The Middle Way Approach

In the Strasbourg Proposal His Holiness the Dalai Lama outlined the main features of the Middle Way Approach as follows:

“… The whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and protection of themselves and their environment, in association ‘with the People’s Republic of China.

“The government of the People’s Republic of China could remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy. The Government of Tibet should, however, develop and maintain relations, through its own Foreign Affairs Bureau, in the fields of commerce, education, culture, religion, tourism, science, sports and other non-political activities. Tibet should join international organisations concerned with such activities,

“The Government of Tibet should be founded on a constitution or basic law. The basic law should provide for a device ratio system of government entrusted with the task of ensuring economic equality, social justice and protection of the environment. This means that the Government of Tibet will have the right to decide on all affairs relating to Tibet and the Tibetans.

“… A regional peace conference should be called to ensure that Tibet becomes a genuine sanctuary of peace through demilitarisation. Until such a peace conference can be convened and demilitarisation and neutralisation achieved, China could have the right to maintain a restricted number of military installations in Tibet. These must be solely for defence purposes…”

This Middle Way Approach is a pragmatic political course. It is a forward-looking vision of a future that meets the vital needs of the Tibetan people while conforming with the interest of a more open, liberal and politically mature China. It offers a solution whereby both parties benefit by ensuring the exercise of full internal self-determination by the Tibetan people and maintaining at the same time the territorial integrity of the PRC. This option thus meets the bottom lines of both parties. This is how much online casino works where you have to focus and concentrate when playing casino games from top casino online sites.

It is a creative way to address and safeguard Tibet’s and China’s foremost national concerns without the need of separation. By addressing in an adequate manner the vital interests of both parties this option is also politically achievable. This conclusion is based on an assessment of the following factors.

The situation in occupied Tibet

In the face of the alarming pace of sinocisation inside Tibet coupled with random destruction of its cultural heritage and arbitrary violation of the human rights and fundamental freedom of its people, the urgent need for an early solution to our problem is obvious. However, although we are not in a position to force a solution on China, we are in no way helpless or unable to influence the course of development. Our efforts and policies remain an important factor. China’s failure to “settle” the problem of Tibet after nearly half a century of use of force indicates that without the free consent of the Tibetans there is no way to arrive at a settlement. The Chinese government cannot continue to ignore this fact for long. Moreover, His Holiness the Dalai Lama remains the key to a mutually acceptable solution of the issue of Tibet. Despite the present outright antagonistic attitude of the Chinese government vis-a-vis His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Chinese leadership under Mao Tse-Tung in the 50’s and under Deng Xiaoping in the 80’s implicitly recognised this fact. A clear indication of this is, as an example, the Five-Point Proposal of the Chinese leadership for the return of His Holiness to “the motherland” in 1981.

Sooner or later the Chinese government will have to face the fact that they have to talk to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a mutually acceptable solution. Whether the Chinese government is compelled sooner or later to accept this fact depends to a great extent on the vigour, determination and political astuteness of the Tibetan people. Put differently, we Tibetans have much potential and possibility to influence the factors that determine China’s policy on Tibet and create a conducive political environment for the Middle-Way Approach solution.

The role of the exiled Tibetan community

Politically speaking the most important functions of our exiled community have been to provide leadership and act as the free voice of Tibet to the world at large in our struggle. With the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama our freedom struggle has come to be a cause of great international appeal. For many people throughout the world our cause has come to embody the universal values of justice, freedom and non-violence. The leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been extremely successful in highlighting the Tibetan freedom struggle and soliciting world-wide support for our cause. Today, many governments in the West and in Asia encourage and urge the Chinese government to enter into negotiations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama or His representatives.

The Middle Way Approach has made it easier for many governments to support the Tibetan position. It does not require them to adopt a fundamentally confrontational course towards China on the issue of Tibet. Within the framework of their overall bilateral diplomatic relationships with the PRC they are able to raise the issue of Tibet. The Middle Way Approach is a stance that is not only legally and morally undeniable, but also politically difficult to argue against as it is moderate, conciliatory and feasible. There is, therefore, growing governmental and non-governmental support for the Middle Way Approach.

