, some uplifting news comes out of Washington DC.  Two ...
    Posted Aug 17, 2012, 8:03 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • The Kalon Tripa Visits Down Under, and Comes Up with Surprises   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay’s recent trip to Australia -- his first to the Land Down Under since his August 2011 inauguration ...
    Posted Jun 29, 2012, 11:24 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • The Impact of the Resignations of Gyari & Gyaltsen   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review One June 3, 2012, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) announced that Kalon Tripa Lobsang Sangay had accepted the resignations of ...
    Posted Jun 20, 2012, 6:47 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Woser and Lobsang Sangay Discuss "Unity" and the Freedom to Criticize   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review     The Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woser has written a sharp critique touching on the future course of Tibetan democracy.  The context ...
    Posted May 24, 2012, 9:07 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Can China be Trusted to Keep a Bargain?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review The bargain that the Obama administration thought it had made with China, regarding the fate of blind human rights legal advocate ...
    Posted May 7, 2012, 6:38 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Interpreting Beijing’s Response to the Self-Immolations   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review When the Tibetan monk Tapey self-immolated in 2009, and then when, beginning in March 2011, a number of Tibetans began ...
    Posted Apr 12, 2012, 8:11 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • The Balancing Act of the Exile Tibetan Government    By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review Originally published in the journal Cultural AnthropologyIn a startling turn of events, at least thirty Tibetans in Tibet have set ...
    Posted Apr 12, 2012, 7:32 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Speculation on Decoding Lodi Gyari's Statement on Lobsang Sangay   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review On March 23, 2012, Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, issued a statement that was carried ...
    Posted Apr 12, 2012, 8:56 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • To Deal or Not to Deal?   By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review A debate between two Taiwanese leaders is once again bringing up the issue of Tibet, in a way that raises an ...
    Posted Mar 15, 2012, 9:51 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • The Tibetan and Chinese Prime Ministers Address the Self-Immolations    By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review In a strange coincidence, February 14 saw articles on both Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan prime minister in exile, and Wen Jiabao ...
    Posted Feb 28, 2012, 7:42 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Deciphering Chinese Propaganda on Tibet    By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review   With the self-immolation crisis spreading and Tibet under undeclared martial law, Chinese propaganda can be unintentionally revealing.  It shows what ...
    Posted Feb 13, 2012, 7:03 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • What Future for the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue?    By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review   “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  This Zen Buddhist koan is sometimes cited by those who follow the ups ...
    Posted Feb 6, 2012, 6:50 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Canada Secretly Saw Tibet as "Qualified for Recognition as an Independent State"    By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review     Declassified documents from 1950 through the 1960s show that Canada considered Tibet to be “qualified for recognition as an independent state ...
    Posted Jan 24, 2012, 9:09 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Dim Sum Surprise: Why the Hong Kong Model Won't Save Tibet   By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review Proponents of the Middle Way policy have recently been placing increased hope on Chinese law.  Exhibit A in this argument is ...
    Posted Jan 3, 2012, 7:22 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • China's Crackdown in Tibet Caught on Camera   By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review Recently, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile released a video on its official online TV site showing a 2008 Chinese police raid ...
    Posted Dec 22, 2011, 6:44 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
  • Reviewing the First 100 Days of the New Tibetan Administration   By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review Speaking in Paris on November 26, 2011, the Kalon Tripa, Lobsang Sangay, commented that the first 100 days of his administration ...
    Posted Dec 28, 2011, 5:41 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
Showing posts 1 - 47 of 47. View more »

Lobsang Sangay Walks the Middle Way in Washington

Autonomy, Ethnicity, and Self-Immolation.  [READ MORE]


Nepal explicitly recognized Tibet as an independent country.  [READ MORE]



Important questions about the revisions to the TIbetan Charter.  [READ MORE]

The candidates' views on Tibetan autonomy within the PRC [READ MORE]

Candidate Tashi Wangdi

Wangdi is a formidable candidate in the Kalon Tria race.  [READ MORE]

We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening the Tibetan government-in-exile, where the Kalon Tripa has an important role.  [READ MORE]

We compare the candidates' positions on strengthening ties between Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.  [READ MORE]

Fortunately, both major Kalon Tripa candidates have clearly stated their policies on this important issue.  [READ MORE] 

Unfortunately, Tibetan voters are in the dark on the sources of campaign funds.  [READ MORE]

We are troubled by the personal attacks emerging in the 2011 Tibetan election.   [READ MORE]

In this editorial, we examine key aspects of Tethong's policy on possibly the most important issue facing the electorate: the future course of the Tibetan struggle.  [READ MORE]

While it is still too early to project with certainty the person who will win in March, it has become clear that he is the frontrunner.  [READ MORE]

The Kalon Tripa race has its first Sarah Palin incident; Norbu asserted that Sangay stated he wants to be the "Obama of China."  [READ MORE]

Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa 
and the Problem With Proxy Websites
Widespread campaigning through the internet is generally a positive development, but the website for Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa perfectly illustrates some drawbacks as well.  [READ MORE]

The Editorial Board has attempted to summarize the job descriptions for these two positions.  It is our hope that clarity on these offices' responsibilities will help voters better evaluate the candidates.  

Lobsang Jinpa clearly set out some of his policy positions, which is a step that we hope other candidates will emulate.  [READ MORE] 

Youth v. Experience

One of the larger debates related to the 2011 Kalon Tripa election is that of youth versus experience.

Personality v. Policy

Of all the candidates, little is yet known about what they actually stand for.  That is because, so far, their statements have been largely about the candidates themselves, rather than what policies they would implement if elected.  [READ MORE]

Reflections on the 

The Zurich debate between Lobsang Sangay and Tenzin Namgyal Tethong shows stark differences.  [READ MORE...] 

The essence of Lobsang-la’s article is that the Tibetan voting process should be made easier. Some of his suggestions are good, but some seem politically naïve.   [READ MORE...]

A troubling issue is Dolma-la's assertion that the success of Tibetan refugees is -- and should be -- based on foreign hand-outs rather than their own hard work.  [READ MORE...]

Why the Scottish Referendum was great for Tibet

posted Sep 20, 2014, 5:20 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Sep 20, 2014, 5:26 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  

Many Tibetans eagerly followed the Scottish independence referendum.  Now the results are in and 55% of voters chose to stay with the U.K.  We believe that this entire referendum process is a positive development for Tibet.

The many parallels between Scotland and Tibet are striking.  The Scots are a proud highland nation with a long history, like Tibetans.  The Scots number 5.3 million, to 6 million Tibetans.  The U.K. depends on Scotland for many of its natural resources like oil, while China exploits Tibet’s minerals and hydro resources.  The British military stations all its nuclear weapons in Scotland, while the Chinese military considers Tibet an important strategic base.  Many English have an emotional attachment to the idea of their country including Scotland, while many Han Chinese currently cannot conceive of their country without Tibet.

The differences between Scotland and Tibet do not need stating: the Scots live in a democracy that respects human rights, Scotland has its own parliament and some autonomous powers, and no Scot has been sent to prison or tortured for nonviolently advocating independence or autonomy this century.

There are several reasons why the outcome of the Scottish referendum has been good for Tibet.

The very fact that the British government ever agreed to respect the outcome of the Scottish referendum is a stunning example of the very best in democracy and self-determination.  Simply put: the British government was prepared to let Scotland go, if the Scottish people wanted to.  And the democratic decision-making process over this monumental question did not lead to instability; ultimately it may have even strengthened the British union.

