ver the decades, the constant stream of writings, seminars, workshopsand demonstrations on the Tibet issue—by the Tibetan government-in-exile, various support groups, and interested scholars, journalists, and activists—have all centered around the issue of Tibet independence. In fact, so much so that they have drowned out the one voice that matters most: that of the Dalai Lama.
Over the last 16 years, the Dalai Lama has not advocated Tibet independence. He has advocated the Middle Way Approach. The Dalai Lama's motive is pure: the welfare of individual Tibetans. He is not concer-
ned with abstract and antiquated notions., of independence and sovereignty. He is concerned with the quality of life of individual persons.
The Middle Way Approach seeks to balance and harmonise the interests of the Tibetans and the Chinese. The Chinese are not inherently evil, nor the Tibetans inherently saintly. They are two different cultures whichmust learn to live together in peace. Not a forced peace, but a natural and just peace: a peace with dignity. As such, this approach could just as well be termed the "Taoist Approach", for it seeks to balance opposing forces.
The Middle Way Approach can be realized as a consequence of one
January/February 1995 HIMAL
simple event: The elegant return of the Dalai Lama. China's main condtion for the return of the Dalai Lama is that he accept China's claim of sovereignty over Tibet. The Dalai Lama would be willing todo this. But, only upon China's guarantee that the interests ofTibetanswillbead ecjuately addressed.
There are, perhaps, as many Tibetan interests as there are Tibetans. Essentially, however, the interests of Tibetans are effective political partiripationonissues of local concern (self-government); economic and social welfare; religious freedom;and cultural preservation.
Because the Chinese Constitution already provides for these guarantees, China would find it easy to re-assert them. In addition, because of the unique status of the Dalai Lama in the world community—he has followers worldwide—the Dalai Lama must have guarantees for his freedom of movement and freedom of speech. Thus, we have an agreement (or understanding) that must, by implication, evolve out of the simple Tetum of the Dalai Lama: the Dalai Lama's acceptance of China's sovereignty in return for guarantees of Tibetan self-government and the independence of the Dalai Lama.
The most important element of the agreement is the guarantee for the Dalai Lama's independence, preferably through a "Vatican" model arrangement. Otherwise, the actual content of the agreementis less important than the willingness of China and the Dalai Lama to achieve real and lasting reconciliation, versus mere appeasement and window-dressing.
Such an agreement would not be an end to the long drama of Tibet, but the beginning of a new era. It would be the foundation upon which the Middle Way Approach could fulfill itself. After all, social, economic and political development is a process. It does not occur magically at one moment in time through one agreement. It occurs by a constant evolutionary process propelled by persons of energy and vision. The
very presence of the Dalai Lama would act as a catalyst for such a development. Those who believe that Tibetans and Chinese can never live together in harmony and happiness are wedded to the past and have no vision of the future.
There are two basic roles that the Dalai Lama would play upon his return. The first involves economic and social development. The Dalai Lama could utilise his resources and international support to infuse a fresh energy into the social and economic fabric of Tibetan areas. This may translate, for example, into attracting talent and funds for developing Tibetan businesses such as the wool and handicraft industries; for developing Tibetan educational, health, and welfare services; and for promoting public awareness on issues ranging from environment to the art s.
The second role of the Dalai Lama upon his return would involve his 'good offices'. Tibetans would pour out their grievances and aspirations, and the Dalai Lama would communicate these concerns to appropriate authorities at the local and central levels, along with suggestions. He would not be a political activist, but a discreet and responsible facilitator, ensuring that the interests of the Tibetans are being properly addressed.
Among the many "hats' that the Dalai Lama currently wears is that of the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. This government has evolved over the decades to become very self-reliant, where the Dalai Lama plays an increasingly nominal role. The Dalai Lama would relinquish this role upon his return. He would return as a spiritual and cultural leader, not a political leader. However, the real power of the Dalai lama is moral and spiritual, not political. By withdrawing from the government-in-exile, he will be raising his status (not being weighted down by a worldly office), and be equally available to both exiled Tibetans and the non-exiled Tibetans in Tibet (the vast majority, numbering about six million).
Upon the return of the Dalai Lama, t he go vernment-in -exile would continue as it is, making it s own policy decisions. It can be expected to maintain a wait-and-see position regarding a proposed return of the Dalai lama; and it would most likely, for some time to come, act asa'shadow government', scrutinizing the administration of Tibet.
The return of Tibetans in exile would occur over a long period of time, and would be on an individual basis. Some Tibetans, having been born and raised in other cultures may not want to return. Others would return only cautiously. Long term visas could be obtained, allowing Tibetans to establish homes and busines ses without surrendering their rights to leave. There can be considerable flexibility in this regard.
The Dalai Lama came into exile 35 years ago. During this time, he has presided over the development of a nation of peopl e,builtfromthousands of destitute refugees, and sprinkled around the globe. He has continued to effectively head a major religion; has provided an unending stream of inspiration to Tibetans (and others); and has significantly contributed to the world dialogue on peaceful coexistence of peoples and human rights. It is on the crest of these accomplishments anddignitythattheDalaiLama will return, bringing the Tibetan people not only wisdom and spiritual sustenance, but also providing them with practical measures that will help them face their day-to-day problems with confidence and resolve.
It is acknowledged that not only Tibetans, but the world community as well, deeply respects and admires the Dalai Lama. What is less appreciated is that the Chinese people al so respect the Dalai Lama. The return of the Dalai Lama will not be a small event. It will be an elegant return that will create ripples of compassion throughout Asia.
R.L Plunk JDUJWlsalegal scholar providing independent counsel in public international law, constitutional drafting, and human rights. He is presently practicing in New Delhi.
HIMAL January/February 1995
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