Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Carrying Chinese National Flag a Blotch in Exile History?

The Tibetan family – Dongpo Kyi, Tsetan Dorjee, and Lhamo Kyi – started their journey back home to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, on this year’s Tibetan uprising day, March 10[i].  With cheers and appreciations, they started the march to home from Dharamsala - the hometown of Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama - with support from the largest Tibetan youth organization in exile, Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC). 

When they started the peaceful walking movement, they carried only Tibetan national flags but as the march progresses, they were seen carrying national flags of India, Nepal, China, and Tibet, fluttering in unison on a long wooden pole (see the picture on the right).  Dorjee, the son, shared the primary reason for carrying Chinese flag to the Phayul, “parading the red flag was symbolic of his (their) fight for the official Middle-Way policy and his (their) willingness to stay under Beijing if granted genuine autonomy[ii]”. 

However, carrying the Chinese flag did not go well with the marching Tibetan family.  On May 4, 2012, the TYC issued a statement strongly condemning them for carrying Chinese national flag.  Though the TYC has no objection whether the family supports middle way policy or complete independence, it explicitly noted that the act of parading Chinese flag is unimaginable and unwarranted.  The TYC further asserted that the organization and its regional units would refrain from recognizing and supporting this March-to-Tibet movement[iii].  

The TYC’s decision to withdraw support was generally based on two underlying reasons: first, to express rejection of the Chinese flag until Tibet’s independence is restored; and second, to classify carrying the Chinese flag as contradicting the moral responsibilities of a Tibetan towards the struggle and legacy of Tibet.  The TYC further emphasized, “(it) not only oppose this act by the marchers but also would like to reiterate that in future it will continue to resist any individual or organization that will engage in such similar acts”. 

However, the most discussion (at least in the social media) was generated by a single line in the statement i.e., for the first time in 53 years of exile history, parading of the Chinese flag by Tsetan Dorjee and his family members marks a blotch in the exile history of Tibet.  Let me review some critical posts and comments in the social media on this “blotch” in particular and the statement in general.

On his Facebook wall post of May 5, Dibyesh Anand, Associate Professor in International Relations at University of Westminster, UK, shares, “Is TYC indeed becoming an extremist organization with limited tolerance of dissent from its set views? I always pooh pooh this idea (of TYC as extremist) but such news make me question my own judgment. I hope TYC members set this straight and not let their leaders forget that there are many roads to freedom. The brave marchers are showing themselves to be true to the leader of Tibet (the Dalai Lama and his middle way) and actually creative in their symbolism. It is one thing to say - we do not agree with their carrying Chinese flag but understand why they are doing it but cannot support it - and completely another to denounce it as a 'blotch in exile history'. The Chinese must be laughing!

This posting not only questions the need of such statement from the TYC but also the freedom of individuals to share and act what they believe in. Moreover, a Facebook user comments, “They (the marching family) are not displaying Chinese flag that highlights Tibet as a part of China. Way the Chinese, Indian, and Nepalese flags are displayed; it could be read as speaking or appealing to these countries. TYC could have chosen to read the symbolism different ways”.

While another user adds human element to the entire episode, “we have a family who has given up everything and is devoting their lives to a homecoming against all odds…. One of the most politically dominant and influential Tibetan organizations had the disgrace to publicly denounce this family just because they disagree with one element of their journey”. This user also attacks the TYC’s call for all Tibetans to unite by commenting, “what fun it must be for Beijing to sit back and watch exile Tibetans attacking and undermining each other”.

Among several commentaries, one that stood out from the rest is from a user who writes, “if carrying Red Flag is a blotch in exile history, then what would you (TYC) call at Five Point Peace Plan (1987), Strasburg Proposal (1988), ATPD Unanimous Resolution (1996), 2002-2008 Sino-Tibetan Negotiation, etc.” (FYI - ATPD stands for Tibetan Parliament in Exile, erstwhile known as Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies).  This comment could be interpreted in a more candid way i.e., if carrying Chinese flag is a blotch in the exile history, then, the Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s ongoing emphasis on dialogue under the middle way policy may also be impugned as a “huge blotch” in the exile history.  Though the middle way policy does not explicitly verbalize the disowning of Tibetan national flag, it does however seek genuine autonomy under the constitutional/legal framework of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition to social media discussions, a comment on the Phayul gained my attention.  This individual writes, “From my point of view, the current TYC Centrex has no authority to condemn the family marching towards Tibet”.  Do you agree that the TYC has no moral as well as legal authority to condemn a Tibetan for his act of free speech or expression?  Or as Dibyesh Anand highlighted earlier, “Is TYC indeed becoming an extremist organization with limited tolerance of dissent from its set views?”.  These questions may be raising eyebrows on the limits and delimits of "authority" as well as "responsibility" of the largest Tibetan youth and political organization in exile.  

Further, in recent times, the TYC is seemingly representing itself as a parallel organization to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala.  For instance, the TYC officially challenged the name change of Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE) such as selling a T-shirt with TGiE name during last year’s Kalachakra initiation at Washington D.C.  Also, the TYC is seen as more vocal on criticizing the middle way policy and its advocate, the CTA.  With the devolution of political power by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is bound to have more discussion but the fundamental question is on the health of Tibetan struggle movement if TYC (becomes or) acts as a parallel political organization to the CTA?  Let me share my perspective briefly below.

For nascent Tibetan democracy to thrive, it is necessary to have a robust civil society[iv].  For a robust civil society, it is important to have Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the social, economic, as well as political spectrum of the society.  However, there are some restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association of NGOs under the law of a country such as U.S. law and Indian law.

Since Tibetans are in diaspora, Tibetan NGOs are registered under the law of its host countries.  Nonetheless, the Central Tibetan Administration (representing the people of Tibet) must have some say in these Tibetan NGOs when it comes to the core principles and values that help solidifies the “national interest” of Tibetan people.  For instance, there could be a Committee - comprising Tibetan member of parliaments - that has moral as well as constitutional authority to summon and question Tibetans NGOs, especially those who are politically active.  This committee could be seen not as a regulating body of Tibetan NGOs.  It could rather be seen as a body that puts these Tibetan NGOs into the “accountability box” of the Tibetan people’s representative.

At first look, this proposal may seem to work in favor of the Tibetan administration and people only.  However, if you take a deeper second look, this "checks and balances" may also benefit the Tibetan political NGOs to strengthen its legitimacy in both Tibetan and international communities as well as to reaffirm its assertion to the non-violence principle of Tibetan freedom movement.

To conclude, in the midst of organizational political indifferences in exile, the marching Tibetan family was left alone in their effort to march against the Chinese repressive policies in Tibet.  When they were stopped marching by the Nepali Police, Tibetan People’s Movement for Middle Way (TPMMW) and a member of the Tibetan parliament joined in support[v].  However, there was no one from the regional TYC to support the marching family.  Is carrying a Chinese flag too big a sin that deserves complete denunciation and avoidance from regional TYCs and other Tibetan political organizations?

As a final note, it’s important for Tibetan people and organizations to understand the significance of diversity in a truly free democratic institution of Tibetan people in exile.  If there is no unity in diversity, then, the nascent Tibetan democracy may be heading towards a disaster – a disaster that may leave the Tibetan freedom movement in disarray.

[i] Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[ii] Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[iii] Tibetan Youth Congress.  Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[iv] IIP Digital Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[v] Retrieved May 13 from's+March+to+Tibet+stopped+pin+Nepal%2c+Marchers+detained

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