This is a shining example of how a civilized country respects the right to self-determination.  Ultimately, it didn’t matter if “losing” Scotland would be economically, militarily, or emotionally hard for the U.K.  That is because Scotland was not Britain’s to “lose” – Scotland belongs to the Scots, and it is their right to decide whether to stay or go.  The rest of the U.K. can only try to convince the Scots to stay.

A few Chinese are apparently noticing this example. According to Foreign Policy:

Seemingly addressing the referendum -- and perhaps Beijing's propensity to quiet alleged separatists in western regions Tibet and Xinjiang with force -- one wrote pointedly, "there's nothing wrong with undertaking a referendum, without outside interference, to determine the future of a people."  He applauded U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's reliance on "persuasion, not mobilizing troops" as the only "civilized and respectable way" to maintain unity.  Another user wondered aloud "why every time I hear about dissolution, it's outrageous, heinous, the end of the world.  What's so wrong with splitting up?"  One was indifferent to the vote's outcome, writing, "The fact that a people comprising one-third of the land mass of the existing country can vote on their own independence is already amazing."

However, Chinese government’s outlook on issue is clear as Premier Li Keqiang told British Prime Minister David Cameron that China wanted to see a "strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom".  Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, is quoted in South China Morning Post as saying: "From the Chinese official perspective, the People's Republic of China has never been kind to the idea of such referendums for Taiwan or anywhere else within what's considered Chinese territory."

The Scottish referendum embodies the principle that the political ties that bind one people to another must be made through consent. 

The corollary to this is that a civilized country knows it is not the end of the world if a people under its rule wants to secede.  Life goes on, and maybe even better in the long run.  (Think: even from China’s perspective, it “gave up” Mongolia and China is fine.  Chinese nationalists gripe about a few Pacific islands but not about Mongolia. China has moved on.) 

Internally among the Scottish people, it was exciting to see the impassioned debate between those supporting independence and those who wanted to remain within the U.K.  While some anti-independence politicians were accused of fear-mongering, on the whole the debate was carried out with democratic vigor.   It was especially interesting to see the Scottish National Party’s detailed blueprints on its vision for what an independent Scotland would actually look like.

Interestingly, the referendum only had one question: “should Scotland be an independent country?”  Prime Minister Cameron took a calculated risk in not allowing a choice for greater Scottish autonomy.  At the last minute as it looked like “yes” might prevail, London promised Scotland greater autonomy if “no” won.  This meant that a “no” vote could have either supported the status quo or greater autonomy.   From a democratic perspective, this muddied the water a bit, and shows the importance of having any referendum’s questions be set out with integrity.

The Scottish referendum also proves that a civilized country uses persuasion and incentives to convince a people to stay, rather than threats or military force.  The three major U.K. political parties’ last-minute pledge promising greater devolution of power to the Scottish parliament very well could have decisively swung the tide of the vote to “no”.  But this would not have happened if it didn’t look like “yes” was about to win.

That is why Time Magazine declared that the Scottish “independence movement has lost the vote but won the argument.”  Thanks to the independence movement, led by the Scottish National Party, the status quo will change.  London will have to carry through on its desperate, last-minute promise to devolve greater powers to Scotland. 

The real winner in the Scottish referendum has not been the “yes” or “no” campaigns.  The real winner has been the Scottish people.  In exercising their right to self-determination, they (and they alone) have made their choice based on their own wishes and interests.  One day surely the Tibetan people will do the same.    


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TPR's Statement on Receiving 2014 Lhakar Award for Journalism

posted Sep 2, 2014, 6:04 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Sep 2, 2014, 6:08 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  

(Click photo to enlarge)

The editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review is deeply honored to receive the 2014 Lhakar Award for Journalism.  Since its founding in 2010, TPR has strived to provide a constructive discussion of the important political issues facing the Tibetan nation, and especially to provide a forum open to all viewpoints.  We would also like to congratulate the other Lhakar Award recipients this year: Kenpo Kartse, Chungdak Koren, Jigme Ugyen, Lhamo Tso, Alan Cantos, and Jose Esteve.


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Happy "Captive Nations Week"

posted Jul 30, 2014, 5:53 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jul 30, 2014, 6:03 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama followed all his predecessors since Harry Truman and officially proclaimed the commemoration of “Captive Nations Week”.   Interestingly, based on the original 1959 Congressional resolution, one of the captive nations being commemorated was Tibet.

According to Slate, Captive Nations Week is an “artifact of the Cold War”.  The original Congressional resolution establishing this commemoration declared that the “liberation and independence” of communist-occupied nations was “vital to the national security of the United States.”

The resolution denounced Communist Russia’s direct or indirect role in the “subjugation of the national independence” of countries including: Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine, Estonia, Romania, mainland China, North Korea, and Tibet.  While clearly understood through the lens of anti-communism, this resolution also expressed powerful moral support for the aspirations of these captive nations.  It also showed that the U.S. Congress considered Tibet to be separate from China.

Even more, the resolution linked the “desire for liberty and independence” to the cause of peace.  It declared that the fulfilment of these goals is a “powerful deterrent to war and one of the best hopes for a just and lasting peace.

Last week, President Obama declared that the United States stands “with all who still seek to throw off their oppressors and embrace a brighter day….  America extends our support to all peoples seeking to build true democracy, real prosperity, and lasting security.  While the road to self-determination is long and treacherous, history proves it is passable.”

Clearly President Obama’s declaration has no more than symbolic significance for Tibet, and even that comes largely indirectly through the original Congressional resolution that mentioned Tibet.  U.S. policy does not change based on this declaration.

However, the continued commemoration of the subject of the original 1959 resolution does deserve attention.   In addition to its historical significance, it illustrates some of the enduring principles, arguments, and ideals that continue to have resonance for any captive nations still seeking their freedom.

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Who’s the Boss?: China’s White Paper on Hong Kong

posted Jul 8, 2014, 8:00 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jul 10, 2014, 12:49 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

On June 10, 2014, China released a White Paper on Hong Kong’s regional autonomy known as “one country, two systems.”<FN1>  Much of the White Paper was filled with economic statistics of the region and self-congratulating statements about how much China has helped the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) since Britain handed it back to China in 1997.  As with many Chinese white papers, this document contained glowing hyperbole like “‘one country, two systems’ policy enjoys growing popularity in Hong Kong, winning the wholehearted support from Hong Kong compatriots as well as people in all other parts of China [and] is also thought highly by the international community.”  However, the White Paper also made some startling and troubling statements about the limits of the HKSAR’s autonomy and democracy.  Indeed, the White Paper even notes that some Hong Kong residents are “confused and lopsided in the understanding of ‘one country, two systems’.”  This editorial focuses on some of these statements that sent shockwaves throughout Hong Kong, and the brave reaction of some Hong Kong residents.<FN2>

Hong Kong’s autonomy is limited

The HKSAR’s autonomy was promulgated pursuant to Article 31 of the Chinese Constitution which states that China “may establish special administrative regions when necessary.”
<FN3>  Although the White Paper describes the HKSAR as enjoying a “high degree of autonomy,” it also points out that this does not mean full autonomy nor decentralized power.  The autonomy is also limited in time to 50 years from 1997, as we pointed out in a previous editorial, which suggests that China is merely using autonomy as a temporary tactic to ease Hong Kong back into the “motherland”.<FN4>

China views “one country, two systems” as a limited concept in which Hong Kong’s autonomy is delegated by Beijing and not an inherent power.  This means, of course, that China can expand or restrict Hong Kong’s autonomous powers and freedoms as it wishes because Hong Kong does not have an inherent right to autonomy.  Autonomy is a privilege granted by Beijing, and like all privileges, it can be revoked or modified.  Moreover, an investigation by Reuters revealed that the Chinese government quietly operates a “Shadow Cabinet” in Hong Kong (the Liaison Office), without which the Hong Kong government cannot take any major action, and which exerts its power in a myriad of hidden ways.

