DHARMSALA, India — Nearly six decades of struggle against the might of China has taught the Tibetans one thing: Ask the world for little, expect less.
As Tibetans rose up in recent weeks against China's harsh rule over the Himalayan region and China sent forces to quell the protests, Tibet's government-in exile-sent its envoys to far-flung capitals with appeals for help.
But guided by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, they kept their requests modest. They know few countries have the appetite to cross China, particularly at a time the world is counting on the emerging superpower to keep the global economy ticking as the United States appears headed into a recession.
"His Holiness says we have to be realistic," said Tenzin Taklha, a senior aide to the 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner who has come to embody the Tibetan struggle since he fled to India in 1959 in the wake of a failed uprising against China.
Pragmatism from Dalai Lama
From the exiled Tibetan leaders, there were no calls for sanctions, like those imposed when Myanmar suppressed pro-democracy protests last year, or even a boycott of this summer's Beijing Olympics.
It's an approach that reflects the pragmatism of the Dalai Lama, who has long sought an accommodation based on his "Middle Way" dialogue with Beijing aimed at autonomy for Tibetans under Chinese rule.
Instead, the Tibetans appealed for international pressure on China to act with restraint, to open the area to international investigators and the media and for organizations like the International Red Cross to be allowed in to ensure wounded Tibetan protesters get treatment.
"Specific things are very difficult. No one is going to send in a peacekeeping force," said Taklha.
Moral support from abroad
The Tibetans have, however, won the moral support of many nations.
On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lent her voice, calling China's crackdown "a challenge to the conscience of the world."
Pelosi was the first major foreign official to meet the Dalai Lama since the start of the unrest, visiting him in Dharmsala, the hilltop town in northern India where he has his headquarters.
But it is difficult for most countries to do more than call on China to show restraint, finding themselves walking a tightrope between their sympathy for the Tibetans and their very real economic and strategic needs to maintain good relations with Beijing.
China reacts harshly against countries offering overt support to the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of masterminding the uprising in an attempt to secure Tibet's independence and undermine the Olympic games.
China this week expressed "grave concern" over a planned meeting between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Dalai Lama.
And last year China temporarily barred U.S. warships from docking in Hong Kong after President Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest civilian honor.
No country faces this dilemma more so than India. On the one hand, it hosts the Tibetan exiles. But it also now has its closest ties to China since the two Asian neighbors fought a 1962 border war. Last year, two-way trade reached $37 billion.
India has allowed the Tibetans to protest peacefully, but detained several dozen who planned to march from India to Tibet to coincide with the Olympics, saying India would not tolerate actions that embarrassed China.
Protests in India, London
In Dharmsala, hundreds of demonstrators marched Saturday to condemn China's crackdown in the region.
"We pray that the Dalai Lama's peaceful efforts to negotiate with China bear fruit," said Prem Sagar, a rally organizer.
In London, more than 300 people, including many exiled Tibetans, marched past the Chinese Embassy.
Some argue that only international pressure has stopped China from completely crushing the Tibetans long ago.
Still, for the many Tibetan exiles who lack the Zen-like patience of the Dalai Lama, the absence of concrete action from the international community, particularly the United Nations, is galling.
"We want justice from the U.N., it is the only place where we can go to seek justice for the people killed in Tibet," said Zamba Tshering, 26, a Tibetan exile protesting outside U.N. offices in Katmandu, Nepal.
Little U.N. interest in intervention
While U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on both sides to show "restraint" earlier in the week, the U.N. has shown little interest in getting involved in the issue, perhaps an acknowledgment of China's status as one of the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members.
The Security Council has never debated the Tibet issue and it has not been raised in the broader General Assembly since 1965.
"The U.N. has so many procedures, so sometimes genuine issues don't come up," said Sonam Dagpo, a senior official in the exile's Department of Information and International Relations.
Others were less tactful.
"When it comes to dollars, everyone wants dollars. When it comes to human rights, it is shoved under the carpet," said Tsewang Rigzin, the leader of the Tibetan Youth Congress.
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