DHARMSALA, India – Tibetan exiles decided Saturday against pushing for independence for the Himalayan region, but for the first time in decades said they will take up that radical course if China refuses to grant their homeland autonomy soon.
A pivotal meeting ended with hundreds of Tibetan exile leaders from around the globe reaffirming support for the Dalai Lama’s path of measured compromise – a push for autonomy called “the middle way” – but also said it is time to end talks with Beijing.
“Looking at the doings of China in recent times, we will not send the envoys for further contact,” Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, told reporters after the meeting.
She said that “there was a majority for the middle way” and called for the exile government to press on with that approach.
But the leaders also vowed that if moderation doesn’t produce results soon, they will call for independence – a dramatic break with a decades-long conciliatory approach to Beijing.
“If China does not respond positively to our initiative, there is no other options left for us than to go for independence,” Gyari said.
She did not mention a specific time frame, and took no questions.
China says Tibet has been Chinese territory for 700 years, though many Tibetans argue it was effectively independent most of that time.
Since Communist troops swept into Tibet in 1950, Chinese authorities have crushed any sign of Tibetan nationalist sentiment. An independence movement would be near impossible, at least in the foreseeable future, and China has long made clear it will not accept autonomy for Tibet.
On Friday, an editorial in the official Tibet Daily newspaper said the “so-called ‘middle way’ is a naked expression of Tibet independence aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of opposing the tide of history.”