For 17 years the Dalai Lama has constantly strived for a political solution to the Tibet-China problem beneficial to both sides. Not only has he declared a willingness to enter into negotiations, but he has proposed a series of initiatives which lie within the framework for negotiations as stated by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 (“except for the independence of Tibet, all other questions can be negotiated”). He has continually adopted a “middle way” approach, avoiding the independence issue in the hope that this “would create an atmosphere of mutual trust and exert a restraining influence on the repressive Chinese policies in Tibet”.
The Chinese, however, have constantly moved the goal posts, often refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama or his representatives after initial agreement. Chinese statements aim to confuse issues and delay negotiation. They base discussions on calls for the Dalai Lama to “return to the motherland”, where they have offered him an honorific post in the Chinese Government, and, since April 1988, the right to reside in Lhasa instead of Beijing. The Dalai Lama says China reducing the Tibetan question to a discussion of his own personal status dodges the real issue: “the survival of the six million Tibetan people along with the protection of our distinct culture, identity and civilisation”.
In September 1993, the Dalai Lama published a set of his private letters to the Chinese authorities, revealing his increasing frustration at the marked reluctance of Beijing to enter into serious negotiations on the future of Tibet. Frustration has led to disillusion. In his March 10th Statement of 1994, the Dalai Lama said, “I must now recognise that my approach has failed to produce any progress either for substantive negotiations or in contributing to the overall improvement of the situation in Tibet.” He added that he was aware that a “growing number of Tibetans, both inside as well as outside Tibet, have been disheartened” by his conciliatory stand and his decision not to demand complete independence for Tibet.
He announced that Tibetans would have to place their hopes in international support, but said, “If this fails, then I will no longer be able to pursue this policy (of conciliation) with a clear conscience. I feel strongly that it would then be my responsibility…to consult my people on the future course of our freedom struggle.” In his March 10th Statement of 1995, he announced that a referendum would be conducted among the refugee community in order to “clarify the political course of our struggle. A thorough and honest discussion of the various options open to us must take place among the Tibetan people.”