Dharamshala, India – A wholesome conversation with Indian undergraduate students from esteemed universities, majoring in different liberal art courses. They shared their views with the Tibet Post International (TPI) on the Middle Way Approach and reflected on certain ideas surrounding the topic.
The seeds of ‘Umaylam’ or ‘Middle Way Approach’ were sown in the 1970s. Espoused by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, this approach abandons the dream of an independent Tibet in return of seeking greater autonomy within the Republic of China through negotiations and peaceful dialogues.
“This is the most practical approach and is mutually beneficial for Tibet and China,” mentioned His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the first International conference for Umaylam which was held in 2018. He also said that this approach finds solid support from large Chinese scholars, activists, writers and public personalities. Yash Agarwal is a sophomore studying Philosophy, with interests in metaphysics. Aryaman Padhee is an aspiring film-maker with niche interests in rural subjects. Mayura Ghate is currently majoring in Journalism and has always been an avid reader of different cultures, their background and histories.
TPI: What do you know about the ‘Middle Way Approach’ proposed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
Yash: The Middle Way Approach was a policy proposed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as a solution to the hostile nature of China's claim over Tibet. China claims all power over Tibet, uses it for resources, destroys its natural environment and controls the lives of Tibetans. Tibet has been forcefully unplugged from its own identity which has left its residents in a limbo state. In proposing and initiating talks about the Middle Way Approach, His Holiness has taken values from Buddhism like that of non-violence and interdependence. I think it is a diplomatic move and seems similar to the path taken by M.K Gandhi. This approach is very thoughtful, as extreme moves could have led to global political unrest.
Aryaman: Middle Way Approach is a middle ground for both the countries involved in the issue. It states that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would take charge of Tibet’s defence and foreign affairs but gives Tibetans the right to manage their own affairs; religion, culture, economy, environment and education. In my opinion, this is a major step involving compromises, but will eventually lead to something better in the long run.
Mayura: The Middle Way Approach is a diplomatic policy to resolve the issue of Tibet peacefully and to bring coexistence between China and Tibet. As we know, Tibetans refuse to accept the current political dominance of Tibet under the PRC. But under this approach, they are willing to sacrifice their idea of Tibet as an independent nation in return for getting the rights to protect the Tibetan culture, religion and national identity.
TPI: In its Annual Report, the Human Rights Watch said that "China had an appalling year for Human Rights in 2020." What are your views on this?
Yash: 2020 was an appalling year for China in terms of Human Rights. This was evident from multiple reported cases but there have been many unreported cases or instances too. China has been harsh on the Tibetans; denying basic freedoms such as that of expression, speech, education and even the right to practice their religion. This, I believe, is worse than physical violence as it leads to the loss of a minority’s cultural identity.
Aryaman: China was surely a lot in the news during the whole of 2020. Starting from the first reported case of coronavirus in Wuhan, persecuting the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, protests in Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong, to imprisonment of journalists and activists. This has been happening for so long now and due to the communication blockade, we do not have access to the real picture as well.
Mayura: Whether it was about Wuhan becoming the epicentre of coronavirus, or the harsh lockdown and communication blockade imposed as an aftermath, China was there in the news throughout the year. It wasn’t until last year that we saw China’s true face. Many reports have been published about the gross violations of Human Rights by China.
TPI: What struggles do you think, have Indians and Tibetans faced in common?
Yash: The imposition of laws and strict rules by the Chinese regime has led Tibetans to become disconnected from who they are and what they stand for. Politically, there must have been a lot of tension, but the real challenge has been faced by the common man in obtaining food, providing education to their children and living a happy life. For India, the issues have been more political than on an everyday man's levels. Social unrest in the regions around the borders have caused problems not only for the governments but also the people living near the border.
Aryaman: Historically, India never shared its border with China but Tibet. Years ago, China had violated many terms in the 17-point agreement. Recently, it was found that China had constructed a new village in Arunachal Pradesh, around 4.5 kilometres inside of the de facto border on the Indian side. If we come to think about it, China has grossly violated agreements with Tibet and India.
Mayura: According to me, the struggles Indian and Tibetans face in common are many. But one of the most common one is the Freedom Struggle. Tibet has been firm on its approach for independence under its ‘Free Tibet movement’. India too, during its time of independence, took the steps of Ahimsa (non-violence) as proposed by M.K Gandhi. This indirectly speaks a lot about the relations between the two nations.
TPI: Is the Middle Way Approach a viable and peaceful solution for the China and Tibet Issue?
Yash: In my opinion, the Middle Way Approach is a peaceful and safe option. But it is going to take very long in its fruition, I think. In this case, I would prefer the route taken by Subhash Chandra Bose; a bolder move, that unifies the nation, along with force and retaliation. China is one of the most powerful countries in the world. It cannot be beaten by talks and peaceful meetings. Some stronger strategies need to be added and there needs to be more action than talks. International support must be gained by raising more awareness about the Tibetans.
Aryaman: Thoughtfully and theoretically, this approach is very much viable. But when it comes to executing this in reality, uncertainty looms large. We can never predict China’s actions. This policy, if accepted as a peaceful solution, will bring happiness to both Tibet and China. It will also set an example for other countries facing conflict.
Mayura: When I think about it, two contrasting views run in my mind. History is evident that China has never completely agreed to any kind of agreement. It has breached several terms of many agreements. Although the Middle Way Approach is backed by the spiritual idea, looking at China's political and military history, it looks idealistic in today's world. Whereas, I also believe that the Middle Way Approach is a viable and peaceful solution for the China and Tibet issue. If we think in a broader aspect, no complete political dominance is possible as this approach keeps the two nationalities equally important.