China’s White Paper points out that the most important thing in “one country, two systems” is upholding China’s sovereignty.  The White Paper explicitly states that “two systems” is subordinate to the “one country” principle.  This means that China will allow the HKSAR to have capitalism, limited democracy and autonomy (for 50 years) but Beijing reserves the right to take action to protect China’s sovereignty and the “unity” of the nation wherever and whenever China feels it threatened.

Such actions could be directed at perceived threats from Hong Kong residents who protest against China or the Communist Party.  Official Chinese commentators have noted that the People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong could be mobilized if necessary.  In a conflict between China’s “sovereignty” and Hong Kong’s “autonomy,” Beijing makes clear the winner will always be China’s sovereign rights and powers.

Beijing is the court of final appeal

The Basic Law is the HKSAR’s mini-constitution and governs the administration of the HKSAR.
<FN6>  Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s courts have jurisdiction over all local civil and criminal laws (except as to defense and foreign affairs) and the right of final adjudication.  China allowed Hong Kong to retain the common law system that Britain had used in its former colony, including the concept of judicial independence.  However, the White Paper reiterates the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) has the right of interpret and amend the Basic Law and this includes the right to review judicial decisions by Hong Kong courts that may interpret the Basic Law.  The White Paper calls upon Hong Kong courts to consult the NPC Standing Committee before making any decisions on interpretation of the Basic Law.

Essentially, this means that Hong Kong’s highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, does not have the final word on cases that interpret the Basic Law.  Instead, the NPC, or its Standing Committee, can overturn decisions by Hong Kong’s courts.  Since the NPC is a rubber-stamp parliament that is subordinate to the Party, ultimately the final decision on the Basic Law governing Hong Kong rests with the Chinese Communist Party.  Beijing will effectively interpret and decide any cases concerning the Basic law and Hong Kong judges are being told to take that into account.  The White Paper called into question the judicial independence of Hong Kong judges, which sparked protests by Hong Kong lawyers.

Only “patriotic” citizens need apply

Perhaps the most troubling provision of China’s White Paper is the section which states that above all else, the people who govern Hong Kong should be “patriotic” and “love the country.”  In fact, the White Paper explicitly states “loving the country is the basic political requirement for Hong Kong’s administrators.”  If they are not patriotic or cannot be loyal to China, then the HKSAR will deviate from the right direction and put Hong Kong in jeopardy, according to the White Paper.  This is a clear signal that Beijing will only tolerate “loyal” subjects to rule Hong Kong and, of course, China means loyal to the Party.

Beijing has promised Hong Kong full universal suffrage by 2017 (20 years after China took over Hong Kong).  While the White Paper states that Hong Kong citizens will be allowed to directly elect their Chief Executive in 2017, it also states that the chief executive “must be a person who loves the country and Hong Kong.”  This means that Beijing will control the roster of candidates and must pre-approve the list of candidates for chief executive.  If Beijing does not approve a candidate for chief executive, or if Beijing decides Hong Kong’s chief executive is not “patriotic” enough, Beijing could nullify his/her election or remove him/her from office.

But Hong Kong Residents Fight Back, For Democracy

How have Hong Kong citizens reacted?  An estimated 800,000 Hong Kong residents participated in an unofficial vote on a more democratic process in choosing the city’s top officials.  On July 1, a half-million Hong Kongers calling for democracy blocked streets in the central business district.  Demonstrators invoked the French Revolution by chanting “Do You Hear the People Sing”, and their banners read “We don’t want communism in Hong Kong” and “Say No to Communist China”.<FN8>

According to Time Magazine, these protesters are “politically sophisticated and well-educated citizens [who are] are outraged that they still have to agitate for these issues to be addressed, instead of being allowed to resolve them through a genuinely democratic legislature and through a leader who has a popular mandate.”<FN9>

The New York Times quoted one young protest leader as saying, “We believe to change society, we need not our words to appeal to politicians, but to use activism to pressure them.”  Another leader was quoted as saying, “If the government refused to seriously consider the demand, this group of people, more of them will change from sympathetic to active support, and the sympathetic people may also start all kinds of noncooperative actions.  And just think about, how can a government govern if the whole society refuses to cooperate with you.”

The people of Hong Kong are struggling with important issues: democracy versus communist party rule, their identity as Hong Kongers versus Chinese citizens, and how to protect their way of life from an authoritarian government in Beijing that is intent on eroding as many basic freedoms as it can get away with.  Fortunately, it appears that many Hong Kong residents are becoming inspired to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the demands and threats from Beijing.

What does this mean for Tibet?

China does not offer Tibet the “high degree of autonomy” given Hong Kong, which is based on Article 31 of the PRC Constitution.  Tibet’s nominal autonomy is based on Article 4 of the PRC Constitution
<FN10> and China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL).<FN11>  Under the REAL, Tibet is given far less autonomy than Hong Kong.  For example, China has never promised Tibetans they could one day elect their regional leaders and clearly Tibetans enjoy far fewer freedoms than Hong Kong residents.  So China’s White Paper on Hong Kong may have limited relevance to Tibet because China is disinclined to give Tibet the expanded autonomy and freedoms that Hong Kong currently enjoys.

Additionally, as we noted in our recent editorial, the current Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) leadership is not actually seeking the substance of Hong Kong-type autonomy because the CTA renounces democracy for Tibet and accepts the current structure of Communist Party rule in Tibet (the Partial Middle Way).

Interestingly, one unintended benefit of the Partial Middle Way being so vastly short of the autonomy practiced by Hong Kong is that it gives a perfect rebuttal to China's claim that it represents "covert independence."  If China accepts Hong Kong's relatively greater "high degree of autonomy" (in China's own words), then it is hard for China to have a principled objection to Tibet seeking far less.  Or at least, China might reject it on other grounds, but it is impossible to seriously consider the Partial Middle Way as "covert independence" if Hong Kong remains part of China with far more freedoms.

Although the Partial Middle Way asks for less than the substance of Hong Kong’s autonomy, the current CTA leadership has at times stated that Article 31 of the PRC Constitution could apply to Tibet (although China has expressly rejected this proposal).
<FN13>  If Article 31 is relevant, then naturally China’s views on Hong Kong’s autonomy are extremely relevant.  China’s White Paper on Hong Kong’s autonomy sheds light on how China views this form of autonomy and the “one country, two systems” formula.

Assuming for the sake of discussion that China were to give Tibet a “high degree of autonomy” similar to Hong Kong, it would surely be with the same limitations.  Such autonomy could be revoked or constrained at any time, and there would be no independent enforcement mechanism.  Tibet would likely have no more ability to enforce the deal than it did in the 1950s under the Seventeen Point Agreement.  China would have the right of final review on any cases concerning Tibet’s autonomy, and the Communist Party would make sure only “patriotic” and “loyal” Tibetans could govern Tibet.

