The Tibetan exile community may have differences in views on the best approach to win freedom for Tibetans in China, but these can be accommodated within the community’s growing experience of democracy, a key aide to the Dalai Lama says.
Divisions have long persisted in the Tibetan exile community over questions of how best to advance the rights and freedoms of Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a return of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into the self-governing region in 1950.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, and Tibet’s India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), have instead adopted a Middle Way Approach, accepting Tibet’s present status as a part of China while urging greater cultural and religious freedoms for the Tibetan people.
“There’s room for both [groups] to voice their views and express themselves,” said the Dalai Lama’s Representative to the Americas Kaydor Aukatsang, speaking on Tuesday—the 54th anniversary of Tibetan Democracy Day—at the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a Washington-based advocacy group.
“Conventional wisdom would say that for a freedom struggle, it would make much more sense to have a unified position, a single view and a single voice,” Aukatsang said. “But in our society today, in Tibetan society, there’s a polarity of voices and positions.”
Following centuries of rule in Tibet by a line of Dalai Lamas, the present fourteenth Dalai Lama began in exile to slowly introduce democratic reforms, beginning in 1960 with the seating of representatives to an India-based Tibetan exile parliament.
This was followed by the drafting of a governing charter, by the introduction of universal suffrage, and finally by the election in 2011 of an exile Tibetan political leader, or Sikyong.
And though the Dalai Lama has now transferred his political role and authority to the current Sikyong, his policy preferences and views still naturally dominate political debate in the Tibetan exile community.
This may someday change, said National Endowment for Democracy senior director for Asia and Global Programs Brian Joseph, also speaking at the Washington forum.
“Looking forward, you are unlikely to have one voice dominate as it does today,” Joseph said.
“Including different voices, allowing for dissent, and recognizing that there are going to be opposition voices who disagree with you vociferously but still support the cause, is the essential change that will have to take place for the Tibetan community.”
In other modern freedom struggles, “there were many, many voices,” Joseph said, adding, “These were geared toward the same objectives, but with different policies, different tactics, sometimes slightly different desired outcomes—but in essence a commitment to the same goals.”
“You can have people pushing for autonomy, or people pushing for independence, in a manner that reinforces each other even if they’re not coordinated,” Joseph said.
Candidates for election as Tibetan leaders have so far run as individuals supporting the Middle Way Approach. “[But] there’s nobody that’s stopping anybody from establishing any kind of an entity or a body that would represent their views,” Aukatsang said, speaking at ICT.
“Whether as an individual or as a group of like-minded people, you can start something. So there’s an opportunity.”
“If you want to run as a party, and you want to have candidates that are part of that party, you can put that out there to the electorate and say I’m so and so, and I represent this party, and my party stands for x, y, and z.”
“You can test that and see how much of a buy-in you get from people,” he said.