Jessica Brock Emory University Tibetan Studies 2009
After a semester of observing and interacting with the Tibetan community in McLeod
Ganj, studying the conflict and interviewing/researching organizations involved in it, it became clear that there is a disconnect between Tibetans supporting different solutions: independence or
Middle Way. Although an obvious disagreement, the rift impedes the development of a united front against China seems to be downplayed by the community itself. This rift is particularly apparent when observing Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) in McLeod Ganj. Although SFT is one of the most active organizations in McLeod, its message is absorbed in the general anti-China sentiments that pervade this Tibetan settlement. For example, on March 10th, SFT held a pro- independence march to commemorate the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation.
However, a pro-Middle Way group organized a rally in the same place, making the beginning of the march a little chaotic and confusing. Furthermore, as acknowledged by SFT leaders, many pro-Middle Way Tibetans participate in these pro-independence marches for other reasons such as to protest human rights violations in China. For this reason, SFT marches are frequently not focused. For example, at this March 10th protest, participants chanted slogans against the UN‟s complacency, China‟s treatment of Tibetans and the kidnapping of the Panchen Lama, in addition to pro-independence slogans. It is necessary to ask what this does to SFT‟s effectiveness in McLeod. Considering that McLeod Ganj is a hub for Tibetan Buddhism and culture as the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama, this community is an important audience for SFT. But what if SFT‟s message becomes compromised for one that is more popular in the community? How effective are their methods if SFT becomes generalized?
Another observation after a semester in McLeod is that Tibetan Buddhism largely defines
Tibetan culture. This does not mean that all Tibetans are religious, but that Buddhism is deeply engrained into the community. Although it is likely that this is exaggerated by attempts to defend Brock 3
Tibetan culture from Chinese influences, it seems that every Tibetan has a connection to the
Dalai Lama, even if it is not a particularly religious one. After all, despite his attempts to decrease his political power by stepping down as ultimate authority, he is the symbolic leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and serves as the Tibetan spokesperson to the international community. The importance of the Dalai Lama increases the popularity of his plan for Tibetan autonomy under China. In addition, the independence and Middle Way groups often discuss their political beliefs in terms of their different relationships with Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai
Lama. Thus, it is blatantly clear that religion influences and frames the discussion of the Sino-
The purpose of this paper will be two-fold: to discuss the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religion in international relations, and to analyze the interaction between them in the Sino-Tibetan conflict, specifically regarding SFT. According to international relations theory, NGOs play significant roles in international politics by working with other international actors such as states and intergovernmental organizations to monitor and regulate the stability of the international system and its norms and laws. They also contribute to the resolution of international issues and conflicts. Religion is important to international relations because it provides a set of ethics and morals that guide the actions of the international community. Given the emphasis of Buddhism in Tibetan culture, religion provides a framework from which Tibetans formulate solutions, with or without guidance from the Dalai Lama. NGOs such as SFT must work within this framework and in accordance with Tibetan culture in order to effectively mobilize and communicate with the majority of Tibetans. However, this constrains the methods available to SFT and their ability to freely promote their goals. As a result, SFT‟s Brock 4 long-term goal is often compromised for other issues that are more accepted within the Tibetan community.
Main International Relations Theories
International relations theories provide a framework that outlines the characteristics of the international system, and how various actors work within this system to resolve problems that affect the international community such as terrorism, wars, and nuclear proliferation. While the academic study of international relations began in the beginning of the 20th century, the field itself dates back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (“An Overview of the Field of International
Relations,” 1 – 2). This treaty made states the most important actor in the international system because it gave them complete sovereignty within their borders, thus protecting them from outside intervention (Haynes, 31). Since then, scholars developed many theories to explain and resolve events in international politics. The two most prominent are Realism and Liberalism.
Realism revolves around states, which has led to its decreased popularity since the emergence of other international actors. The theory developed out of the works of Hobbes,
Machiavelli, Hans Morgenthau, and the Treaty of Westphalia, and past realist politicians include
Henry Kissinger. Realism posits that states are the only actors who matter in the international system. The interaction of states occurs under an anarchical international system. This means that there is no higher power that influences states (Burchill, et al., 32). States are characterized as unitary, selfish, but rational actors who seek to maximize their own power and security (31 –
33). States make decisions out of concern for their relative gains, or how to ensure that they comparatively benefit the most (67). When a state acts rationally, actions that are made in the name of morals and ethics are unfavorable. Thus, realism became less popular when the United Brock 5
States began to intervene in international politics on moral grounds, such as the First Gulf War
(50). Realist influence further decreased when the War on Terror planned to defeat terrorism and spread democracy in the Middle East (38). For the purpose of this paper, the realist perspective will not be analyzed because nonstate actors play no role in a realist world, which leaves nongovernmental organizations such as Students for a Free Tibet out of the picture.
Liberalist theory is realist‟s antithesis. With liberalism emphasizing the role of other actors in balancing state power, it serves as a more appropriate framework to consider in this paper. Developed out of the philosophies of those such as Locke, Voltaire, and Thomas Paine, liberalism posits that international norms and laws influence state decisions (“An Overview of the Field of International Relations,” 5 – 6). Therefore, the anarchical system presented by realism becomes mitigated by institutions and regimes. Regimes are a set of principles, norms, rules and decision-making procedures (Burchill, et al., 66). Instead of making decisions based on relative gains, liberal states make them based on absolute gains, or what is in the state‟s best interests (67). When states make these decisions, they consider international cooperation and the repercussions if norms and laws are not followed.
In a liberal system, when a state does not follow decision-making procedures, other actors such as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international courts can step in to maintain the collective security of the international community. Due to this idea of collective security, states cooperate to protect and ensure the survival of the other. Thus, states and other actors are interdependent instead of unitary (“An
Overview of the Field of International Relations,” 6). It is important to note that this system Brock 6 structure allows all actors to participate in some aspect of resolving conflicts such as the Sino-
Roles of Actors in a Liberal System
Liberal systems leave room for other actors besides states. The important actors in the international system are states, IGOs, NGOs, and individuals. There are other actors including multinational corporations, cartels such as OPEC, and organized crime groups, but they do not have as much influence and power as the formerly mentioned actors.
Even though states are not the only actor, they still remain the central unit to liberal theory because they have the most power due to their military capabilities, economic budgets, and their role as the main component in IGOs that set international norms. To be defined as a state by the international system, the state-in-question must have sovereignty, territorial integrity, a central government and a population. According to this definition, Tibet is not a state because its borders have been absorbed into China, and, therefore, Tibet does not have the first two requirements. States have economic, cultural, and political roles in the international community including mediating and instigating negotiations in conflicts, setting the United Nations‟ agenda, trading with other states, and influencing international policy through domestic laws. The global hegemon is especially important because their unregulated power gives them the ability to control and manipulate the global agenda to match their own (Amanda Licht, May 31, 2009). As a result, coercion is not used against China in part because the United States has deemed economic prosperity as more important than human rights when approaching relations with
China. The power of states is balanced by other actors to ensure that collective security is maintained. Brock 7
Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) also have considerable power in the international community. An IGO is defined as any institution created by a treaty between governments, and their main purpose is to ensure international cooperation (Amanda Licht, May 25, 2009). This is done in six ways: (1) helping in negotiations, (2) providing a forum for discussion, (3) facilitating compromises, (4) providing information on international issues, (5) formulating long- term solutions to maximize relative gains, and (6) lending impartial assistance
(“Intergovernmental Organizations,” 1). There are many IGOs including regional ones in Africa and Latin America, and the EU, but this paper will focus on explaining the roles of the United
Nations, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice because of their relevance in the Sino-Tibetan conflict.
The most important IGO is the United Nations. In addition to providing all six forms of assistance previously mentioned, the UN also provides education and humanitarian assistance, and investigates international issues through its subcommittees, organs and offices, including the
High Commissioner for Human Rights, High Commissioner for Refugees, International Atomic
Energy Agency, Children‟s Emergency Fund, International Court of Justice and the World
Health Organization. The organization of the UN allows is to tackle many specific policy areas to prevent and resolve international problems and crises. Recently, the UN has expanded its role to military intervention in the form of peacekeeping, peace building or peace enforcing missions
(Amanda Licht, June 1, 2009). When the UN discovers that an international law or norm has been broken, courts can take legal action against the rogue state.