Regardless of what form of autonomy the CTA is seeking for Tibet, China’s White Paper on Hong Kong should give Tibetans some concern.  A realistic look at this issue presents an opportunity for those who care about Tibet’s future to be clear about the hard choices that various approaches involve.  If the dialogue between China and the CTA resumes, the Tibetan side should take care to address these issues in detail.   Such an honest, pragmatic conversation about the practical challenges of various policy options would greatly improve the democratic culture in Tibetan exile society, and would likely lead to better decision-making as well.



1. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-06/10/c_133396891.htm.  Alarm in Hong Kong at Chinese white paper affirming Beijing control, http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/11/world/asia/hong-kong-beijing-two-systems-paper/.

2. http://english.people.com.cn/constitution/constitution.html.

3. http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/editorials/dimsumsurprisewhythehongkongmodelwontsavetibet.

4.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-hongkong-china-specialreport-idUSKBN0F62XU20140701

5.  http://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/index.html.

6.  Hong Kong Lawyers in Mass Silent Protest over China’s White Paper, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/silent-06272014145550.html

7.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/hong-kong-marches-holds-referendum-in-protest-of-chinese-control/2014/07/01/dc933f8c-00fb-11e4-8572-4b1b969b6322_story.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/02/world/asia/hong-kong-china-democracy-march.html?_r=0

8.  http://time.com/2948545/hong-kongs-people-are-left-wondering-how-long-they-will-have-to-wait-for-genuine-democracy/

9.  http://english.people.com.cn/constitution/constitution.html.

10.  http://www.cecc.gov/resources/legal-provisions/regional-ethnic-autonomy-law-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china-amended.

11.  http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/editorials/apartial-middlewaycampaignislaunchedindharamsala.

12.  http://tibet.net/2013/08/25/lobsang-sangay-tibets-prime-minister-in-exile-rallies-tibetans-in-portland-2/. See also the Sikyong’s comments to the Council on Foreign Relations “That is -- that is what we seek. Now, you raised a very important question, whether Hong Kong be a solution. As per Article 31, a specially administrated region is allowed in the Chinese constitution based on that -- basic law was drafted, and one country, two system was allowed. And that is allowed for Macau. Hence, what I say is that Tibet is not a constitutional challenge for China, because there is already a constitutional provision -- Article 31. . ..” http://www.cfr.org/tibet/conversation-sikyong-lobsang-sangay/p30679.

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A "Partial-Middle Way" Campaign is Launched in Dharamsala

posted Jun 9, 2014, 7:55 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jun 9, 2014, 8:08 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

In early January 2014, a TPR editorial called for a more level-headed debate on independence/autonomy for Tibet.  That editorial called for the debate to be de-mystified, and instead treated like any other policy discussion whose facts, assumptions, and arguments should be clearly laid out by both sides.  On June 5, 2014, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) leadership took a major step toward this goal, launching a new public campaign to promote its “Middle Way Approach”.  This MWA Campaign should be applauded, especially as it advances exactly the type of level-headed discussion needed over Tibet’s future.

This is not the first time the CTA has launched such a campaign, but it is different in form and content.  With form, it uses modern multimedia technology.  With content, this is the first campaign to promote the current administration’s re-interpretation of the Middle Way, which differs from the Middle Way of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in several important ways (as discussed below).

New Form

In August 2005, then-Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche launched what the CTA called “a massive public awareness campaign on the Middle-Way Approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”.  This campaign used traditional media: a documentary film, Q&A sessions in the Tibetan refugee settlements, and print materials.

This new MWA Campaign, by contrast, uses modern tools of the 21st century: it has a well-designed website, a YouTube video, and downloadable PDFs in multiple languages.  It also uses social media like Facebook to spread the message far more widely than the 2005 campaign could have hoped for.  It was kicked off with a press conference that gained media attention in major outlets around the world.

These are all signs that the CTA is modernizing its approach to messaging and publicizing the Tibetan struggle, and should make all Tibetans feel proud.  Significant credit surely goes to the Sikyong, Lobsang Sangay, and the minister of Information and International Relations, Dickyi Chhoyang, as well as the CTA employees who worked on the multimedia materials.

New Content

The first thing that must be applauded about the new content is that it is a breath of fresh air.  The campaign promotes the CTA’s policies on their own merits.  Gone are last year’s official threats to “spare no efforts” to “deal” with criticism of the Middle Way.   Gone are the official insinuations that criticism of the Middle Way somehow “denigrates” His Holiness.  Happily, the leadership seems to have discarded these inappropriate tactics -- and perhaps even embraced Samdhong Rinpoche’s view that the real aim of both independence and Middle Way supporters is the welfare of the Tibetan people.<FN1>

The MWA Campaign website sets out a list of achievements attributed to the Middle Way, lists of supporters, and also a briefing note and FAQ.  Essentially, the CTA is laying out in one place all its arguments as to why its policy is the best one for the future of Tibet.  This is exactly the sort of level-headed advocacy that TPR hoped for back in January 2014, and it now falls to independence supporters to step up and do the same to advocate their views.

There are a few areas, however, where the content of the MWA Campaign is problematic.  The MWA Campaign’s generally helpful “Timeline” has a tendency to gloss over or even distort some inconvenient facts.  For example:

1) The Timeline says that His Holiness and the CTA made an “internal decision” in favor of the Middle Way back in 1974; the reality is more complicated, and the policy did not fall into place until later.  In His Holiness’s March 10 address in 1977, he still spoke of “our struggle for the independence of Tibet.”  Even as late as 1986 (a year before the Five Point Peace Plan, which was the public start of the Middle Way), His Holiness declared in his March 10 address that “Tibetans do not want to live under alien occupation.”   By incorrectly portraying the Middle Way as having been firmly in place back in 1974, the Timeline overstates the link to the 1979-1985 fact finding delegations (which are incorrectly listed as major achievements of the Middle Way).

2) The Timeline calls the 1987 pro-independence demonstrations a “street protest”, with no indication of what the demonstrators were calling for.

3) The Timeline repeats the misleading insistence on portraying the self-immolators as calling only for “freedom”, which is a troubling issue that has been discussed before.

The main deficiency of the MWA Campaign content is, quite simply, that it does not accurately describe what the CTA leadership now means by the term “Middle Way”.  It fails to show that the meaning of that term has been changed significantly from the vision once outlined by His Holiness.  This is a problem, since the premise of the campaign is to advocate for a policy that the campaign does not accurately describe.

Sikyong Sangay’s new interpretation of the Middle Way abandons the goal of democracy, allows China full discretion in militarization, and accepts Communist Party rule in Tibet in its “present structure” (for more detail see here and here ).  At the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Sikyong made it clear that his vision of the Middle Way does not call for real political reform, and would essentially be satisfied if Tibet were geographically unified and there were more ethnic Tibetans in the Communist leadership in Tibet.

It must be emphasized what a major policy change this is.  The CFR moderator, noted China legal scholar Jerry Cohen, seemed
incredulous (“how do you maintain autonomy if you have continuing party control of the government”).

Later at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Sikyong defended his policy by claiming that his re-interpretation of the Middle Way is no different than the policy laid out by His Holiness or in the last administration’s Memorandum and Note.  This is demonstrably inaccurate.  His Holiness has called for Tibet to be a democratic and demilitarized self-governing entity.  The Memorandum calls for “the right of Tibetans to create their own regional government and government institutions and processes.”  Even this month, His Holiness called on China to “enter the mainstream of global democracy” in His statement on the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre (the Sikyong made no statement on this occasion).

