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'It is impossible to eliminate the Tibetan spirit'

Apr 01, 2009

In a wide-ranging interview with The Hindu, the Dalai Lama reiterates that he is seeking genuine autonomy for Tibet and not separation from China. He has also insisted that the Chinese government is pursuing policy of fear and manipulation that is proving counterproductive.

On March 31, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in India following the failed Tibetan uprising of March 10. Three days earlier, the Chinese central government had dissolved the Tibetan local government and launched the “Democratic Reform” in Tibet.

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On the 50th anniversary of these events, the exiled Tibetan religious leader reveals in an interview with The Hindu his willingness to work with Beijing towards reconciliation to find a solution within the framework of the Chinese constitution, his acceptance of the Chinese socialist system, and his desire for “genuine autonomy,” not separation.

Suggesting a way forward after the eighth round of talks ended in stalemate, the 14th Dalai Lama calls for one of two things: leaving the past alone or “some kind of international discussion or research or investigation about the past history” of Tibet. The Chinese government insists that the Dalai Lama should acknowledge that the region was historically a part of China, one of the sticking points in the talks.

In a wide-ranging conversation, he also speaks about his unlikely love of Marxism, and why he remains convinced that a mutually beneficial solution to the problem is more than possible even after five decades of little progress. But the next move, he says, must come from China.


Ananth Krishnan: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said recently that China wants reconciliation and is willing to negotiate. Eight rounds of negotiations have ended in stalemate. Do you expect the Chinese government to come forward for further talks soon?

Dalai Lama: There is one thing I want to make clear: the Tibetan problem cannot be solved through force. It is impossible to eliminate the Tibetan spirit. The Chinese government always says something but does something else. And they accuse us of doing that. They say they are watching our real deeds. Similarly, we are watching their deeds.

AK: The Chinese government’s pre-condition for talks is that you accept the One China policy. You have said you are willing to accept the Chinese government’s socialist system as long as there is genuine autonomy.

DL: Yes, we are not asking for separation. We are happy to be a part of China. We just want dignity and respect.

AK: In the last rounds of talks, after you submitted your memorandum [detailing demands and a proposal for “genuine autonomy”] there appeared to be two sticking points. One is on two differing views on Tibet’s history. The Chinese government wants you to accept that Tibet was historically a part of China, which you say you cannot do. How do you bridge this gap? Is it possible to move forward without looking back?

DL: They have to leave the past. Or the best thing would be to have some kind of international discussion, research or investigation objectively about the past history. That is the best way. On many occasions I have expressed that it is up to historians and legal experts. Let them decide.

The Chinese government should also allow the international media in Tibet, to go there and see for themselves. That is the real answer. Let the world know. If things are really good for Tibetan people, why then don’t they let people go and see for themselves? If things are as good as they say they are, then I will admit my mistake. ‘You say things are good, they say things are bad’: this is not the argument we should be having. Let unbiased objective international media go and see and look objectively.

AK: The other sticking point is your demand for a Central Tibetan Administration that would be responsible for administering not just the Tibet Autonomous Region but also Greater Tibet [including parts of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces]. The Chinese government says that this is nothing but disguised independence.

DL: The Foreign Minister himself mentioned that the whole Tibetan area is one-fourth of Chinese land. But we are not seeking separation. We are just seeking a guarantee for the preservation of Tibetan culture, language, and spirituality. This is a right every Tibetan must have. For instance, I come from Amdo. How can I forget their rights? Six million Tibetans put a lot of trust in me. If I speak for one small portion what will rest of the four million feel? And you must remember these areas have not invaded into Chinese land. For more than 1000 years, this area was Tibetan land.

AK: But why can’t separate autonomous prefectures look after Tibetans’ rights? Where is the need for a Central Tibetan Administration?

DL: In 1956 Chen Yi came to Lhasa and actually expressed to a group of high officials that eventually all Tibetan territories should be looked after from Lhasa. This is a practical view. The late Panchen Lama also strongly expressed this. This demand is not our creation. I am always telling the world I am just acting as a spokesman for the Tibetan people. I have to express myself according to the wishes of the Tibetan people. They have this strong desire and I have to speak, whether the Chinese listen or not.

AK: Back then, in the 1950s, you said you were very taken with Marxist ideas.

DL: (Laughs) Yes, I was so in love with Marxism then I even asked to join the Communist Party! As a socio-economic theory, I still love Marxism. But Marxism is different from Leninism. I am not a Leninist — that is all about power.

AK: After eight rounds of talks, the fact is they are at a stalemate. How do you go forward from here? What would you be willing to concede to move forward towards a possible solution?

DL: If you carry on a certain struggle with the possibility of it materialising in your lifetime, it means you are selfish. It is a moral issue, it is not a question of whether it is possible or not. It is a just cause and it is worthwhile to fight. It is a moral issue, you have to carry on and it’s not a question of it being possible.

We have had direct contact since 1979. In the early 1980s, there was real hope with Hu Yaobang. He publicly acknowledged past mistakes and publicly apologised. At that time, we were very hopeful. Since the democratisation movement started, he was disgraced. This is when the Chinese government’s attitude hardened, including its attitude towards minorities and Tibetans.
In 1993 and 1994, contact started. In 2002 we renewed direct contact. They asked us to put in our demands in paper and we submitted the memorandum. Then they gave a total rejection of the proposal as a proposal of disguised independence.

AK: After several decades of your “Middle Way” approach, there have been some calls from within the Tibetan movement for a different approach.

DL: Most of our supporters are very supportive of our approach. Whether it has had much effect, I don’t know. All our work has carried the principles of democracy. We ask them directly inside Tibet — through different ways, we ask people for their opinion. Last November we had a big meeting [in Dharamsala]. At that meeting different opinions were aired. Some people strongly espoused that we must fight for complete independence. They say the Middle Way failed to bring results. But the majority endorsed our existing approach. So we will carry on with it. The next move is China’s.

AK: So you will not change any of the demands submitted in the memorandum.

DL: We will not change our recommendations. If things become different, I have to ask the Tibetan people.

AK: So then you might reconsider?

DL: I don’t know. It’s up to the people of Tibet. It is the Tibetan nation’s struggle. This is not the Dalai Lama’s struggle. If it is my future, I have a right to decide. I am only acting as a spokesman.

AK: So the next move is China’s. Do you think it is in China’s interests to respond?

DL: I don’t know. I look at Tibet with common sense. The Chinese President emphasises the importance of harmony, unity, and stability. I fully support him. If you have common sense, unity, stability, and harmony must form the basis of trust. Their present method destroys the very basis of trust. They are policies of fear and manipulation. Without trust, how can you develop harmony? In the long run, the Chinese policy is counterproductive. It is harmful.

AK: How do you see China’s growing international influence affecting the Tibetan movement? Countries like India, South Africa, which are economically engaged with China, are increasingly reluctant to get involved [South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa recently]. Do you see a role for India in resolving this issue?

DL: India is doing the maximum it can regarding Tibetan refugees coming here. In the last fifty years, India extended the maximum help and concern. Beyond that I can understand there are limitations. So we are enjoying the freedom of this country, which is the original home of Tibetan Buddhism.

AK: Do you expect to return to China in your lifetime?

DL: This obstacle is due to ignorance and short-sightedness and political miscalculation. If the problem is due to civil war or ideology, then it is more difficult. Our problem is nothing like that. A few individuals have a distorted view. When we can clearly achieve a beneficial solution for both parties, then there is no problem.

Source : The Hindu
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