The majority of international law violations are prosecuted by the International Court of
Justice (ICJ) or the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Court of Justice is the Brock 8 main justice body of the United Nations. It was established in 1945 in Den Haag, The
Netherlands, and acts as a mediator between states who voluntarily bring their case to the court for a nonobligatory ruling or legal advice (ICJ Tour, June 3, 2009). The International Criminal
Court is not associated with the United Nations, and tries cases dealing with crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. Also located in Den Haag, the ICC was officially established through an intergovernmental treaty in 1998. However, independent tribunals for the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created in the 1990s (ICC Tour,
June 2, 2009). These courts may handle different cases, but their job is to enforce international law and maintain the status quo of the international community. Unfortunately, neither of these court systems has intervened in China. The ICJ is a voluntary court between states, and, because
Tibet is not considered an independent state, it irrelevant to the conflict. The ICC could intervene in the future, but the court has limited capacity, and has difficulty investigating the conflict due to China‟s strict media laws.
Essentially, IGOs are the police of the world who try to enforce world order, and protect and provide for its citizens. However, since they are made up of states with specific preferences,
IGOs are only as strong and effective as their members let them be.
NGOs play the most critical role in the Sino-Tibetan conflict because of the dormancy of other actors. An NGO is defined by the UN as “any international organization which is not established by intergovernmental agreement,” does not advocate violence, is not a political party and is non-profit (“NGOs and International Relations Theory,” 8). They have become increasingly important in recent decades because the nature of conflict has changed from being predominantly between states to within states. These types of conflict displace citizens, creating Brock 9 refugee problems that cannot be solved by unstable governments. NGOs help with conflicts in many ways including “humanitarian relief, preventative action and conflict resolution, development assistance, and institution-building” (“NGOs and Conflict Management,” V).
However, NGOs are not confined to these roles.
NGOs such as Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) play a different role than any of the actors mentioned thus far. These types of NGOs focus on grassroots level activism, and work directly with citizens to promote changes in governmental policies. Such organizations are the ones average citizens are most familiar with as individuals have the easiest access to them. In hopes that international action will be taken, these organizations usually focus on a specific subject matter to change public opinion or make governments and institutions aware of it (Amanda
Licht, May 31, 2009). In general, NGOs relay messages between individuals and the other international actors while playing humanitarian, mediation and activist roles.
Individuals are the backbone of the international community because they hold leaders accountable and influence their opinions. Each individual brings their own beliefs and opinions into their membership of the previously mentioned actors. In this manner they can rally groups to make their goals a priority. Individuals are also able to influence the actions of state leaders through activities such as lobbying, voting, protesting and taking public opinion polls. Liberal, democratic states take the opinions of their citizens into consideration when making decisions because they care about the effect of approval ratings for reelection. Also, individuals frequently choose leaders and international institutions as the audience for their protests (Amanda Licht,
May, 25, 2009). Individuals work closely with all actors in the international system, even if they are not directly involved in them. Brock 10
As the world has grown more politically and economically interdependent through globalization, international conflicts are no longer isolated events; they transcend state borders, ethnicities, religions and nationalities. Under a liberal system, the security of each actor is connected. Therefore, a threat to the security of one actor is a threat to the security of all. This is why conflict mediation and resolution are necessary (“NGOs and Conflict Management,” V).
There is not a blanket theory implemented to resolve conflicts, and every single actor has a different approach to the correct way to do so. This makes conflict resolution very temperamental because all actors must coordinate with each other in order for the solution to be effective (VI). If a solution is to be implemented by all actors from individuals to the leaders of the international community, then every actor must play their part.
Types of Intervention
Generalizing conflict resolution is difficult because every conflict is different and requires a unique solution. However, there are a few basic means of intervention that are tailored to a specific conflict (Crocker, 233). Top-down intervention comes in military, diplomatic or financial forms, which include negotiating, deploying troops and sending aid. These are typically performed by states, IGOs and humanitarian NGOs. Strategies that work from the bottom-up are mobilizing, educating and empowering the public (234 – 235). These strategies are performed by other forms of NGOs that will be further explained later. After taking the timing of intervening into account, actors must cooperate in order to make a successful, long-term conflict management solution.
Roles of Actors in Conflict Resolution
States Brock 11
States are typically the main mediators in conflicts. Due to their diplomatic relationships with other states in the international community, states have an advantage in mediation because they are seen as a more legitimate mediator than IGOs or NGOs to warring parties (“What Do
NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 375). Also, due to their financial assets and military capabilities, powerful states can perform every top-down strategy (Amanda Licht, May 31, 2009). Although states are very important to international conflict and mediation, the compromised status of Tibet leave this actor a complicated one for this paper.
Given their undefined status, it is unclear which actor‟s roles the Tibetan government in- exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. While acting as the main negotiator on behalf of Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his government have informal relationships with other states (Jeffery
Haynes, May 20, 2009). Although the Tibetan government has little influence in the international community, the Dalai Lama frequently interacts with other states in his international campaigns
(Lixiong, 91). Tibet‟s main state ally is the U.S., who frequently urges China to negotiate.
However, this is as far as U.S. intervention has extended after the C.I.A. abandoned its mission that supported Tibetan guerillas. In addition, Tibet‟s main adversary is China, a powerful state with a booming economy, advanced military and international status such as a permanent member of the UN‟s Security Council (Tenzin Tsundue, May 9, 2009). The importance and influence of China to the international community makes other actors involved in mediation especially important to Tibetans.
IGOs mediate in international conflicts to ensure international cooperation and order. The most powerful IGOs are the United Nations, ICC and ICJ. No IGO is as prominent as the United
Nations. The UN often directly intervenes in conflicts with coalition forces that member states Brock 12 volunteer. These missions take three forms: peacekeeping, peace building or peacemaking and peace enforcing. Peacekeeping missions involve the deployment of “lightly armed” forces whose purpose is to monitor an existing ceasefire or demilitarization process so that negotiations can be successful (Doyle, 532). Peace building missions are different than peacekeeping in that they address the causes of conflict while monitoring and implementing peace agreements for a more long-term solution (532 – 533). Peace enforcing missions involve deploying UN coalition troops with tasks such as protecting the delivery of humanitarian aid, forcefully ensuring ceasefire, and providing assistance in rebuilding failed states (533). These forms of intervention are controversial because they have questionable success rates. However, the UN also has ways to intervene that are not so unpredictable.
The UN can participate in conflict resolution in ways that do not involve military force.
The Security Council frequently passes resolutions that address international concerns. Such resolutions will be discussed further in the history section. It also has vast number of subgroups that separately tackle issues such as humanitarian relief with the High Commissioner of
Refugees, which administers refugee camps, investigating violations of international laws and treaties with agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear proliferation to enforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the International Court of
Justice (Amanda Licht, June 1, 2009). The International Court of Justice can mediate between cooperative parties. The court handles any case including ones dealing with border disputes or trade issues (ICJ tour, June 3, 2009). However, none of the UN missions or the agencies has been utilized in this particular conflict.
The International Criminal Court does not charge and prosecute state leaders that are involved ongoing conflicts. Instead, leaders are typically charged after the conflict has begun to Brock 13 subside. However, the recent indictment of al-Bashir in the midst of the Darfur genocide has changed that precedent (ICC tour, June 2, 2009). The problem with many of the IGOs intervening in the Sino-Tibetan conflict is that there are political repercussions when intervening in the affairs of a powerful member state such as China. These political allegiances decrease
IGOs‟ willingness to intervene in private, domestic affairs.
The role that an NGO serves in conflict management depends on the type of activities they perform. According to Pamela Aall, there are five broad types of NGOs: (1) those that provide humanitarian relief, (2) those that promote the development of society (i.e. education, health), economic growth and environmental awareness, (3) human rights NGOs, (4) conflict resolution NGOs, and (5) NGOs that facilitate the growth and development of democratic infrastructures and civil society. NGOs can perform these activities locally, nationally or globally
(“What Do NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 367). BeFcause the Sino-Tibetan conflict has extended beyond China‟s border with the establishment of a Tibetan government-in-exile and the exodus of thousands of Tibetan refugees from China, only the international NGOs will be discussed.