His Holiness’s Middle Way can be thought of as a proposed compromise between occupation and independence.  The idea is, by is very nature, relative; it depends on independence as one of the two end points to be in the “middle” of.  Sikyong Sangay’s policy is, by contrast, a proposed compromise between occupation and the Middle Way.  By moving the end-points, it has become the Partial-Middle Way.

During His Holiness’s eight-sentence long remarks upon being presented with materials for the MWA Campaign following His teachings at Tibetan Children’s Village, His Holiness referred all questions about it to the Sikyong.  Clearly, this means the Partial-Middle Way belongs to the Sikyong.  The CTA leadership must therefore be clearer with its audience about exactly what is (and is not) encompassed in the Partial-Middle Way.

• What would a future Tibet look like without democracy, and without restrictions on militarization or Communist party control? How is this genuine autonomy?

• Why should Tibetans support the Partial-Middle Way vision, over other choices including independence or His Holiness’s original Middle Way vision of a democratic and demilitarized Tibet with its own government institutions?

• When Chinese democrats like Liu Xiaobo express support for Tibetan autonomy, are they referring to His Holiness’s democracy-based Middle Way, or the communist rule envisioned under the Sikyong’s Partial-Middle Way?

By honestly addressing the differences between the original Middle Way and the new Partial-Middle Way, the MWA Campaign can become more effective in laying out the arguments for where the CTA leadership wants to take the future of Tibet.

Footnote 1: The previous CTA administration issued a 2010 document entitled Middle Way Policy and all Recent Related Documents, which stated that “if any of those organisations and individuals who support the Middle-Way policy try to propagate this policy by saying that it is the expressed wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and so all should accept it, then they are simply spreading disinformation.  We consider this as absolutely inappropriate and undesirable.”  While this 2010 document is silent on whether autonomous Tibet should be a democratic or socialist state, it included a 2008 speech by His Holiness to the European Parliament where He stated “I am a staunch believer in democracy.”

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"Getting to Yes" in Sino-Tibetan Dialogue

posted Mar 7, 2014, 5:23 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 7, 2014, 6:26 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

The classic negotiation book “Getting to Yes”, by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher and anthropologist William Ury, describes how a successful negotiator uses the concept of BATNA: Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement.  BATNA is a tool to understand the interests and options of two negotiating parties, and can be used as a strategic point of leverage.  In the Tibetan context, BATNA is also a way to understand that the official Tibetan policy of seeking autonomy is actually helped – not harmed – by calls for independence.

A party’s BATNA is the best course of action if a negotiated agreement cannot be reached.  There are many examples of this, from international diplomacy to a shopkeeper deciding how aggressively to bargain with a customer.  For example, if a shopkeeper sees that a customer desperately wants an item and cannot get it elsewhere, then the shopkeeper will not bargain down the price.  The customer has no good BATNA, and is basically at the shopkeeper’s mercy.

This is a simplistic explanation.  There are ways to change BATNA, and to play a weak hand well.  A short editorial cannot do justice to the concept.

The Taiwan-China Talks

BATNA is driving the first direct Taiwan-China talks since 1949.  On February 11, 2014, the top officials for cross-Strait relations of both Taiwan and China began historic confidence-building talks in Nanjing.

According to the BBC, China “sees these talks as a useful opportunity to forge closer ties with Taiwan while a relatively pro-Beijing president remains in power on the island.”   The Washington Post adds, “Taiwan’s people remain firmly opposed to the idea of reunification with China, with about 80 percent supporting the status quo of de-facto independence”.

From China’s perspective, the BATNA here is simple.  China knows that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou favors eventual reunification, but faces a strong domestic pro-independence movement.  Ma is currently deeply unpopular for several reasons, and he may well lose re-election in 2016.  Therefore, if China doesn’t try to reach a solution with Ma in power, then China’s BATNA – best alternative option – is unappealing. 

China’s BATNA alternative is to deal with a more hostile, pro-independence Taiwanese president in 2016, probably from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).  Because China sees dealing with Ma as the better option, according to the BBC analysis, China is willing to hold these historic talks.

This suggests that the strength of the pro-independence DPP is actually helping propel the Taiwan-China talks, since China cannot take Taiwanese willingness to compromise for granted.  Ironically, when the KMT tried to suppress pro-independence voices before Li Teng-hui’s presidency, it may have actually been hurting its negotiating strength with Beijing.

The Meaning for Tibet

The relevance of these Taiwan-China talks to the case of Tibet is clear, and even the Tibetan government-in-exile has prominently posted the BBC article mentioned above on its website.  But China is not talking with President Ma because it is morally right to resolve disputes through dialogue rather than force.  China is talking with Ma because it prefers that to the very real prospect of dealing with a Taiwan led by a pro-independence president later.

This BATNA analysis suggests that the Tibetan government-in-exile’s official Middle Way policy of seeking autonomy is actually helped by strong pro-independence sentiment in Tibetan society.  In fact, BATNA suggests that the only reason Beijing would ever consider any type of Tibetan autonomy is that it considers the alternative – Tibetan independence – even worse. 

So, counterintuitively, any possible success of the Middle Way actually depends on independence as a viable alternative course.  Otherwise China has no BATNA reason to talk with Dharamsala.

Obviously, both His Holiness and Samdhong Rinpoche support the Middle Way (at least as it was originally defined, not necessarily the recent re-interpretation to exclude democracy, embrace the structures of communist rule, and accept unlimited Chinese militarization).  Even so, His Holiness declared in his Second Strasbourg Address in 2008, “we certainly have the right to explore all other political options available to us.”  Samdhong Rinpoche recently stated that the “real aim of both [the Middle Way and independence supporters] is the welfare of the Tibetan people.” 

Even by the Middle Way’s own terms, it is relative.  It can only exist relative to a viable alternative of independence.  Without that, there is nothing for the Middle Way to be in the “middle” of.

Given all this, it becomes clear just how counterproductive and even dangerous it is to try to impose an official orthodoxy in the Middle Way/Independence debate.  In fact, doing so plays into China’s hands by eliminating probably the only BATNA situation that might force Beijing to negotiate at all.

Therefore, is the current leadership of the Tibetan government-in-exile ready to revise its statements that criticism of the Middle Way is “immoral” and “baseless”?  Is Tibetan exile society ready to accept that a strong pro-independence loyal-opposition party (like the fledgling Tibetan National Congress) may actually help drive Beijing to real negotiations, if they happen at all?  Hopefully we are getting to yes.

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Dharma Kings: Recalling the Tibetan Empire Era

posted Feb 8, 2014, 4:56 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 8, 2014, 6:15 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

Many Tibet supporters know that Tibet was an independent country prior to the 1949-50 invasion by the People’s Republic of China.  Less well-known is that Tibet was one of the great empires in Central Asia from the Seventh to Ninth Centuries, had diplomatic relations and signed treaties with several neighboring kingdoms and empires, and even briefly occupied the ancient Chinese capital of Xi’an.  From this period Tibetans remember the three great Dharma Kings.

The first of these Dharma Kings and perhaps the most famous was Songtsen Gampo (617-649/50), believed to be the thirty-third king of the Yarlung Dynasty, who founded the Tibetan Empire.  Songtsen Gampo united various Tibetan tribes and established a matrimonial alliance with a Tibetan wife from the kingdom of Zhangzhung near Mt. Kailash.

In 637, Songtsen Gampo married Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti.  He also desired a Chinese wife, which the Tang Chinese Emperor was reluctant to provide.  But under threat of invasion, the Tang Emperor ultimately gave his daughter, Princess Wen Cheng, as a bride to Songtsen Gampo in 641.   (Songtsen Gampo eventually had five wives.)