The situation in China

China is undergoing historic changes. Today’s China is no longer a country that gives even an outward appearance of the regimentation and mechanical obedience associated with Leninist party systems. Observers have predicted everything from system collapse, to the development of a federal system, to a fundamental renegotiation of the country’s cultural ethos. The reforms, initiated by Deng Xiaoping, have altered not only the Chinese economy but also the political system, making it less ideological, less reliant on mass mobilization, less coercive, and less enveloping for the average citizen. It is also notably far less centralised. The state no longer promotes either revolution or ideological orthodoxy. Rather, it promotes economic growth by any means that do not produce social and political instability. The leadership’s policy is to buy social peace with economic success.

Despite substantial decentralisation, Beijing retains important powers. It still controls substantial coercive resources. It is said that the Chinese more than most people fear chaos, and the destructiveness of the Cultural Revolution probably reconfirmed the importance attached to order.

The least change under the reforms has occured at the apex of the Chinese political centre. Among the top leaders, institutions do little to constrain actions and political contention drives the system. The ongoing struggle over leadership, in the face of the lack of an institutional means of succession, may continue to characterize the politics of the coming years. Some observers opine that it may be difficult for any single individual to consolidate personal power in the immediate future, while others believe that the struggle for power may stay within boundaries that allow continued political stability. After years of political infighting it is probable that by the end of this decade a more stable leadership will emerge. The 15 Party Congress of the CCP in the fall of this year will be crucial in this regard.

In the context of the Tibetan problem this means that it is not an appropriate time to make major political changes. Despite the changes in China it would be political adventurism and gambling to base our political approach on the anticipation of a collapse of the Chinese regime in the near future, especially when our political approach has been making significant inroads into the views of Chinese intellectuals and human rights and democracy activists in supporting our cause. Moreover, China continues to face a tumultuous political period. And there is reason to assume that the domestic political uncertainties and agendas are the determining factors for China’s intransigent position on Tibet rather than lack of serious interest in the Middle Way Approach of His Holiness.

In a political system such as China’s, for the leaders to undertake major policy changes on sensitive issues like Tibet they must be a) united in their views on

the matter and b) they must give the issue priority. This seems to be the major difficulty in moving the Chinese government on the issue of Tibet. Political uncertainties in China seem not to allow the Chinese leadership to address the issue of Tibet in a serious and responsive manner. On the contrary, the domestic political situation encourages them to take a more hardline and nationalistic posture.

In short, the lack of Chinese response to the Middle Way Approach does not necessarily indicate at a deeper level the inacceptability of the basic idea and concept of the Middle Way Approach, but rather the limited political space of the Chinese-leaders to manoeuvre in a period of transition and power struggle for the leadership. Moreover, the overall trend of the changes in China is towards decentralisation. The return of Hong Kong to China will introduce a radical different system of society within the PRC and will test the viability of the concept of “one country, two systems”. These developments and trends actually correspond with the basic idea of the relationship between Tibet and China as proposed in the Strasbourg Proposal.

In bringing about a change in the Chinese perception of the Tibetan issue the role of the Chinese intellectuals is of particular importance. In our contemporary time we have witnessed successive Chinese student and intellectual movements that have dramatically influenced the course of China’s political development and shaped the image of China in the international community. The most recent political event of this kind was the student-led pro-democracy movement of 1989.

