NEGOTIATIONS: Beijing has started talking with Tibet’s government in exile, which has sparked speculation that the exiled leader may be coming back.
Negotiations between Tibet’s government in exile and leaders in Beijing have prompted international speculation that the Dalai Lama may be closer to a return to his homeland. But in the monasteries and temples of Tibet, people are too afraid of the Chinese authorities to speak out in favor of a reconciliation that would allow the region’s spiritual leader to return to the land he fled in 1959 after a failed uprising.
In private, monks and Buddhist believers admit they still revere the Dalai Lama as a guru and a king. Some beg foreigners for his photo — forbidden by the authorities. Others secretly display his picture in rooms that are off-limits even to friends and family.
The Chinese government offers rewards to informers and many monasteries are reputed to be filled with spies, so it is difficult to speak openly. But in bars after a few drinks, locals give the thumbs up at a mention of “Dalai Lama” and the thumbs down to “China.”
Any show of support for the exiled leader is punished. According to the Tibet Information Network, three people were arrested in June for “splittist activities” during a crackdown before the Dalai Lama’s birthday. On that day, Lhasa’s citizens were reportedly forbidden from gathering in public, hanging prayer flags and reciting prayers.
During a government-organized trip by foreign journalists to Lhasa, cautious monks repeated the official line that the Dalai Lama was the source of conflict. But political leaders took a noticeably softer line than in the past, reflecting the improved climate between the sides in the wake of two visits to China last year by envoys from the government in exile.
“We very much welcome Tibetan compatriots who return, including delegates of the Dalai Lama,” said new Tibetan governor Jampa Phuntsog. “Negotiations are good so that we can understand the true feelings of the Dalai Lama, which is the basis for progress.”
Beijing has said the Dalai Lama can return as a Chinese citizen if he renounces claims for Tibetan independence and recognizes Taiwan as part of China.
In a sign of its willingness to compromise, China has released several Tibetan political prisoners, including monks and nuns. Yet it still refuses to disclose the whereabouts of the 14-year-old boy who was identified in 1995 by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was whisked away by Chinese authorities at the age of six and has not been seen since, though officials have said he is in good health. The Chinese government’s choice of Panchen Lama remains so unpopular that the boy has to study in Beijing, where he is taught scripture by pro-government monks flown out from Tashilunpo monastery in Tibet.