Both the Chinese and Nepalese princesses were Buddhist and it is said that the Chinese princess founded the Ramoche Temple in Lhasa (whose entrance faces east toward China) while the Nepalese princess founded the Jokhang (whose entrance faces west toward Nepal).

Tibetan armies under Songtsen Gampo were known as strong and powerful warriors to the Chinese and the Tang Annals note their fine weapons, armor and bravery.

The second great Dharma King was Trisong Detsen who ruled from 755 to c. 797 and is known for formally establishing Buddhism as the state religion in Tibet.  Trisong Detsen invited both Indian and Chinese Buddhist scholars to a great debate in Samye, located between Lhasa and the historic Yarlung seat in Lhoka.   Under Trisong Detsen’s reign, Indian scholars were invited to translate Buddhist canon into Tibetan, historic Samye Monastery was founded, and the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu Valley was constructed.

In 763, Tibetan armies under Trisong Detsen defeated Chinese armies and briefly occupied the ancient Tang Dynasty capital of Xi’an.  With the Chinese emperor having fled, the Tibetans installed Li Chenghong as a puppet emperor for about a month.  In 783 a treaty with China was concluded giving the entire Kokonor region to Tibet.  In 778, Trisong Detsen formed an alliance with the King of Siam (modern Thailand) and they joined forces to fight Chinese armies in Sichuan.  During the latter period of Trisong Detsen’s reign, he was preoccupied fighting the armies of the great Arab Caliph, Haroun Al-Rashid (of 1,001 Arabian Nights fame), as Tibetan armies expanded west.

The last of the great Dharma Kings was Tri Ralpachen (reign c. 815-838).   Under Ralpachen’s reign the Tibetan Empire reached its greatest extent and included parts of China, India, Nepal, and almost all of what is now called East Turkestan/Xinjiang.  Ralpachen promoted Buddhism throughout Tibet and ordered translation of Buddhists texts into Tibetan.  Ralpachen built a nine-story temple at U-shang-do, near the Tsangpo river, which contained Buddhist scriptures, chortens and images.

In 821, Ralpachen and Tang Emperor Mu Zong concluded a treaty, the text of which was inscribed on three stone pillars.  One pillar was erected in the Chinese capital of Xi’an, one on the border between China and Tibet, and one (the only remaining pillar) in Lhasa known as the Doring Pillar.  The treaty established that the “whole region to the east” was “Great China” and the “whole region to the west” was “Great Tibet.”  The treaty declared that “Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and Chinese shall be happy in China…”

China’s official White Paper on “Ownership of Tibet” describes very little of this period.  The only references are to alliances between Tibetans and the Tang Dynasty and the marriage of Princess Wen Cheng to Songtsen Gampo.  The White Paper mentions the Tang-Tibet treaty pillar in Lhasa but only references a section about the two empires being akin to uncle and nephew.  There is no mention in the White Paper about the many military conflicts between Tibet and China during this period, the Tibetan occupation of Xi’an (under Trisong Detsen), or that the Tang Emperor had no choice but to give his daughter in order to placate the powerful Tibetan king Songsten Gampo.

This is not to say that the Chinese Government has ignored this period.   In July 2013, China built a multi-million dollar fake Potala Palace opposite the Kyichu River from the real Potala to be used as a stage for a lavish play about Princess Wen Cheng.  This play is designed to reinforce Chinese propaganda that Wen Cheng brought Buddhism to Tibet (ignoring Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti’s contributions) and civilized the “barbaric” and “warlike” Tibetans.   It also reinforces the stereotype, widely believed in China, that China has always been a benevolent neighbor and later ruler to Tibetans and introduced Tibetans to “advanced” Chinese culture and later “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Tibetan writer Woeser has blogged about the Communist Party’s attempts to create a new myth around Princes Wen Cheng that reinforces China’s narrative of Sino-Tibetan history and relations.  TPR also wrote last year how China was using this narrative to twist Tibetan history, quoting Faulkner that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” 

This may seem like ancient history but it is very relevant to Tibetans today.  Last year Tibetans in exile (but not the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)) celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 13th Dalai Lama’s declaration of independence from the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1913.  The 13th Dalai Lama issued the “The Proclamation of Independence,” a five-point public document reasserting Tibetan independence and ending the priest-patron relationship.   The subsequent invasion and occupation of Tibet by the Chinese from 1949-1959 in no way diminishes the achievement of the 13th Dalai Lama in architecting Tibet’s emergence as a modern nation.  February 13 is now being informally celebrated as Tibetan Independence Day by many Tibetans.  This year, Tibetans and Tibet groups (though not the CTA) are commemorating the ancient Tibetan empire, including the treaty signed between Tibet and China in 821.

We hope the Central Tibetan Administration will officially recognize the importance of February 13 with some form of formal acknowledgment.  February 13 has become a day when Tibetans and supporters remember that Tibet is a great civilization with a proud and long history of independence.

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Freedom, Independence, and Autonomy: A Little More Accuracy Please

posted Feb 3, 2014, 7:04 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 3, 2014, 7:33 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

As part of TPR’s effort to contribute toward a more level-headed discussion on the independence/autonomy debate, we believe a good place to start is greater accuracy in distinguishing between “freedom” (rangwang), “independence” (rangzen), and “autonomy” (rangkyong).

FREEDOM:  Freedom is a subjective term.  There is no single definition of what all people would consider freedom.  Fundamentally, freedom means that one feels free and acts freely (which is a bit of a tautology).  It includes the absence of coercion or constraint, and liberation from the power of another.

For a slave, freedom can mean the removal of shackles.  For an oppressed minority, freedom can mean achieving the same civil rights as the majority population.  For a subjugated nation (think William Wallace as depicted in Braveheart), freedom can mean breaking the political ties to a colonizer.

Basically, freedom is feeling free.

INDEPENDENCE:  Independence is an objective term, as defined in political science.  Independence refers to sovereign statehood.  When the World Court looked at Kosovo’s declaration of “independence”, it was understood by all that this meant its claim to be a sovereign state.

One can debate whether any state is truly “independent” when impacted by forces like great-power politics and global trade.  But this is not the same as challenging the global system of formally sovereign states.  The idea of sovereign statehood has been a fundamental principle of international law since at least 1648.

Basically, independence is having a separate country.

AUTONOMY:  Interestingly, autonomy does not have a settled definition in law or political science.  One legal definition perhaps comes closest: autonomous areas are “regions of a State, usually possessing some ethnic or cultural distinctiveness, which have been granted separate powers of internal administration, to whatever degree, without being detached from the State of which they are part.”

The very wide range of global forms of autonomy are summarized in a 2004 study of Tibetan autonomy, authored by the late Ted Sorensen and the law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, and published by the Belfer Center at Harvard.

Basically, autonomy is having some type of self-rule, but as part of a larger country.

A Little More Accuracy, Please

From the brief description above, it should be obvious that there is a big difference between the subjective term “freedom” and the objective terms “independence” and “autonomy”.  Or in Tibetan: rangwang (freedom), rangzen (indepdendence), and rangkyong (autonomy).

In the Tibetan exile political discourse, however, there seems to be a blurring of lines between these three ideas.