Humanitarian NGOs respond to crises by providing humanitarian relief. This is defined as a “short-term, emergency service in the face of a disaster, whether natural or man-made.” This includes providing financial and medical assistance, giving food and water to affected citizens, and reconstructing damaged buildings (“What Do NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 369). These types of NGOs also provide development assistance to set up “sustainable social, economic, and political structures” that improve methods for people to uplift themselves such as agriculture and education (368). Humanitarian NGOs seek to rebuild societies in countries whose governments Brock 14 may not adequately do so. However, these sorts of NGOs do not play a significant role in this particular conflict because the largest Tibetan refugee settlements are in countries that provide assistance, and humanitarian NGOs are not functional inside of China.
The activities of the second types of NGOs are straight forward in that they promote education, health, economic growth and environmental awareness in any manner they see fit.
Although these NGOs do not follow a specific tactic, some common ones include educational campaigns and community empowerment (“What Do NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 367). The
Tibetan Women‟s Association seeks to empower Tibetan women through education and skills training (TWA interview, April 21, 2009). Tesi Environmental Awareness Movement‟s goal is to reconnect Tibetans to the sacredness of nature by promoting environmental consciousness and activism (Tsering Yangkyi, April 17, 2009). These types of NGOs help to maintain Tibetan culture while giving them the skills to become self-sufficient.
Human rights NGOs promote awareness of such rights, and then investigate and monitor possible violations. NGOs educate the masses of the rights granted to them under the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights so they can defend themselves against oppressive governments
(“What Do NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 370). However, because oppressive governments are usually not deterred by public opinion, these NGOs also investigate violations, and alert the international community of their findings. After a solution is implemented, these NGOs monitor situations to prevent further violations (371). These NGOs are vital to the Sino-Tibetan conflict because China‟s human rights violations are emphasized as a reason why the international community should defend Tibet.
The major human rights NGOs involved are International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and
Human Rights Watch (HRW). Other such NGOs do not have any presence in China at the Brock 15 moment (“Amnesty International China,” 1). The International Campaign for Tibet researches and reports on the status of human rights and environmental and societal conditions inside the
Tibetan Autonomous Region, protests the persecution of political prisoners, supports Tibetan self-determination, and encourages the international community to act (“ICT‟s Mission,” 1).
Human Rights Watch‟s campaigns are not as focused on Tibet as the ICT because they monitor human rights violations around the world. According to their website, HRW strategy is to lead
“objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy [to] build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse.” Currently, HRW reports on issues in Tibet that include the treatment of political prisoners and religious persecution (“About Us,” 1). The Tibetan government-in-exile also has a Human Rights Desk in the Department of Information and
International Relations (DIIR). While this is not technically an NGO, it also is not technically a governmental organization considering the compromised status of the Tibetan government, and, because it has no clear categorization, it will just be discussed in terms of human rights organizations. The Human Rights Desk exchanges information with other human rights NGOs on the status of Tibet, and prints information regarding Tibet‟s status to educate Tibetans and the international community. These pamphlets, posters and statements address issues including forced abortion, torture against political prisoners, prison labor and religious intolerance. It also translates the Declaration of Human Rights into Tibetan and distributes copies to promote awareness (DIIR tour, March 13, 2009). Human rights organizations frequently work together and exchange information to bring about global awareness and incite international change.
NGOs that specify in conflict resolution directly intervene and serve as the mediator between warring parties. They work with the parties involved in an unbiased manner to begin negotiations and reach a compromise. Also, they educate the parties about their role in the Brock 16 conflicts, and strategies to resolve them (“What Do NGOs Bring to Peacemaking?”, 372). The problem with these NGOs in terms of the Sino-Tibetan conflict is that none have stepped in. The only negotiators have been Chinese and Tibetan delegates.
The fifth type is a group of grassroots organizations that work to establish democratic institutions and develop civil society. These NGOs work within societies to empower them politically and give them an avenue through which to express their opinions (“What Do NGOs
Bring to Peacemaking?”, 367, 379). Developing civil society is a very important task to the
NGOs involved in the Sino-Tibetan conflict because the NGOs that exist in McLeod Ganj and other exiled settlements work within it to mobilize Tibetans. The major NGOs of this kind that are relevant to this paper are those who try to convince Tibetans to support one of the two popular solutions to the conflict: autonomy and independence. The former include Tibetan
Women‟s Association (TWA). The latter include the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and
Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). It is necessary to note that these NGOs will not directly participate in negotiations because they are biased groups. However, as discussed in the roles of
NGOs in international relations, they can influence the government‟s approach to negotiations.
Individuals are necessary to include in conflict resolution because they are the ones that grassroots NGOs seek to mobilize and other NGOs are trying to help. As previously stated, individuals can influence governments through activities that express public opinion such as lobbying, voting and protesting (Amanda Licht, May 25, 2009). While voting and lobbying are new concepts to the growing democracy, the Tibetan community is very familiar with protesting.
During my semester in McLeod, I witnessed many protests ranging from a weekly anti-China march to Losar protests to a march on the Panchen Lama‟s birthday. Although most of these Brock 17 protests were organized by established NGOs such as SFT or TWA, individuals also work independently from organized groups to inspire Tibetans and the international community. The most influential of these individuals are Lhasang Tsering, Tenzin Tsundue, Jamyang Norbu,
Samdhong Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The first three individuals are pro-independence Tibetans. Lhasang Tsering owns a bookstore in McLeod, and is frequently seen giving speeches against China and autonomy. With a red bandana around his forehead, Tenzin Tsundue is probably the most recognizable pro- independence activist. He attends protests, writes nonfiction stories and poems, and travels to advocate for Tibetan independence (Tenzin Tsundue, May 9, 2009). Jamyang Norbu, author of works such as Rangzen Charter, has a more sophisticated plan of achieving independence than the former two. It has eight points:
“(1) active confrontation of Chinese tyranny, (2) deeds & sacrifices of patriots must be
acknowledged, (3) democracy must be fundamental to the freedom struggle, (4) patron
seeking mentality must be eliminated, (5) Tibetan society must become dynamic and
progressive, (6) Tibetan politics must be secularized, (7) national policy must be
formulated realistically, and (8) Tibetan sovereignty is sacred, irrevocable and
paramount” (Culture class lecture, March 2, 2009).
These individuals are somewhat radical amongst the Tibetans in McLeod for their outspoken opposition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama‟s policy of autonomy.
Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche supports the Dalai Lama‟s Middle Way, but believes that Gandhi‟s method of Satyagraha is the most effective way to achieve it. Satyagraha is a form of resistance that is based on the practice of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and a spiritual cleansing of oneself. Emphasizing truth above anything else, a practitioner brings about change by convincing Brock 18 his enemy of the truth in his opinion (Culture class lecture, March 2, 2009). The Dalai Lama also supports nonviolence, but does not champion this specific method.
By far the most influential individual in the Sino-Tibetan conflict is His Holiness the
Dalai Lama. Beginning in 1979 and solidified with the Strasbourg Proposal in 1988, the Dalai
Lama formulated a plan of complete autonomy under the Chinese government, or The Middle
Way Approach. Based on Tibetan Buddhism (the “Middle Way” title is taken from a term for the
Buddhist path), this plan has 6 parts: (1) autonomy for all ethnic Tibet regions (Tibetan
Autonomous Region, Amdo and Kham), (2) establishing a democratic government and independent judicial system, (3) making Tibet a demilitarized zone, (4) China controls Tibet‟s international affairs, but Tibet has complete control over domestic affairs, (5) human rights are upheld and population transfer of Chinese into Tibet stops, and (6) His Holiness will be the main negotiator for Tibet (Culture Class, March 2, 2009). As will be discussed later, the Dalai Lama‟s religious significance leaves little question in the eyes of Tibetans, especially those in McLeod
Ganj, about which plan of action is the best for Tibet‟s future.
The role of each actor is constrained and influenced by belief systems, worldviews and morality. In the Sino-Tibetan conflict, religion influences the actions and strategies of actors.
