November 25, 2008

A 'Machiavellian' perspective on the Tibetan issue?

“We are in a democratic system, but the opinion of the majority may not be the right one,” said Lhadon Thethorg, a delegate (and New York president of Students for a Free Tibet) on the final day of the meeting between the Tibetan exile leaders which took place last week in Dharamshala. In fact nearly 600 delegates voted to continue to follow the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” strategy. However, Lhadon Thethorg added, “whether for the ‘Middle Way’ or independence for Tibet, people are calling for more vigorous action.”

Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, in turn, said that “if China does not respond positively to our initiative, there is no other options left for us than to go for independence.” Yet, the Dalai Lama doesn’t seem too hopeful about the “positivity” of the Chinese approach towards the Tibetan issue: “My trust in Chinese officials has become thinner and thinner,” he said Sunday, addressing the delegates after they wrapped up the gathering. So what? Is he in doubt about his own “Middle Way” path itself, which seeks genuine autonomy through negotiations with the Chinese leadership? Yes and no, I’d say. No, because the alternative approach (to seek the path of negotiation over the way of violence) would lead nowhere. Yes, because of the undoubted failure of the negotiations which have been held so far. Is this contradictory? Yes, if we mean this in a logical sense, no, if we consider the true nature of the issue, or, to say it with Machiavelli’s words, if we go directly to “the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it.”

But there is a different way to approach the issue: instead of wondering, as many people do, whether or not the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” is the best path, we might wonder whether or not Chinese views and policies on Tibet are actually wise and thoughtful. As a matter of fact, the Chinese are assisting the calls for Tibetan independence, and, as this leading article in yesterday’s Independent says, they are “encouraging radicalism as a way of splitting the Dalai Lama from his adherents and then waiting for him to reach an isolated death.”

But …

[t]his is a dangerous policy. Marginalising moderation, as we know from the Islamic world, only plays into the hands of the extremists, of which there are an increasing number amongst young Tibetans. The call for independence, as opposed to autonomy, will grow louder. Beijing should heed the Dalai Lama’s call for the “middle way” before it finds that events have moved beyond its control.

I find this perspective to be a good starting point for further discussions.