For example, supporters of both independence and autonomy have muddled the message of the self-immolators.  Wang Lixiong performed an analysis of self-immolators’ last words in December 2012 (so now it is obviously outdated) that found that 38% prayed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 35% expressed courage or responsibility, 19% called for Tibet’s independence, etc.  Many of these categories also included a call for freedom.  Importantly, not a single self-immolator called for autonomy.

At least one prominent pro-independence writer has suggested that a self-immolator calling for the return of His Holiness necessarily implies a demand for Tibetan independence.  We believe this goes too far.  It could in theory be true, or it could simply mean the return of their religious leader: the point is that we cannot know for certain unless they say it.

On the other hand (and perhaps there are more ready examples since promoting autonomy is the official position), the Kashag (cabinet) goes to the opposite extreme.  The Kashag effectively edits out even crystal-clear voices for independence.  According to the Kashag, the self-immolators’ demands are “freedom for the Tibetan people and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.”  While not technically inaccurate (since freedom could include independence or autonomy), it is misleading for two reasons:

- First, some self-immolators have expressly called for independence, while none have called for autonomy. 

- Second, the Kashag and Sikyong often use the word “freedom” to promote their specific Middle Way policy of autonomy, implying that the goals are either “freedom” (really meaning “autonomy”) or “independence”.

Furthermore, it is a conspicuous omission when the Kashag argues that self-immolation is caused by “political repression, economic marginalization, cultural assimilation and environmental destruction”.  This list prominently ignores that many self-immolators demanded independence.  So it seems this list should also include not just “repression” (which is a human rights issue) but also “a demand for Tibet’s independence”.  That would make it far more complete.

Chitue Jamyang Soepa, Takna Jigme Sangpo, and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (photo: tibet.net)

In another recent example, at a book-launch about Takna Jigme Sangpo, the Sikyong discussed the former political prisoner’s “activism”, “various political activities”, and “slogans of Tibetan freedom” while in prison.  This was a painful omission: the core motivation of Sangpo’s heroism was, quite simply, Tibetan independence.  This should not be edited out even if one supports autonomy. 

In fact, Sangpo was originally sentenced for “seeking ‘Tibetan independence’ among other reactionary propaganda”,
according to Chinese documents.  However the Sikyong merely referred to Sangpo’s “opposition against harsh policies”, implying that Sangpo merely disagreed with certain Chinese policies.   It is truly regrettable that, in this case, Chinese sentencing documents are more accurate than the Sikyong’s remarks.

A Modest Proposal

We believe that it would help set a better tone in the independence/autonomy debate if everyone used the correct terms, and did not attempt to edit out views of other Tibetans.  It is especially important not to edit out or improperly co-opt the words and sacrifices of the self-immolators and political prisoners.

The fact is, freedom is subjective and could mean several things.  Independence and autonomy are basically objective and have clear meanings (even if autonomy has almost infinite variations).

Probably every single Tibetan wants “freedom”.  It is something we can all rally behind.  But what is freedom?  Some might define it as independence, some might mean a type of autonomy, and some have even talked about settling for basic civil rights as Chinese citizens.  If we all use the correct terms, and acknowledge and respect that there are differing views of “freedom”, this will go a long way toward promoting a more productive discussion.


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Stumbling Toward a More Level-Headed Debate on Independence v. Autonomy in 2014?

posted Jan 9, 2014, 5:01 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Jan 9, 2014, 5:59 PM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review 

For those interested in the development of the Tibetan people’s young democracy in exile, 2013 saw some dramatic internal developments.  It is perhaps no coincidence that these developments all relate to the key political question facing Tibetan society today: whether to pursue independence or autonomy.

To recap, these developments included:

1. A Member (Chitue) of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile was the subject of day-long criticism in a parliamentary session;

2. Chitue Dhardon Sharling was a lone voice speaking out against this finger pointing, calling on her fellow parliamentarians to focus on concrete action instead.

3. Rumors were spread that prominent individuals supporting independence were thereby harming the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (a charge that turned out to be false, as clarified by His Holiness on September 22, 2013);

4. A Chitue leveled bizarre charges against The Tibetan Political Review (TPR), and when challenged on this he was unable to provide any substantiation;

5. An organization of ex-political prisoners, named after the dates of pro-independence demonstrations in Lhasa, suddenly changed its position to support autonomy at an annual meeting where the topic was not previously announced on the agenda;

6. The largest pro-independence youth organization revoked its resolution on lobbying the Tibetan government-in-exile, agreeing not to act as an opposition party;

7. The Sikyong surprised many by stating that his interpretation of “genuine autonomy” excludes democracy, and accepts continued Communist Party control, militarization at China’s discretion, and a limited duration;

8. A new exile Tibetan political party was formed to promote the voice of independence, and about one-third of the sitting Chitues attended its inaugural meeting in Dharamsala (and were reportedly officially chastised for this).

To be blunt, some of these developments have been troubling.

We believe that Tibetan society must develop a better way to constructively discuss the independence/autonomy issue.  This is one of the most important existential issues Tibet faces.  There must be a way to have a passionate debate without resorting to personal attacks, emotional outbursts, or insinuations of disloyalty.  It is not an exaggeration to say that the success of the Tibetan cause may depend on it.

So, how to stumble toward a more level-headed debate in 2014?  This requires a few things.

First it requires a simple acknowledgement that, on the whole, supporters of both sides are patriotic Tibetans who act with good motivations.  No one should be accused of disloyalty to His Holiness or selling out his/her nation to the Chinese just because they support one position or the other – this should be obvious.  Unity should be paramount, and this means real unity: the active recognition that, regardless of any given policy differences, we all remain part of the same Tibetan nation.

Secondly, it requires a more inclusionary mindset toward competing viewpoints.  Chitue Chungdak Koren said it perfectly: “instead of excluding critics, we should be including them and inviting them to air and exchange views.  These people might have constructive suggestions and their inputs could be of great value.  We always need to retain an open mind when it comes to criticism.”<FN1>

Thirdly, it is time to de-mystify the independence/autonomy debate.  It is time to stop treating it as a litmus test of one kind or other.  It is time to simply treat it as the policy problem that it is, with facts, assumptions, and arguments that should be tested and evaluated.  After all, Tibetan civilization has a deep tradition of reasoned debate.

A future TPR editorial will lay out some concrete suggestions in this direction.  But first, we would like to offer some preliminary observations.

Dueling Messages Out of Dharamsala

Some voices in Dharamsala have threatened to spare no effort in dealing with criticism of the Middle Way.  While acknowledging a right to have political stands in a free and democratic society, these voices also maintain that what they call unrealistic criticism of the Middle Way somehow denigrates or misconstrues His Holiness the Dalai Lama.<FN2>

It is confusing how this apparent threat can be reconciled with the democratic right to have political stands.  Any genuine debate inherently requires arguing why one position is better than the other, and it is difficult to do that while avoiding criticism.  And to some degree, “unrealistic” is in the eye of the beholder – certainly it is problematic if a single person seeks the power to be the arbiter of such a highly subjective concept.

These voices also do not explain why they feel it is proper to associate criticism of the Middle Way with somehow denigrating His Holiness, given the normal response to anything perceived as “anti-Dalai Lama”.  On the contrary, His Holiness has made it quite clear that the fate of Tibet is for the Tibetan people to decide, and that they are free to make up their own minds.  These statements were therefore very regrettable, and do not reflect well on the Tibetan commitment to democracy and free speech.  It could also make His Holiness look bad, by improperly associating His Holiness with all this.