Strong convictions in Tibetan Buddhism manifest in various ways in the pro-Tibetan community, and strong convictions against religion influence China‟s reaction to Tibet and the Dalai Lama.
Religion in International Relations
Before discussing the role of religion in international politics, it is necessary to define religion. Although scholars do not agree on one concise definition, there are five universal features: (1) discusses ultimate reality, (2) creates a community, (3) uses mythology and symbols, (4) has rites and ceremonies, (5) gives a set of ethics and morals to adherents (Haynes, Brock 19
11). More broadly, religion is a system of beliefs that connects the believer to what is considered to be ultimately real, and can be integrated into a society in such a way that disagreement with beliefs or practices is profane. Religion affects the world through its doctrine and through its actions, which includes the relationship with civil society and politics (12). However, religion itself is a relatively amorphous concept that depends on its adherents to interpret it in such a way that gives it power.
Hard vs. Soft Power
The power a religion has is different than the usual definition of power used in international relations as it does not include military or economic strength in its measurement.
There are two kinds of power in international relations – hard and soft. Hard power is coercive and sometimes violent as it is measured by military or economic prowess (Haynes, 40). Soft power stems from the ability to influence others through beliefs, values and culture. Religions have soft power, while a state uses monetary or military assets to build hard power. Though states also use soft power such as the U.S.‟ current spread of democracy, they are more likely to use the traditional “carrots and sticks” (diplomacy and military) options (41). Religions have soft power because they each carry their own set of beliefs, values and culture that their adherents adopt. Furthermore, these tenets of a religion influence and justify the actions of their adherents, which can translate over into the political realm (Fox, May 12, 2009). This can extend into international politics because religious ideas are transnational and, thus, they have global congregations (Haynes, 45). Although the base of a religion‟s power comes from the masses, it is easily manipulated by religious leaders.
The Role of Religious Leaders Brock 20
Religious leaders influence the power of religion by providing interpretations that guide the actions and beliefs of their followers. The type and scope of a leader‟s influence depends on whether they are a state-related or non-state religious actor. A state-related religious leader is integrated into and given significant political power by a government (Haynes, 34). For example, the Ayatollah is the most important person in the Iranian government, and, in accordance with
Shiite Islamic law, is believed to be infallible because of his religious significance. This combination of religious and political supremacy gives him incredible influence over the Iranian government (i.e. foreign and domestic policy) and its citizens (53). Non-state religious actors tackle social and political issues in domestic and international spheres (34). The main difference between the power of non-state and state religious actors is that non-state actors is never definite, whereas state religious actors have definite power because of their relationship with governments
(53). An example of a non-state religious actor is the Catholic Church. The Pope interprets
Catholic beliefs and spreads them amongst his followers through speeches and statements. When the Pope addresses an international political issue, devout adherents often take his opinion to be infallible because of his religious knowledge (45). Religious leaders set up a framework that guides international adherents to act in specific ways, and directly provide an interpretation of values that outlines foreign and domestic policies.
The Role of Religion in the Sino-Tibetan Conflict
A meticulous account of Tibetan Buddhism‟s tenets is unfitting in this study. More appropriately, the influence of important religious leaders exert on the Tibetan independence movement shall be critically examined. When promoting independence or Middle Way views, activists use Tibetan Buddhist rhetoric, and religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Prime
Minister Samdhong Rinpoche provide guidance to Tibetans and the international community. In Brock 21 particular, the Dalai Lama, arguably the most important leader in Tibetan Buddhism, influences all followers of Tibetan Buddhism. This power causes backlash from the staunch atheist Chinese government, who have tried to replace Buddhist influence with communism through anti-Dalai
Lama and anti-Tibetan Buddhist campaigns.
Buddhism Concepts Engrained in Tibetan Culture
In addition to being the majority religion in Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism infiltrates many aspects of Tibetan culture. For example, Buddhist concepts of selflessness and interdependence create a strong sense of community and altruism in Tibetans. Respect for religious leaders is stressed, but is not based on religion alone. Religious leaders are also community leaders, and, until modernity reached Tibet, the most educated members of society (Ani Kelsang Wangmo,
May 17, 2009). In these ways, Tibetan Buddhism is important to Tibetans even if they are not devout practitioners.
The Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism
Religious teachers, also called lamas or gurus, are vital to Tibetan Buddhism because they provide spiritual guidance and lead their followers to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas such as the Dalai Lama are enlightened beings who, through bodhicitta, or the altruistic wish to free all sentient beings from suffering, help others achieve liberation (Ani Kelsang Wangmo, May 17,
2009). If the student has any desire to achieve liberation, a teacher is necessary because, as Lama
Tsongkapa says, “for attaining freedom, there is nothing more important than the guru” (70).
Lamas guide their students on the path to enlightenment through teachings, instructions, advice and by example (Lama Tsongkapa, 78). In return, a student is expected to have nine attitudes towards their teacher, the first three being: “(1) the attitude which is like the dutiful child, (2) the Brock 22 attitude which is like a diamond…close and stable, (3) the attitude which is like the earth…tak[ing] on all responsibilities of the guru” (79). The remaining six explain how to achieve the third attitude: (1) do not be discouraged by suffering, (2) do not be discouraged by difficult tasks, (3) do not let pride and superiority impede spiritual progress, (4) be happy to do difficult tasks, (5) do not get angry with your lama, and (6) do not give up on the dharma path
(79 – 80). It is acceptable for a student to reach a logical conclusion that does not agree with their lama‟s, but the student may not slander and disrespect their lama because of this (87). If a student does not properly follow their lama, they will suffer in this and future lives (90).
However, this committed student-lama relationship is not necessary until the student is advanced enough to practice tantra.
While the average Buddhist practitioner‟s devotion to their lama is still incredible, the consequences of defiance are not heavy as they have not made binding tantric vows. Given that lamas are still considered to have superior knowledge, students typically choose to either have complete trust in their lama and follow what they say, or follow their lama when it comes to subject they are unfamiliar with (Ani Kelsang Wangmo, May 17, 2009). In the case of Middle
Way and independence groups, Middle Way followers believe the Dalai Lama to be infallible in all matters, while independence supporters believe the Dalai Lama to be infallible only in dharma.
Although the Dalai Lama is not always considered the highest lama in Tibetan Buddhism, he has the most power as the Gelugpa religious leader. The Geluk sect emerged in the 14th century when Lama Tsongkapa traveled to Tibet, and began emphasizing monastic discipline and scholastic education. Tsongkapa established three, large monasteries around the Lhasa area Brock 23 that gave Gelugpas significant political influence (Goldstein, 6). The Geluks became integrated into the Tibetan government when the 3rd Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso, developed a patron-priest relationship with Mongolian ruler Altan Khan, and converted the Mongols to Buddhism. In return, Altan gave Gyatso the title of “Dalai Lama,” which means “ocean of wisdom,” and promised to help the Dalai Lama whenever he could. The bond between the Mongols and the
Geluks was strengthened when the 4th Dalai Lama was identified as Altan‟s great-grandson (8).
Afraid of the Geluks‟ power, the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism sought military assistance from Tibetan kings, and attacked major Geluk monasteries in the 1633 (6). Mongolian troops came to the aid of the threatened 5th Dalai Lama, and helped him consolidate power over
Tibet. The Dalai Lama lineage was then granted the authority to rule with “supreme authority over all of Tibet” by Mongol chief Gushri Khan (9). With the help of Mongolian troops, the
Gelugpa sect became the most popular religious sect, and the Dalai Lama became the religious and political leader for Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama‟s Importance in Tibetan Buddhism
The Dalai Lama is important to Tibetans because he has religious, political and cultural significance. He is the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, who is believed to be the father of
Tibetans. In a creation myth, Avalokitesvara took the form of a monkey, and mated with a demoness; their children were Tibetans. Because of this, Tibetans have a very strong karmic connection with Avalokitesvara. Avalokitesvara is also the bodhisattva of compassion, meaning that he possesses advanced levels of Buddhist knowledge, and has certain abilities such as omniscience. Because of his believed power, Tibetans value the Dalai Lama‟s opinions and trust his decisions. Prior to Chinese invasion, the Dalai Lama was the official head of the Tibetan government. In the exiled government, the Dalai Lama has decreased his role in the government, Brock 24 making his role mostly symbolic. However, diminishing his political clout has proved difficult given the trust that Tibetans place in him (Ani Kelsang Wangmo, May 17, 2009). The connection between Tibetans and the Dalai Lama is so strong because it is based on ethnicity and religion.
Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama have been widely stressed in Tibetan culture since
China‟s invasion of 1959. Prior to their invasion, there was no single Tibetan nation or unified culture or society. Instead, Tibet was a multicultural nation with many municipalities, and had a government that did not control its periphery regions (Venturino, 103). However, since Chinese occupation, the necessity for a unified people and culture to defy Chinese oppression has become paramount (104 – 105). As China attacked and attempted to destroy Buddhism, it has become more important to Tibetans.
Impact of Religious Policies in China
Tibetans inside Tibet respond to the Chinese government‟s anti-Tibetan Buddhist campaigns by becoming even more loyal to figures like the Dalai Lama. Throughout their occupation of Tibet, China has launched many anti-Dalai Lama and anti-religious campaigns.
They took land from religious leaders and institutions, destroyed monasteries and punished monastics who declared loyalty to the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government continues to hold a policy of required atheism for all Communist party members, and continues general anti-religion rhetoric (Lixiong, 82 – 85). China calls the Dalai Lama a “splittist”, and blames him for all social unrest in Tibet (78 – 79). The 11th Panchen Lama, another important religious leader in Tibetan
Buddhism, was kidnapped by the Chinese government shortly after his recognition by the Dalai
Lama. China then tried to assert their control over Tibetan Buddhism by appointing their own
Panchen Lama. Despite attempts by the Chinese government to banish Tibetan Buddhism rituals and symbols, many Tibetans hold daily prayers for the Dalai Lama, and keep pictures of the Brock 25
Dalai Lama and the Karmapa in their shrines (76). Also, when there is an argument between the
Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, Tibetans always side with the Dalai Lama (77). This loyalty is only strengthened by the Chinese government‟s hatred of the Dalai Lama. Slanderous campaigns offend Tibetans because the Dalai Lama represents the source of all Tibetan culture through Avalokitesvara, and Tibetan traditions through his historical political power (80 – 81).
Essentially, China‟s actions amount to “a declaration of war on their religion” (84). A strengthened loyalty to the Dalai Lama is the result of religious policies in China, but these policies are not exclusive to Tibet as they too extend into exile.
Buddhism in Exile Politics
The exile relationship to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism is strengthened by the
Chinese occupation because Tibetan refugees want to preserve their heritage and culture while in foreign lands, and it serves as a form of anti-China protest. The threat of complete assimilation into foreign cultures makes diasporic populations hold strongly onto their own (Venturino, 105).
Part of this cultural preservation has been initiated by the Dalai Lama. Tibetans who flee to
Tibetan settlements in India are likely to attend Tibetan Children‟s Village (TCV) or schools.
These schools were started by the Dalai Lama‟s sister, and have a close relationship with him and the exile government. Part of the schools' curriculum is teaching Tibetan culture and heritage, which includes religion and history (Semshook, 66 – 67). This instills children with pride in their heritage, and unites exiled Tibetans. In addition, as TCV Suja student Sonam
Tsering told me, Tibetan youth credit the Dalai Lama with being able to attend these schools because of his contribution to building and maintaining them (Sonam Tsering, March 26, 2009).
The Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) is also closely associated with the Dalai Lama. By Brock 26 opening this school to lay and non-Tibetan practitioners, the Dalai Lama increases Buddhist knowledge in Tibetans and the international community (Ani Kelsang Wangmo, May 17, 2009).
Tibetans in India are likely to actively participate in anti-China protests catalyzed by protective feelings of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan culture. Over the months I spent in the Tibetan community, I saw protests calling for the peaceful return of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans to
Tibet, and asking for the release of political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama. Also,
Tibetans held multiple long-life pujas (prayers) for the Dalai Lama. This relationship with
Buddhism affects the political opinions of Tibetans.
Middle Way and Independence Organizations
In the fight for Tibet, two major solutions have been proposed: the Middle Way and independence. Both groups of supporters justify their side by using religious rhetoric saying theirs is the best way to preserve Tibetan culture and religion. The Middle Way Approach is inherently religious as it was proposed by the Dalai Lama out of Buddhist principles. The name was chosen because autonomy is the path between two extremes (independence and the current
Chinese control) just as Buddhism is said to be (nihilism and complete indulgence) (Ani Kelsang
Wangmo, May 17, 2009). The form of nonviolence used by Middle Way groups includes
Buddhist concepts of nonviolence, and is seen as extreme by independence groups because it includes harmful speech and thoughts about the enemy (Tenzin Choeying, April 21, 2009). The
Dalai Lama himself influences the popularity of the Middle Way.
Tibetans often support the Middle Way because they believe the Dalai Lama has knowledge that average humans do not. This is reflected in the way that some Tibetans will often repeat the Dalai Lama‟s reasons for the Middle Way as though they are their own. For example,
Tsering Choeying, who works at IBD – Sarah, said that he supports the Middle Way because it Brock 27 benefits both Tibetans and China (which is one of the reasons the Dalai Lama says the Middle
Way is the best plan), but did not go into detail about how (Tsering Choeying, March 25, 2009).
Sonam Tsering repeated the same reason that Choeying did, but specifically said it is true because the Dalai Lama says it is (Sonam Tsering, March 26, 2009). Independence supporter
Tenzin Tsundue says that he believes most Tibetans who support the Middle Way do so because
“of their tremendous belief in their god-king leader, and definitely not because they have any trust in the Chinese” (Semshook, 34). Religious rhetoric is also evoked when referring to independence supporters as being anti-Dalai Lama (72). While these statements are generalizations of Middle Way supporters, there is an inherent element of religion in the discussion of the Middle Way because it was formulated by a religious leader.
Independence groups interpret Buddhism in different ways than Middle Way groups, which leads to different religious justifications. The Buddha said never to believe anything because of blind faith, but to use reasoning to come to one‟s own conclusions. SFT India
Program Director Tenzin Choeying says that while Middle Way groups emphasize the lama- student relationship, independence groups emphasize the importance of logic in Buddhism
(Tenzin Choeying, May 14, 2009). The reliance on religion is also criticized by independence supporters. Tenzin Tsundue criticizes the use of extreme Buddhist concepts in the discussion of the future of Tibet because he believes that it is not rational to expect lay Tibetans to isolate themselves from the real world and use Buddhism to find freedom. He says that, “seeking
Buddhahood is one thing and freedom for a country is another” (Semshook, 68). Tsundue does not blame the Dalai Lama for his following, but believes that Tibetans give too much responsibility to the Dalai Lama when they rely on him to solve their problems. Furthermore, by following whatever the Dalai Lama says, Tibetans are preventing democratic progress in the Brock 28 exile government (Tenzin Tsundue, May 9, 2009). All actors involved have to work within the religious framework of Tibetan culture and politics. Therefore, discussion of the future of Tibet and the arguments between Middle Way and independence supporters occur in a religious context.
Dalai Lama‟s Political Speeches
The Dalai Lama gives religious teachings and political advice to Tibetans. The former is done through books, speeches and public teachings, while the latter is commonly done through speeches (Ani Kelsang Wangmo, May 17, 2009). The Dalai Lama‟s most important speeches are at the annual ceremony remembering the Tibetan Uprising on March 10th, 1959. These speeches began in 1961, and address current political and cultural issues facing Tibetans. Serving as the voice of Tibetans, the speeches reprimand China, ask for international assistance and send uplifting messages to oppressed Tibetans (“Tibet and the Tibetan People‟s Struggle,” i – ii).
Many have also discussed policies in the Sino-Tibetan conflict including the Five Point Peace
Plan, the Strasbourg Proposal and the Middle Way Approach. Discussing Chinese inaction, the
Dalai Lama has said he developed the Middle Way because China required a policy change for negotiations. He said that he made this decision despite “the deep-felt disappointment of many
Tibetans” after Strasbourg (89). The following year, the Dalai Lama again acknowledged that the majority of Tibetans long for full independence (92), but that his solution is more “peaceful
[,]…reasonable” (91) and practical (109). Given the influence the Dalai Lama has over Tibetans, it seems logical that, even though they actually want independence, Tibetans support the Middle
Way because the Dalai Lama believes it to be a better solution.
