India celebrated its 77th year of independence on August 15. The next day, scores of exiled Tibetans, Uyghurs and Southern Mongolians gathered at a conference in New Delhi to discuss their struggle against China’s illegal occupation of their nations.
The 6th International Rangzen (Independence) Conference derives its name from a Tibetan term that encompasses “freedom,” “complete independence” and being “free from oppression.”
During the four-day event, participants deliberated on how to realize their aspirations of returning to their homelands.
“It is indeed a historical fact that Tibet has been and is, the rightful neighbor of India,” said Manoj Mukund Naravane, former chief of the Indian Army Staff.
Naravane was speaking one week after visiting Taiwan with former navy chief Karambir Singh and former air force chief Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria.
The three attended the Ketagalan Forum’s 2023 Indo-Pacific Security Dialogue. China said it firmly opposed the visit.
Speaking at the Rangzen conference, Naravane dismissed claims by the People’s Republic of China that it had liberated Tibet and brought it back to the motherland.
The retired general said China’s latest white paper on Tibet, which states that Tibet “has been an integral part of Chinese territory since ancient times,” is “incorrect and an attempt to rewrite history.”
Participants at this year’s conference paid homage to compatriots who had been killed by the Chinese regime and to the reported 157 Tibetans who have committed self-immolation since 2009 in protest against Chinese rule.
They worked on how to counter Beijing’s discourse and narratives, and discussed alternatives to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government-in-exile’s “Middle Way” approach, which calls for Tibetan autonomy within China.
Many Tibetans at the conference pointed out that what has happened to Hong Kong gives a clear indication that the “Middle Way” approach is futile, with some proposing that it is time for a referendum among Tibetans to agree on an official policy for how to resolve the illegal occupation of Tibet. They were strongly supported by the Uyghur and Southern Mongolian participants, who firmly believe that independence is the way forward.
This was acknowledged by Geshe Gowo Lobsang Phende, a member of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the official chief guest of the conference.
“Though the official stand of the Tibetans is the ‘Middle Way’ approach, the voices of the Tibetan masses must be catered towards,” said Geshe Phende, “and having a representative from the exile Tibetan democratic polity for this conference — which is myself being present here — it is a clear indication of how we support the differing opinions among us Tibetans, showcasing the vibrant democracy practiced here.”
“I find it very hard to place hope towards the PRC and its Communist Party led by President Xi Jinping,” said Lhagyari Namgyal Dolkar, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.
Echoing this sentiment, Southern Mongolian activist Temstiltu Shobstood noted that, “Even among pro-democratic Chinese groups with whom I have interacted for the past two decades, their call for a ‘One China’ includes Tibet, East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, Manchuria and Taiwan. So we must reassess our engagements with them as well.”
Uyghur activists including Rebiya Kadeer and Umit Hamid criticized Beijing’s repression of Islam, burning of the Koran and “halal” organ transplantation, which markets Uyghur organs to individuals in wealthy Gulf countries.
However, attendees said China’s enhanced oppression under Xi’s regime has created more space for them to advocate on behalf of the Tibetan movement abroad, as Western nations no longer believe that the Chinese government will eventually embrace the rule of law, freedom of expression and other similar progressive notions.
The decision to hold the 7th International Rangzen Conference in Toronto was approved unanimously, which should be interesting given the confrontation between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Xi Jinping at last year’s G20 summit at Indonesia.
“Rangzen is a legacy that has been passed on to us by countless generations of Tibetans,” said independence activist Jamyang Norbu. “But even more significant is that Rangzen is the birthright of generations of Tibetans yet to come. No one now has the right to make a decision that will compromise or deny this heritage of life and freedom to them in the future.”