A much more healthy approach was taken recently by former Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche.  Rinpoche made it clear that it is “wrong to construe that those who don’t support the Middle-Way Policy are against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”  He endorsed “the need and importance of divergent views and lively debates in a healthy democracy and added that whether it is independence or the Middle Way, the real aim of both of these ideologies is the welfare of the Tibetan people.”<FN3>

It would be pure speculation as to why Rinpoche decided to make this statement now.  Certainly, some people (including us) have been concerned that disagreements surrounding the Middle Way recently may be getting out of hand.  Regardless, this statement is welcome.  Hopefully everyone will remember Rinpoche’s wise observation that supporting independence is not anti-Dalai Lama, and that “the real aim of both of these ideologies is the welfare of the Tibetan people”.

Hopefully everyone will also recall that on October 14, 2001, His Holiness made a “Second Strasbourg Address” to the European Parliament.  There, His Holiness stated that he “always maintained that ultimately the Tibetan people must be able to decide about the future of Tibet”.  His Holiness added, “While I firmly reject the use of violence as a means in our freedom struggle we certainly have the right to explore all other political options available to us.  I am a staunch believer in freedom and democracy and have therefore been encouraging the Tibetans in exile to follow the democratic process.”

Obviously, even among supporters of the Middle Way Policy there is a debate about its meaning (witness the disagreement between the Sikyong and Speaker of Parliament on the question of democracy in a future Tibet).  His Holiness has made it clear that the Tibetan people should be encouraged to debate the future of their nation.  Now is the time to do so, recalling Samdhong Rinpoche’s reminder that both sides of this debate are motivated by the same good cause.

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[1]  http://chungdak.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/questions-and-suggestions-for-parliament/

[2]   http://tibet.net/2013/09/19/middle-way-approach-shapes-growing-world-support-for-tibet-issue-kashag/

[3]  http://tibet.net/2013/09/10/former-kalon-tripa-talk-on-middle-way-policy/

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Living at Gunpoint: A review of Woeser and Wang's "Voices from Tibet"

posted Dec 28, 2013, 6:44 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Dec 28, 2013, 6:58 AM ]

By Bhuchung D. Sonam
(Member of the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review)

Review of Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage by Tsering Woeser and Wang Lixiong
Translated from Chinese by Violet S. Law
Published by Hong Kong University Press & University of Hawai’i Press

For over nine thousand years Tibetan nomads have skilfully managed their lives in the fragile environment of the high plateau.  They raised limited numbers of livestock, which provided them enough to sustain their mobile civilization.  This symbiotic relationship between nature and man never tipped to either party’s disadvantage.

That’s until the red flag began to flutter against the blue sky of the Tibetan Plateau.

The year 2009 marked half-a-century of China’s occupation of Tibet.  In the same year, according to cables leaked by Wikileaks, the Dalai Lama told the then US ambassador to India that the international community should focus on the critical state of Tibet’s environment for five to ten years; the Tibetan leader reportedly said this was far more crucial than the political situation.  ‘Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining are problems that cannot wait,’ the Dalai Lama said.

Despite the Tibetan Nobel Laureate’s emphatic appeal little is being done.  In fact the scale of mining on the plateau has increased manifold and since 2008 China has effectively banned the international media’s entry into Tibet.  Today North Korea is more accessible to foreign journalists than Tibet said professor Carole McGranahan of the University of Colorado and the author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War.

At such a worrying time, the voices of Beijing-based Tibetan author and blogger Woeser – and her Chinese husband Wang Lixiong – are crucial in creating a vital communication link between Tibet-under-China and the free world.

Voices from Tibet: Selected Essays and Reportage by Woeser and Wang Lixiong, jointly published by Hong Kong University Press and the University of Hawai’i Press, is an urgent and timely book.  The authors’ courage in expressing their dissenting views on Tibet is matched by the authenticity of their reportage on wide-ranging concerns such as demolition of historical buildings in Lhasa, forceful resettlement of nomads, mining, self-immolation and flooding of Chinese migrants into Tibet – many of whom engage in crass and barefaced appropriation of Tibetan culture and religion to make quick and easy money.

Woser and Wang Lixiong, Tsuklhakhang, Lhasa, Tibet

Forty essays are thematically arranged in five sections – Old Lhasa Politicized, Economic Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics, Religion Under Siege, Wrecking Nature, and Culture Twisted, Trampled – to provide a clear picture of daily Tibetan experiences under the machinery of authoritarian rule that Woeser and Wang describes as ‘grounded on rigid structure and ruthless logic’.

The defining appeal of the book is the legitimacy of the couple’s writing.  The authors are no armchair commentators.  They have put their lives in danger by traveling to many places on the Tibetan Plateau to gather accounts of people and places most affected by dictates from Beijing.

Soon after Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was sentenced to death in December 2002 with a two-year reprieve for his alleged possession of explosives, Woeser made a trip to Rinpoche’s homeland deep inside Kardze in Kham to find out about the Chinese authorities’ claim to have found ‘bombs’ hidden a ‘secret compartment’ in his house.  Woeser found out that to build his new residence, Rinpoche – like many others who constructed houses in that region – used explosives to level a piece of land located at a ravine.  Some unused sticks of dynamite were stored in a ‘space between the rugged slope and the wall panels of the house’.  These were what the police found which led to Rinpoche being handed down the death sentence, later commuted to life in prison.

This year, from his prison in China’s Sichuan province, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche said, ‘There are some people who say that taking up my case will make things worse for me.  At this point, I have fallen to the lowest point.  Nothing worse can come.  So, you can make appeals and initiate campaigns for me.'

Woeser and Wang also write about ‘charlatan lamas’ and tulkus stationed in monasteries charging exorbitant prices from unsuspecting tourists for phony future predictions and fake puja ceremonies.  When visitors ran short of cash, they would say, ‘No problem, we take credit cards here.’  These operatives are Tibetan-speaking Chinese from tour companies that have colluded with local religious bureaus which issue them permits to set up bases and business in major monasteries.

For exile Tibetans and the international community, Woeser and Wang’s essays are perhaps the most reliable source of information on Tibet that still continues to flow through many channels such as books, blogs, press interviews and social media.  Many other Tibetan writers such as Theurang, Dolma Kyab and Kunchok Tsephel who have articulated national aspirations are serving various sentences – some as long as fifteen years – in Chinese prisons for their writing.

Though Woeser and Wang are facing threats, harassment, house arrest and being tailed daily, they have managed to avoid being put behind bars thus far.  There is however real danger that, like their friend and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo who is serving eleven years in jail for his role in drafting Charter 08, their days may be numbered.

But for the moment they bear witness and chronicle issues facing both Tibet and China today under the Communist Party.  Woeser writes that ‘for the powerless, the pen can be wielded as a weapon – a weapon honed by the Tibetan faith, tradition and culture,’ and that ‘[i]n the face of the devastation Tibet has endured and the aspirations of Tibetans who have gone up in flames, I shall redouble my strength to resist oppression; I simply will not concede, or compromise.’

It is long overdue that the CCP listens to the voices of this brave couple and realize that their articulation carries the weight of every person on the plateau whose voice is stifled and whose aspiration for freedom rebutted with bullets and armoured vehicles.

Voices from Tibet is an incisive and an urgent book that must be read by anyone who has an interest not only in Tibet and China but also in the struggles for freedom elsewhere in the world.  If any record of oppression can fend off state-sanctioned collective amnesia, it is this.


(A copy of Voices from Tibet was kindly provided to The Tibetan Political Review by the Hong Kong University Press.)

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