Hundreds of Tibetan leaders debated how to advance their struggle for freedom Saturday in the last session of a pivotal weeklong meeting re-evaluating their decades-long strategy.
Tibetans from all over the world have flocked to Dharmsala, home to the Dalai Lama and the self-declared government-in-exile, to discuss whether to press on with a measured path of compromise with China, or to call for independence for the Himalayan region. Many of the delegates argued for nuanced paths somewhere in between. Exile leaders were expected to publicly discuss the delegates' conclusions Saturday afternoon.
Participants said it was unlikely that the meeting would result in a dramatic break with the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach, which pushes for autonomy but not independence. A number of delegates called for taking a harder line against China, but the consensus seemed to hew toward a more conservative strategy. "Most people think that 'the middle path' should be pursued further until we're finally convinced fully that China won't move an inch," said Sonamtopga, 57, a participant in the meeting. "They're still convinced something concrete will come out of the present policies."
The Dalai Lama called the summit after publicly expressing frustration over the failure of his approach to yield greater autonomy for the region. He has declined to discuss his preference for the best strategy forward, not wanting to tilt the debate. As a result, the meeting has become a dress rehearsal in democracy as the Tibetans try to formulate a plan without the guidance of "His Holiness," a man they view as closer to a god than a mere leader.
The Dalai Lama was expected to address the delegates Sunday. Many Tibetans said the opportunity to present their own opinions was a liberating experience that they hoped would lead to more open discussions.
"We really need to think for ourselves and be independent," said Tenzin Nyesang, 28, of Boston. "People are being very receptive. This meeting was very peaceful."
For its part, China has made clear that it has no plans to relent against Tibet.
On Friday, China launched a new attack, making clear it would not yield in its hard-line approach toward Tibet.
The Dalai Lama's "so-called 'middle way' is a naked expression of 'Tibet independence' aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history," said an editorial in the official Tibet Daily newspaper.
While China allowed former British and Portuguese colonies to retain their limited democratic governance even after returning to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s, they have refused to offer the same concessions to Tibet.
"Any acts to harm or change Tibet's current basic political system are in diametric opposition to our country's constitution and law," the editorial said in what appeared to be a signal to the exile leaders gathered in Dharmsala.