Prior to 2005, the speeches of the Dalai Lama typically mentioned his influence on the popularity of the Middle Way, and often called it his plan. However, the Dalai Lama began to Brock 29 use exclusionary rhetoric despite the dissenting opinion he once included. In 2005, he said that
“we [Tibetans] remain fully committed to the Middle Way Approach” (“Tibet and the Tibetan
People‟s Struggle,” 166). This sentiment of a Tibetan population united behind the Middle Way has been repeated in every March 10th speech since. This year‟s speech was especially important because 2009 is the 50th anniversary of China‟s occupation of Tibet. The most significant part of the 2009 speech was the Dalai Lama‟s continued use of exclusionary rhetoric. Stating that autonomy is “our aspiration” because it “fulfills the fundamental requirements of Tibetan[s],” the
Dalai Lama ignores the large percentage of Tibetans who fight for independence. Speeches such as these leave independence groups feeling unsupported, and make it more difficult for them to find support within the community (Tenzin Choeying, May 14, 2009). Although the Dalai
Lama‟s ability to influence the political opinions of Tibetans became stronger following the
Chinese occupation, the lineage has dominated Tibetan politics throughout history.
History of the Tibetan Conflict
In order to completely understand the current exile political situation, it is necessary to be aware of what led to it. The history of the Sino-Tibetan conflict is dense and a thorough explanation would be superfluous, but the basic events and complications in history are needed to understand the arguments and political options available to Tibetans.
Pre-Communist China Invasion History
Informal political contact between Tibet and China began in the seventh century and was formalized with treaties that solidified the border between the two countries. Although relations between the Chinese Tang dynasty and Tibet ended when the dynasty collapsed in 905 A.D., they were restored when a rift in the Mongolian Empire forced Tibet and the new Chinese authority, the Qing dynasty, to communicate (Goldstein, 1 – 2). Brock 30
In the 1600s, the Mongolian Empire split. Battles broke out between the Western
Mongolian Dzungars and the Qing-assisted Eastern Mongols. When Mongolian Lhabsang Khan became king of Tibet in 1697, his mission was to restore the Mongolian Empire (Goldstein, 11).
However, this mission proved difficult when Lhabsang chose to overthrow and exile the unruly and blasphemous 6th Dalai Lama, Tsayang Gyatso, thereby replacing him with a puppet monk
(12). The Geluks, the Dalai Lama‟s Buddhist sect, turned to the Western Mongolian Dzungars for help in overthrowing Lhabsang and removing the false 6th Dalai Lama. In 1717, the Dzungars defeated Lhabsang Khan and established themselves as the new rulers of Tibet. While Tibetans initially rejoiced, they eventually became resentful of the Mongols‟ persecution of the Geluks and failure to bring the 7th Dalai Lama to Lhasa after he was identified. Capitalizing on the
Tibetans disillusionment with the Dzungars and the power of the Dalai Lama figurehead, authority was transferred to the Qing dynasty when they installed the 7th Dalai Lama and made
Tibet a “loose protectorate” (12 – 14).
Despite an established sense of Tibetan autonomy under the Qing dynasty, China dealt directly in Tibetan affairs. In 1886, Britain sent an exploratory mission to Tibet in hopes of establishing trade between British India and Tibet with China‟s approval (Goldstein, 22). This resulted in a treaty that designated Yadong, Tibet as a trading center. The Tibetan government refused to recognize this treaty because they were not involved in the negotiations. British troops then invaded when Tibet refused to cooperate; they entered Lhasa on August 3, 1904 (23).
Fearing that he would be coerced into agreeing to the unfavorable treaty, the 13th Dalai Lama fled to Mongolia. British policy did not directly deal with Tibet until the Anglo-Tibetan
Convention of 1904, which ensured the removal of British troops from Lhasa. This convention gave Britain the right to establish trading posts in various Tibetan cities and “forbade any other Brock 31 foreign power to exercise political influence in Tibet” (24). The treaty upset the Chinese government because they were not included in negotiations. To smooth relations with China,
Britain annulled the Anglo-Tibetan Convention of 1904 and signed the 1906 Anglo-Chinese
Convention, which reaffirmed China‟s rule over Tibet (25).
After Britain and China came to this agreement in 1906, the Dalai Lama, still exiled in
Mongolia, sought his return to Tibet. Fearing Chinese persecution with his loss of authority, he went to Beijing in 1908 to request permission to rule Tibet. Although agreeing to let the Dalai
Lama return, China denied his request to rule on the basis that Tibet was part of China
(Goldstein, 27). His return was brief because Chinese troops entered Lhasa in 1910, causing the
Dalai Lama to flee to India. In response, China initiated an accelerated process of integrating
Tibet into Chinese territory and rule. This expansion halted when the Qing dynasty was overthrown by Chinese nationalists in 1911 (28).
After the fall of the Qing dynasty, the 13th Dalai Lama returned to Tibet. Although acting in less aggressive ways than the Qing dynasty, the new leaders declared Tibet an integral part of
China on April 12, 1912. Despite this declaration, the 13th Dalai Lama self-declared Tibetan independence in 1913 (Goldstein, 30 – 31). To settle the issue of Tibetan independence and in hopes of creating a buffer state between India and China, Britain organized a conference in
Simla, India (32). In the Simla Convention, Tibet was declared autonomous from China and its boundary made to include all ethnic Tibet regions. China refused to ratify this treaty because they lost territory (33).
Fearing that future relations with China would be hostile, the 13th Dalai Lama wanted to modernize Tibet and establish a professional military (Goldstein, 34 – 35). However, religious leaders convinced him not to because they did not want to lose political power. While China Brock 32 faced internal problems with communist rebels and, later, a war with Japan, Tibet was met with little confrontation (35 – 36).
History under Communist China
Despite this brief period of Chinese complacency, Tibet finally lost all claims to internationally-recognized independence when Chinese communists defeated the nationalists in a civil war. In January 1949, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his government surrendered and fled to Taiwan. Now in power, the communist Chinese government released plans for the liberation of Tibet (Goldstein, 43). When Tibet was defenseless following the death of the 13th
Dalai Lama and while the 14th was still young, Chinese forces entered the Kham region of Tibet in October of 1950 (45). After failed appeals to the United Nations for protection, Tibet negotiated with the Chinese government, and signed the 17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful
Liberation of Tibet on May 23, 1951 (46). The 17 Point Agreement established Tibetan autonomy while maintaining the structure of the Dalai Lama‟s government, granted religious freedom to Tibetans, and promised the removal of Western imperial influences from Tibet (47).
Forcing Tibet‟s integration into communist China, the Chinese military entered Lhasa. China‟s failure to respect freedom of religion and the Dalai Lama‟s rule marred relations between the
Chinese and the teenage 14th Dalai Lama. Tibetan dissatisfaction with China culminated in the
March 1959 Uprising that engulfed Lhasa, and resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India. Upon his arrival in India, the Dalai Lama annulled the 17 Point Agreement and declared Tibet independent (54). Pursuing complete assimilation of Tibet into China, all property belonging to the absent religious authority and some of the monasteries was appropriated for redistribution
(55). Brock 33
Following Mao Zedong‟s death and Deng Xiaoping‟s more lenient policy towards the
Tibetan government in exile, informal talks between Chinese representatives and the Dalai
Lama‟s older brother, Gyalo Thondup, began in 1978. After a year of preliminary arrangements, a formal meeting was arranged. Upon establishing that independence would never be an option,
Beijing agreed to allow fact-finding missions into Tibet to observe the communist changes
(Goldstein, 51). When Tibetan and Chinese fact-finding missions found oppressive conditions,
Beijing promised to improve the situation and their relationship with the Tibetan government in exile (63 – 65). Subsequent communication between the governments was tense because the
Dalai Lama was unwilling to give up the fight for independence, and the Chinese government was unwilling to negotiate for independence (70 – 73). During stalls in negotiations, the Dalai
Lama began to campaign for the international community to place pressure on the Chinese government to cooperate (75). As part of this campaign, the Dalai Lama spoke to the U.S.
Congressional Human Rights Caucus on September 21, 1987 (76). In this speech, he revealed his
Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet: (1) the demilitarization of Tibet, (2) a reversal of the Han
Chinese population transfer into Tibet, (3) the respect of human rights and religious freedom in
Tibet, (4) the restoration of Tibet‟s environment and the abandonment of nuclear projects that produce nuclear waste in Tibet, and (5) productive negotiations between Tibet and China (77).
When China repeated its promised to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet and begin negotiations if the fight for independence was abandoned, the Dalai Lama complied. In a speech to the European Parliament at Strasbourg in June of 1988, the Dalai Lama officially gave up independence and accepted autonomy. The Strasbourg Proposal defined autonomy as Tibet having control over domestic affairs, including the freedom to establish a democratic government, while China controlled international affairs (Goldstein, 87 – 88). Brock 34
Middle Way Approach
Wanting to democratically develop Chinese foreign policy, the Dalai Lama held a conference in McLeod Ganj on the Middle Way Approach prior to his speech at Strasbourg. On
June 6, 1988, representatives from all branches of government, Tibetan NGOs, recent refugees and specifically-invited members of the Tibetan community gathered to discuss and approve the logistics of the Middle Way (“The Middle-Way Approach,” 4). There are eight components of the Middle Way: (1) create a Tibetan region that includes Kham, Amdo and the Tibetan
Autonomous Region, (2) this region will be autonomous, (3) part of that autonomy includes allowing Tibet to be a democratic state with an independent judicial system, (4) this autonomous region will not seek independence from China, (5) while awaiting complete demilitarization of the region, China can keep a small number of military troops in Tibet, (6) China will control the international affairs of this region while the Tibetan government controls domestic affairs, (7) human rights will be respected and the population transfer of Chinese into Tibet stopped, and (8) the Dalai Lama will be the main negotiator with China. This plan is based on equality, respect and nonviolence (6 – 8).
Although this plan was created to appease China, the Chinese government did not respond favorably. Frustrated that his new plan was not working, in 1996 the Dalai Lama decided to have a referendum to decide the best plan for Tibet. When an opinion poll showed that 64% of Tibetans supported the Middle Way or whatever the Dalai Lama proposed, the referendum was cancelled. Based on this opinion poll, the legislative branch of the Tibetan government in-exile passed a resolution on September 18, 1997 that declared the Middle Way
Approach the official policy and gave the Dalai Lama the freedom to make decisions without their approval (“Middle Way Approach,” 5). Brock 35
Seeking reaffirmed approval from Tibetans, the Dalai Lama held another meeting in
September of 2008 to discuss the future of Tibet. With 17,000 opinions previously collected from inside Tibet, 560 Tibetan delegates from all over the world met in McLeod to discuss the government‟s policy towards China. After a few days of discussions and debates, a vote of 17,
393 people resulted in 8,246 saying they would do whatever the Dalai Lama wanted, 2,950 people supported the Middle Way and 5,209 voted for independence. Adding the first two figures together, it was decided to maintain the Middle Way policy. Though confirming the
Middle Way as official policy, the delegates also said that, if in a “short period” of time there was no progress made with China, independence would eventually be reestablished as the goal of
Tibetans (“Tibetan Resolution,” 5). However democratic these proceedings may seem, these meetings do not amount to more than a deity figure asking his followers if they disagree with him or not. Through their different interpretations of Tibetan Buddhism, some Tibetans felt comfortable enough to disagree, but most did not, visible by the enormous figure that voted to support whatever the Dalai Lama wanted (Tenzin Tsundue, May 9, 2009). The biased discussions and misleading vote outcome left independence groups feeling alienated and attacked for their opposition to the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Choedon, May 18, 2009). Though the
Tibetan government in-exile has done as much to appease China and begin negotiations, including giving up independence, China has remained hostile. The international community will often step in to make informal statements or resolutions in hopes that diplomatic pressure will persuade China to negotiate.
Resolutions and recognition statements on Tibet have been released by various intergovernmental bodies such as the United Nations and the European Parliament, and Brock 36 individual states including the United States. The topics covered by their actions include human rights (with specific attention paid to religious freedom and the treatment of political prisoners), and the Dalai Lama. While there have been dozens of these instances, only those significant will be discussed.
Since China‟s invasion, human rights violations in Tibet have been of grave concern to the international community. The United Nations General Assembly released resolutions condemning the violations of Tibetan human rights in 1959, 1961 and 1965. In addition, the UN
Sub-commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minority Rights resolved to condemn the “violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms which threaten the distinct cultural, religious and national identity of Tibetan people.” The European Parliament released similar statements in 1987, 1992 and one in 1993 addressing the detainment of political prisoners. Making the largest statement against the human rights violations, the United States has released ten Congressional statements, two Foreign Relations Acts, and two Executive Orders since 1987 that condemn China (“International Resolutions and Recognitions on Tibet,” 9 – 57;
“Resolutions on Tibet,” 1 – 4). The purpose of such resolutions is to urge China to respect human rights in domestic policies, and in negotiating with Tibet. However, as there have been no further actions taken by any of these international bodies, these resolutions mean little more than lip service.
Besides speaking out against human rights violations, another way the international community can defy China is by acknowledging and supporting Tibetan Buddhist leaders. In
1988, the United States Congress released a statement of support for the Dalai Lama and his Five
Point Peace Plan and Middle Way Approach. The Congress also congratulated the Dalai Lama when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and issued an official statement of welcome to Brock 37 the Dalai Lama when he visited in 1995 (“Resolutions on Tibet,” 1 – 4). In 2006, the U.S
Congress awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his advocacy of peace, tolerance, human rights, non-violence, and compassion throughout the world” (“Congress Awards Dalai Lama Congressional Gold Medal,” 2006). Similar to the resolutions on human rights, the U.S.‟ statements on the Dalai Lama make minimal, if any, improvements in the Tibetan situation. Despite their kind words, the U.S. is unable to take substantial action because of its trading and economic reliance on China. With this absence of international action, NGOs become the main player in Tibetan communities.
Students for a Free Tibet
When the international community is unable to (or refuses to) take action in defense of
Tibetans, NGOs like SFT become necessary to empower Tibetans to defend themselves. This is achieved by working within communities to educate on the Tibetan situation and mobilizing the public to bring about social and political change. However, these NGOs have to be sensitive to the culture of the communities they work with, and the community and culture in McLeod Ganj frequently prevents SFT from performing their role and fulfilling their goals. In the Middle Way- dominated atmosphere, SFT diminishes the importance of independence by focusing on concerns shared with Middle Way organizations, such as human rights.
History, Mission, Activities, Tactics
Students for a Free Tibet began in 1994 in New York, and has subgroups all over the world, with the largest in Canada, Tokyo, New York, and London (Tenzin Choeying, May 14,
2009). SFT educates about the Tibet issue and empowers youth through grassroots organizing such as protests, concerts, and nonviolent direct action. Their ultimate goal is to achieve independence for Tibet by mobilizing the international community against China to make the Brock 38 occupation of Tibet too costly. Establishing their first office in India, SFT came to New Delhi in
2002. Though the city became familiar with the organization through protests, SFT officially created an office in McLeod in 2005. Differing from other Tibetan NGOs, SFT membership is about 95% youth, the majority of whom are not Tibetan. In the past, this was an advantage because non-Tibetans went where Tibetans were not allowed. For example, during the 2008
Olympics, non-Tibetans traveled to China to protest when Tibetans were barred (Tenzin
Choeying, April 21, 2009). Due to their large and international membership, SFT is able to run multiple campaigns at a time.
SFT campaigns address economic, political and human rights issues within Tibet. The economic campaigns “prevent international financing of China‟s occupation of Tibet.” Past campaigns include protesting World Bank funding, the construction of the China-Tibet railway and oil excavation and mining in Tibet (“Economic Campaigns,” 1). In political campaigns, SFT critiques Chinese policy and tarnishes China‟s reputation in the international community, reminding the government that as long as they occupy Tibet, they “will face condemnation around the world and China will never be a truly respected member of the international community.” Political campaigns include informing government representatives about Tibet and lobbying them to make a policy change (“Political Campaigns,” 1). Human rights campaigns aim to place international pressure on China to change their policies in Tibet. These campaigns focus on the release of political prisoners, such as the Panchen Lama and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and general education of the human rights abuses that occur (“Human rights campaigns,” 1). SFT trains members in nonviolent direct action so that they can chose which campaigns they want to participate in without having to rely on SFT headquarters for guidance.
