TIBETAN exiles are holding a six-day conference this week to examine the options for policies towards China, which insists that Tibet is an Autonomous Region of Greater China and not the independent state that most Tibetans claim.

The Dalai Lama has called this meeting of some 600 leaders of Tibetan communities in exile because he has reached the conclusion that the Chinese leaders will never change their position. Last month he shocked his followers by saying, “As far as I'm concerned, I have given up. I have to accept failure.” The Dalai Lama is now 73 and in the 50th year of his exile. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Tibet's claim to independence - and Beijing equally claims that historically it was a part of China - the Dalai Lama's realism (or pessimism) seems justified. The Beijing Olympics produced no evident lessening of China's firm hold on Tibet and all attempts at uprisings, peaceful and violent, have been suppressed. Nonetheless there are still loud voices among the Dalai Lama's followers who refuse to give up the objective of independence, some insisting it should be achieved only by peaceful means, others being ready to use violence if necessary. There are also some who think that Hong Kong should be a model for Tibet, offering a course midway between independence and repression. This is a faint hope; Hong Kong's strength is its economy - something that Tibet cannot offer.


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