Tenzin Tsundue of Friends of Tibet India is one of the Tibetan exile community’s strongest young voices for independence. He has a powerful op-ed on China’s occupation of Tibet and the history of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule in the Indian weekly news magazine Tehelka.
The protestors of the 2008 uprising knew they, too, would suffer loss of life, incarceration and torture. Yet shepherds born under Mao — who had never seen the Tibetan flag — photocopied the design from a book smuggled into Tibet and flew it gaily in the air. A friend’s uncle, a nomad from a remote mountain region in Amdo, reported on the phone that since there were no Chinese in the mountains, he was running about with other nomads searching for them. The group hoped to “raise our fists and shout in their faces: ‘Chinese Go Home!’”
The 2008 uprising happened in the wake of the failing “dialogue process” between Dharamsala and Beijing. It historically signifies Tibetans’ rejection of Beijing’s bribes of material comforts and individual security. They repudiated Beijing’s lofty claims of development and its “gifts” like modern schools, hospitals, highways, shopping malls, discotheques and the much-admired railway linking Lhasa and Beijing. The Chinese Government described the people’s uprising as a “disturbance” instigated by the “Dalai Clique,” thereby belittling the Tibetan nation’s aspirations and insulting the intelligence of the six million Tibetans inside Tibet. This is symptomatic of colonial powers that treat colonies as treasure islands and their citizens as exotic beasts on leashes.
Beyond his report on Tibetan’s unrelenting patriotism, this paragraph on young Tibetans’ pursuit of their birthright stood out to me as one of the best encapsulations of what Tibetans seeking independence think in contrast to the TGIE’s search for an autonomous solution.
Beijing is not confident enough to invite the Dalai Lama to Tibet or China and has repeatedly rejected his autonomy proposal. Most Tibetan youth believe they can regain their identity and dignity of life through independence, and that without independence Tibet will die under the Chinese weight. Tomorrow, even if autonomy is granted, our struggle for Independence will continue in Tibet. The Tibetan people’s struggle to re-establish their lost independence is, therefore, not a secessionist movement — the difference is more philosophical than ideological.
Many prominent Tibet Support Groups advocate independence, not merely autonomy. While achieving meaningful autonomy for Tibet would be a great step, many of these groups would continue to campaign for independence until it was achieved. Individual Tibetans would not cease their pursuit for freedom because a facsimile of it was given to them. Autonomy is a political solution to the problem that continued Chinese occupation of Tibet will almost certainly result in the annihilation of the Tibetan people and culture. But autonomy is not a human right — self-determination is. Until Tibetans are given their right of self-determination, there will be a moral imperative for Tibetans and their supporters to continue to campaign for Tibetan independence. As Tsundue wrote, this is a philosophical movement and it will not cease.