Action Camps Brock 39
Action camps are an important aspect of SFT leadership training because it gives members the skills to act individually as well as collectively in all types of social resistance.
These camps combine theoretical education with protest training. By teaching grassroots organizing necessities like campaign strategies, media advocacy, fundraising, community organizing, these action camps give participants the knowledge necessary to motivate and act in society. Because they combine experience training from SFT leaders and leader from groups such as Greenpeace, Ruckus Society and Rainforest Action Network, these camps do not confine participants to being a grassroots organizer for Tibet, but encourage general social activism.
These leaders teach activists general nonviolence philosophy, history and practice (“SFT
Programs,” 1). The nonviolence theories taught in these camps are the basis for all SFT direct action
Emphasizing the individual, the action camps teach and empower participants to create social change. This form of direct action strengthens the SFT movement because one individual becomes just as threatening to oppressive institutions as a group of individuals. Any protest is considered nonviolent direct action if it uses peaceful means to direct affect your target.
Examples of direct action include protest marches, political theater skits, holding media events, writing letters and boycotts. Direct action also includes civil disobedience or knowingly breaking a law because it is unjust (Tenzin Choeying, April 21, 2009; “Direct Action,” 1 – 2). A historical example of this was draft-dodging in America during the Vietnam War. Using this method, SFT follows in the philosophical footsteps of anti-apartheid groups in South Africa and Civil Rights activists in the U.S. Brock 40
SFT India Program Director, Tenzin Choeying, does not like to compare SFT‟s nonviolent theory to those of any past activist or movement. I believe this is because
“nonviolence” itself is an ambiguous concept that is interpreted in different ways (Tenzin
Choeying, May 14, 2009). What one person considers to be violent, another might not. In the
Tibetan conflict, while hunger strikers believe their efforts to be nonviolent, Samdhong Rinpoche often criticizes them as being violent against themselves. While he may not like the comparison, it is clear that two major political movements have used similar nonviolent direct action as a means of liberation: Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, and the Civil Rights
Movement in the U.S.
Gandhian philosophies are important in the Sino-Tibetan conflict because many activists cite his use of direct action and civil disobedience as inspiration for their actions. Satyagraha is the main component of Gandhian nonviolent theory. Meaning “truth grasping,” Satyagraha states that truth will always prevail, but one must convince their opponent of the truth in their argument. To fall under this philosophy, direct action must be based on a universal truth, cannot be out of hate but must be out of love and compassion, and whose goals are reasonable. Actions must also be in accordance with ahimsa, or nonviolence and non-injury (Culture class, March 2,
2009). More than any other activist, Gandhi is revered in the Tibetan movement because his tactics achieved independence for an occupied country.
While Gandhi has more of an influence on SFT than Martin Luther King, Jr., King still needs to be discussed because of his extensive use of nonviolent direct action. Taking direction from Gandhi‟s theories, King emphasized truth or “love-force”. However, he adopted this concept to his own religion by incorporating the Christian belief in universal love into justification for nonviolence. Accordingly, Biblical rhetoric such as “turning the other cheek” Brock 41 was often used to persuade protestors to resist violence. King believed that justice would side with the truth of the Civil Rights Movement because nonviolence was a holy concept, and God is always just. King used these theories to organize sit-ins, marches and other forms of nonviolent direct action to protest the racist policies of the U.S. government and the subsequent oppression and disenfranchisement of African-Americans (“Martin Luther King‟s Philosophy,” 1). Even if this is a personal comparison of SFT and past activists, SFT does use similar theories and takes similar action in the Tibetan community.
Roles within the Conflict
As a grassroots NGO, SFT‟s main role is to work within and motivate communities to bring about social change. Specifically, SFT educates people about the Tibet issue and organizes direct action events in hopes that they can help Tibet gain independence from China (Tenzin
Choeying, April 21, 2009). Although they typically stick to grassroots organizing (only straying when lobbying is necessary), SFT interacts with other actors in international politics. SFT works with other groups involved in the struggle including the International Campaign for Tibet, human rights organizations, subgroup host countries and the United Nations. When working with groups such as ICT that are specifically focused on Tibet, SFT will exchange information that is relevant to active campaigns. Human rights organizations also provide SFT with information that is then used in campaigns and protests. When SFT protests, they communicate their political opinion to their governments, which then influences foreign policy. SFT interacts and depends on international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Bank for change in Tibet. The
United Nations may only take verbal action against China, but it still has the most influence over
Chinese policy. Given the UN‟s power and sphere of influence, China suffers diplomatically, economically and politically if they do not comply with UN regulations. For example, Brock 42 resolutions against Chinese human rights violations complicate diplomatic relations with other countries. This is a problem for China because their resolutions are more likely to be supported in the General Assembly and Security Council if diplomatic relations are good (Tenzin
Choeying, May 14, 2009). When they collaborated with many other NGOs, in 2000, SFT stopped a World Bank loan that China would have used to support its population transfer of Han
Chinese into Tibet (“Economic Campaigns,” 1). Though they may depend on international institutions for change, without the support of the communities they work in, SFT is powerless.
Obstructions when Performing Roles
SFT‟s biggest difficulty in McLeod Ganj comes from a lack of support from Tibetans.
Having their ideas defeated at every major conference and frequently being called anti-Dalai
Lama, independence groups have a hard time freely voicing their views. SFT also faces protest restrictions in McLeod. For example, at No-Losar (Tibetan New Year) protests, SFT put a wooden picture of Hu Jintao with the words “Shoe Jintao” over it, and were inviting people to throw their shoes at his face. Many Tibetans disagreed with this display because they considered it to be violent. Miscommunications such as this occur frequently because of the different interpretations of Buddhism and political activism (Tenzin Choedon, May 18, 2009). As mentioned earlier, SFT protests are more successful in McLeod if they do not emphasize independence, and instead focus on noncontroversial subjects such as human rights abuses.
While collaborations with Middle Way groups are successful in the terms of giving Tibetans an avenue to politically express themselves, if SFTs goal in McLeod is to motivate Tibetans to achieve independence, then they are relatively unsuccessful.
Conclusion Brock 43
In international politics, individual actors do not operate isolated from one another. They interact and influence one another to produced an interconnected web of institutions, entities and individuals that must work together to produce any effective political change. In the Sino-
Tibetans conflict, Middle Way groups, independence organizations, religious leaders and the
Tibetan community should cooperate if they hope to achieve any progress. However, currently the situation in McLeod Ganj is anything but ideal – there is unnecessary inner conflict, but no one wants to discuss it. The truth is that, because the Dalai Lama proposed the Middle Way,
Tibetans are reluctant to disagree with the Middle Way and are hypercritical of anyone who does. Because of this, independence groups like SFT have a better chance of successful operation if they do so outside of purely Tibetan communities like McLeod where people do not have religious allegiances to Buddhist leaders. Thus, potentially powerful NGOs such as SFT are compromised by the ideological differences in approach between independence and the infallible
Dalai Lama‟s Middle Way Approach. Ironically, while Tibetans fight for these sides, China does not recognize either as being legitimate solutions because independence is not an option, and that
Tibet already has autonomy. Instead of joining together and thinking of a different solution,
Tibetans have reached an ideological standstill.
Unfortunately, there is no reasonable solution. For people to stop following the political opinions of the Dalai Lama, he would have to stop announcing them. This would have negative repercussions because Tibetans rely on him for encouragement and guidance. Without his leadership, Tibetans would not know the Tibetan government‟s policy and might begin to feel hopeless. Given the long history of incorporating religious elite into rule and the vulnerability of
Tibetan culture, completely separating church and state is not an option either. While it is unclear what the best plan of action for decreasing tension amongst politically active Tibetans, it is clear Brock 44 that the Dalai Lama will have issues establishing a democratic government if his constituency does not want to participate.
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