Tibet would be better off to remain within China rather than regain its independence, the Dalai Lama has told an interviewer. “Tibet is backward,” the exiled spiritual leader said. “It’s a big land, rich in natural resources, but we lack the technology or expertise [to exploit them]. So, if we remain in China, we might get a greater benefit, provided it respects our culture and environment and gives us some kind of guarantee.”
The Dalai Lama’s remarks were made to a journalist from Time magazine, just weeks after he sent a delegation of envoys to Tibet to discuss his possible return. Western diplomats believe there is a new opportunity for rapprochement under the new Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, with the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile .
The Dalai Lama gave up his struggle for full independence for Tibet at the end of the 1980s, but his latest remarks are particularly conciliatory, and will be seen as evidence of progress in talks with Chinese authorities. “Some Tibetans accuse me of selling out their right to independence, but my approach is in our interest,” the Dalai Lama said at his home in McLeod Ganj, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
After China occupied Tibet in 1951, the Dalai Lama became the leader of the Tibetan struggle for independence, fleeing in 1959 along with tens of thousands of his supporters after a failed uprising. He set up a government-in-exile in Dhar-amsala in India. For many years, Tibet was a celebrated cause in the West, and supporters flocked to Dharamsala from around the world.
But with China’s growing power, Tibet has faded from the international conscience, and the Dalai Lama has moderated demands from independence to some form of autonomy that will safeguard Tibet’s culture and allow Tibetans to follow their traditional Buddhist religion. “Many communist and authoritarian regimes have changed, including the Soviet Union, not by force but by their own people,” the Dalai Lama told Time. “China [still has] the same system but much is changing. Freedom of information, religious freedom and freedom of the press are much better. On that level the situation in Tibet is hopeful.”
But he was not entirely optimistic. “Despite some economic improvement and development, the threats to our cultural heritage, religious freedom and environment are serious. In the countryside, facilities in education and health are very, very poor.”
On the prospect of improving relations with Beijing, he sought to play down expectations. “We’re not expecting some major breakthrough; the Tibetan issue is very complicated, and China is over-suspicious. It will take time.”
Among other concerns, the Tibetan government-in-exile is believed to be seeking assurances from China that the Dalai Lama would be allowed to live in the Potala Palace in Tibet, and not be kept a virtual prisoner in Beijing.
They also want the Dalai Lama to be given full control over the publication and editing of religious texts, and authority over the appointment of abbots for monasteries.
The Dalai Lama also wants undisputed authority to supervise the choice of new incarnations of living Buddhas. At the age of 69, his thoughts have clearly turned to his own successor. “The institution of the Dalai Lama, and whether it should continue, is up to the Tibetan people,” he said. “If they feel it is not relevant, then it will cease. But if I die today, I think they will want another Dalai Lama.
“Will the Chinese accept this? [No,] the Chinese government most probably will appoint another Dalai Lama, like it did with the Panchen Lama. Then there will be two Dalai Lamas, one the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan heart, and one that is officially appointed.”
Oct. 19, 2004
Justin Huggler in Delhi