In this context, the growing support for our cause among Chinese intellectuals and pro-democracy and human rights activists is of great importance. The informed and educated Chinese citizens’ pressure on their government to change its perceptions of the Tibetan issue will prove more effective than any other external means of persuasion. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s approach of reconciliation and compromise has touched the hearts and minds of many Chinese. Brave Chinese like Wei Jingsheng and Liu Xiaobo are languishing in Chinese prisons for protesting among others against the Chinese government’s repressive policies in Tibet. These Chinese have not only demonstrated their personal courage, decency and integrity but also their solidarity with the Tibetans, thereby reaffirming and strengthening the vision of a peaceful coexistence between Tibetans and Chinese. Such support for Tibet from Chinese are mainly the result of His Holiness’ effort and way of thinking as reflected in the Middle Way Approach. To abandon the Middle Way Approach now would confuse and disappoint many of these Chinese who have come to appreciate and support His Holiness’ approach for a mutually acceptable resolution of the Tibetan problem in the spirit of reconciliation and compromise.

The international political environment

Most governments abide by the principle of “one China” policy as upheld by the PRC. A change in this respect can only be envisaged if China should experience a similar process of disintegration as the former Soviet Union. However, this seems a very unlikely scenario.

China’s reforms have brought an opening to the outside world and an effort to join fully in the international community. The vast economic gains under the reforms have greatly increased the PRC’s prestige and importance in the international arena. Governments take care in their dealings with the Chinese government. They recognise its growing potential for good and for mischief

China experienced a drastic setback in its international relations and prestige following the highly visible repression in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. However in the following two years it made a slow climb back to respectability, based primarily on moderate, astute diplomacy. Deng Xiaoping’s “southern tour” in 1992 and the burst of economic activity it sparked catapulted the PRC into a far more prominent position in the international arena. Increasingly, the international media refer to China as a looming superpower.

At the same time, China is also increasingly regarded as an undisciplined and disruptive member of the international community. It still has territorial disputes with many of its neighbours and its handling of these disputes could have a substantial influence on the levels of tension throughout the region. The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is one of the most sensitive of these disputed areas. China’s assertive posture here is increasing tension considerably throughout the region.

Moreover, the very reforms in China that the world applauds are creating unintended international problems. The same reforms limit Beijing’s ability to assure that China will comply fully with international agreements that it signs. China’s economic decentralisation and its attendant corruption call into question Beijing’s future ability to abide by trade agreements. Other areas of international concern with regard to China are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the violation of human rights.

In the context of the Tibetan problem, we can draw the following conclusions from the present international political environment:

A) There are limitations to what the international community can do for Tibet in view of China’s growing importance in the international arena.

B) There is a legitimate interest and concern on the part of the international community that China becomes a disciplined and responsible member of the community of the nations who abides by the rules and norms of international conduct. It is considered essential for stability and friendly relations among nations that the member countries comply with the various UN instruments and established international principles.

C) There is growing recognition of and support for our cause as presented and advocated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These conclusions mean that the international community has a responsibility and legitimate interest to engage China on the issue of Tibet in terms of human rights and the principle of self-determination of all peoples. The issue of Tibet is thus becoming an increasingly damaging aspect of the bilateral and multilateral relations of China. On the other hand, we must also realize that no country is willing to challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the PRC.

The Middle-Way Approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes into consideration this complex international political situation. It enables members of the international community to take up the issue of Tibet with China without having to challenge the PRC fundamentally and adopting a confrontational course. The Middle-Way Approach makes it possible for governments to reconcile the Tibetan demands with their overall interest in dealing with China. Moreover, the Middle-Way Approach allows them to present their concern for Tibet as efforts to contribute to social harmony, stability and peace and to counter allegations of political scheming to destabilize and dismember China.


WE live today in an interdependent world where hardly any government is in a position to force or determine on its own its agenda. It is even more necessary in our case that we adopt a course that takes advantage of the complex political environment.

Individually we can resolve to sacrifice our lives for the cause of the freedom of our people, but the foremost responsibility for a nation is to survive and keep the spirit of the nation alive. It is therefore important that we talk in terms of ground realities and rational political options when we are discussing the future course of our freedom struggle. The Middle Way Approach is a realistic, practical and carefully thought-out initiative presented with a karmic and historic sense of responsibility for the country and people of Tibet.

*Kelsang Gyaltsen is the political secretary at the private office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama