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The Case Against Autonomy for Tibet

Wednesday 2 January 2008, by Tsoltim N. Shakabpa

Why does the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) ask for autonomy for Tibet from Communist China that would give Tibetans considerably less freedom than those of us in exile currently enjoy? Presently, we are free to worship, voice our opinion on political and national issues, travel, practice and promote our religion, culture and traditions, and free to even vote for our Parliament-in-Exile. Why would the TGIE seek an agreement that denies such rights to us?

As for those living in Tibet, as the Dalai Lama himself has said, they may be somewhat enjoying the benefits of Communist China’s economic progress, except that they cannot practice their own culture, seek independence or engage in any activity against the Communist Chinese regime. But what use is "autonomy" if it means restricting our unique cultural, religious and peaceful political activities?

So why do we want to get into an official autonomous situation which will be a thousand times worse than the present situation?

By asking the Communist Chinese for an official agreement to have autonomous status for Tibet, we will be surrendering many of the rights we are now entitled to and locking ourselves into a constricted and precarious situation forever from which we cannot withdraw.

If we enter into an official agreement on autonomy with the Chinese some of the restrictions, including firm restrictions on all foreign and military affairs, we will face are:

  1. Practice of Tibetan religion, culture and traditions within "autonomous" Tibet will be under strict Chinese scrutiny.
  2. Promotion of Tibetan culture, religion and traditions abroad will either be prohibited or restricted as it concerns foreign affairs.
  3. All foreign travel will be controlled and restricted by the Chinese.
  4. Tibetans must carry Chinese passports when traveling abroad.
  5. Tibet can never be represented in any international body or agency.
  6. Foreign investments in Tibet will be controlled by China.
  7. China will have the authority to impound or export from Tibet any valuable Tibetan resources as they can claim it affects Tibet’s foreign welfare and affairs.
  8. China will have full control over the flow of the Drichu and Machu Rivers in Tibet as China will claim they affect the Yangtse and Huang Ho Rivers in China since the Drichu becomes the Yangtse in China and the Machu becomes the Huang Ho in China. Any such activity will gravely affect the Tibetan ecological and environmental system.
  9. Tibetans, within Tibet, will never be permitted to record for history all the misdeeds that China inflicted upon Tibet.
  10. Tibetans will never be permitted to claim restitution from China for all the misdeeds (killings and torture) inflicted upon them.
  11. The Chinese will never agree to having the whole of ethnic Tibet under one Tibetan administration.
  12. The Chinese will always deceptively impose their own puppets on a Tibetan administration under an agreement for autonomy.
  13. Tibetans will never be allowed to raise their national flag.

The above are just a few of the restrictions Tibetans will face if an agreement on autonomy is signed.

Even if Tibet ever realizes genuine autonomy, Tibetans will never truly trust the situation. Tibetans will set one foot outside Tibet and the other foot in Tibet. And unlike Hong Kong, which is mostly made up of Chinese, Tibetans will never assimilate completely with the Han race or accept a communist system of government because (1) communists believe that religion is poison while Buddhism is a sacred religion to Tibetans and (2) communism is fraught with dictatorship while Tibetans strongly believe in democracy.

The Tibetan Government-in Exile in its negotiations with China proclaims we must not look at the past in order to avoid upsetting the Chinese with the "touchy" subject of our history of independence. But the very intrinsic values of Buddhism teach us that our future depends upon our past. The past is what makes us Tibetans and the past is what will make the future. I humbly request and urge the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to reconsider its policy. The Dalai Lama’s own elder brother, the honorable Taktser Rimpoche, despite his age and physical disability, is valiantly fighting for independence, not for autonomy. My own late father, the historian Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa, steadfastly stood for an independent Tibet all his life.

Autonomy is not a choice. There is no alternative to absolute freedom but to continue the struggle to regain Tibet’s independence from Communist China. Similar to India, the Philippines and many other nations, one shiny day, no matter how long it takes, Tibet will be free and independent if only we continue the struggle.

Having said the above, it is my secondary hope and prayer that our hardline position to gain complete independence for Tibet will make the Chinese think twice and negotiate with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to enable Him to achieve "genuine" autonomy for Tibet under a single, democratically-elected Tibetan administration over the whole of ethnic Tibet within the realm of a democratic China.

Bod Gyalo! Kundun ko-tse ring-po thob-pa sho!

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