What Tibet Wants - The Dalai Lama asks his followers to chart their own course

2008.11.16 Wall Street Journal Asia. As leaders of the Tibetan exile community convene in Dharamsala, India this week to discuss Tibet's future, their task is not easy. Seven months after protests across the Tibetan plateau, Lhasa remains under military lockdown; the Tibetan community abroad has grown more deeply divided; and the Sino-Tibetan dialogue is in tatters.

Yesterday the Tibetan government in exile released its "Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People." The memo was presented to Beijing during the latest round of formal negotiations earlier this month. It lays out in unprecedented detail the Dalai Lama's vision for an autonomous Tibet and explains how these aspirations fit within the scope of the Chinese constitution.

The memo promises that the Tibetan government in exile will be dissolved once an agreement is reached and says the Dalai Lama will not seek political office. It advocates more autonomy for the Tibetan regional government, and pledges not to expel non-Tibetans. In response, Beijing called the document a disguised plan for independence with one official saying the Dalai Lama was intent on "ethnic cleansing." Such vitriol is not encouraging to those who advocate more compromise.

The Dalai Lama's peaceful "Middle Way" policy has failed to improve the situation inside Tibet. A growing number of Tibetans believe a less conciliatory position would improve their negotiating power; some advocate full independence or orchestrated campaigns of nonviolent "noncooperation" inside Tibet.

A stronger stance would carry risks. Not least, it would make it harder for the international community to support Tibet. One glimmer of encouragement on that score has recently come from Europe, where French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the EU Parliament announced they will meet the Dalai Lama next month.

For the moment, it looks like China is winning in what is essentially a waiting game. Beijing is betting that when the Dalai Lama, 73, passes away, the Tibetan community will be divided and weak. Meanwhile, Han Chinese continue to stream into the Tibetan plateau, and Tibetan children are being educated in Mandarin and groomed for assimilation.

As the Dalai Lama meets with his followers this week, we hope Beijing will be listening -- and will realize that that his vision for an autonomous Tibet within China's borders is the best path to a peaceful solution.