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15october200929Dharamsala, India: Around one hundred Tibetans and foreigners, mostly young adults, gathered in the hall of the Tibetan Welfare Office on the evening of 14 October to participate in a dynamic discussion entitled, "Is Autonomy Really Possible Under PRC Rule?". The prominent speakers in this debate were Michael Davis, a professor at Hong Kong University and graduate of Yale Law School; and Lobsang Sangay, a Tibetan lawyer and researcher at Harvard Law School. Tenzin Tsondue, from "Talk Tibet," acted as moderator and host.

Davis spoke on the official Chinese position concerning Tibetan autonomy, and suggested ways that Tibetans could frame their struggle within Chinese and international law. He explained the key requests of the 2008 Tibetan memorandum and urged the exile government to continue to "push forward" with this, despite Chinese officials' inflexibility.

He also praised the diversity in political opinions and demands within the Tibetan exile community, proclaiming, "That's the way human rights movements work."

Davis further recommended that Tibetans use the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which China ratified, to argue their case at the international level. This Declaration protects the human rights and self-determination of indigenous minorities around the world, and coincides largely with the demands listed in the Tibetan Memorandum.

Lobsang Sangay then informed the audience of five types of power that can and have been utilized in past struggles for autonomy and against authoritarian governments, comparing the Tibetan movement to others around the world. He analyzed where the Tibet struggle stands on each of these aspects, and suggested which particular areas Tibetans and Tibet supporters can improve upon to make their case for freedom more effective.

Sangay described the first type of power, "people power," as occurring when citizens of a country try to overthrow an authoritarian leader or government system that they don't approve of.

He explained that in some cases, "people power" struggles rely heavily on outside support from groups of "a similar background" living outside the country in question. The greatest example of this is the 40 million African Americans who supported the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 1990s.

Assessing the case for Tibetan "people power," the Harvard-trained lawyer noted that while there are 500 million Buddhists in the world, many of them reside either inside China, or in other East and Southeast Asian countries to which His Holiness the Dalai Lama has very restricted access. Mongolia and Bhutan, who share the most with Tibet in terms of location, religion and culture, are landlocked countries between two giants and are unable to provide much help to Tibetans..

"Now that leaves us, Tibetans. We had a people's revolution in Tibet last year, from Tibetans from all across Tibet, but it was not enough." Sangay concluded.

In terms of "money power," Sangay stated that the Tibetan movement and government in exile receive the most support from Tibetans in India, as well as those working in America and other Western countries. He said, "Tibetans are hinting to their leaders that, "If you organize something dramatic and interesting and dynamic, we will fund you as much as we can."

In Sangay's opinion, Tibetans should continue exclude the third type of power-"militant power"-from their struggle. "The Tibetan nonviolent model is one that other activists movements around the world want to emulate...that's something to be proud of," he declared.

Political power, Sangay stated, occurs when, "you strategically assert political power within the system that you are in." He pointed out that the Uighurs in Xinjiang assert more autonomy than the Tibetans, and as a result have had fewer religious centers destroyed.

Sangay added that, "the other side of political power is the Tibetan government in exile." By acting as the legitimate representatives of the Tibetan people, and developing a democratic system, the exile government does hold a certain amount of international political clout. "So we are making progress...this is the institution we can build on to assert our political power," he reasoned.

Finally, Sangay argued that, "Most movements have succeeded because of their accumulated knowledge power." He thus focused on education as the foremost area for Tibetans to improve upon.

"If we accumulate enough knowledge power, we will have money power. If we get that, then we will get political power. If we get that, we can get genuine autonomy, or independence, or self-determination...whatever you choose," Sangay reasoned, emphasizing that, "It's in our hands."

During the question and answer period, both Sangay and Davis discussed the education systems inside Tibet and in the exile community, noting that the Tibetan government in exile is very responsive to suggestions for improvement, and even Chinese education officials realize that the current situation is not acceptable. Davis mentioned the work of a woman named Tashi, who created a school in eastern Tibet that serves 400 children. Davis explained that in the case of this school, "just by changing the way they educated kids in primary school, they had a much higher success rate on the Chinese entrance exams for university."

Sangay noted, however, that education really comes down to a matter of individual effort, rather than a "big solution" or "magic formula." He described his own life, as a farmer's son from "the smallest of all the Tibetan settlements in India," and credited his "relentless determination" as the reason for his academic success.

"If you have passion for Tibet, anger for Tibet-if you feel humiliated by the Chinese government-use that energy towards your education. If you have compassion for Tibet, use that towards your education," he implored the audience.

Moderator Tenzin Tsondue added an important dimension to the "knowledge power" issue by highlighting that the tremendous March 2008 protests were initiated by ordinary Tibetans who had little higher education, but a deep knowledge of their own traditions. While the movement can use higher education to deal with the outside world and especially the Chinese, traditional knowledge remains crucial as a uniting factor among Tibetans.

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