By Jerry Guo | NEWSWEEK
Published Apr 30, 2010
From the magazine issue dated May 10, 2010
Since the 2008 uprising in Tibet, the region has been sealed off to Western journalists, making it virtually impossible for outsiders to assess conditions there. Last week, at his Himalayan residence in McLeod Ganj, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sat down with NEWSWEEK's Jerry Guo to discuss what's happening on the ground in Tibet, Chinese policy, and the Tibetan movement. Excerpts:Has economic development in Tibet helped Tibetans?
The Dalai Lama (Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis)
Certainly [the Chinese] brought some benefits to Tibetan areas. But some Western economists, after they study conditions inside Tibet, say the economy benefits Han people, not Tibetans. The construction of roads, railway links, airports—these are basically very helpful. But whether the use is positive or negative is a political decision.The Chinese government has been subsidizing Tibetans with "comfortable houses" to the tune of $500 million. On the surface that sounds like a good development.
That's a very controversial program. Three years ago, a Tibetan monk who visited his native home near Lhasa attended a public event where the village chief mentioned how the party and government were of immense help, that they had new houses, and everything was very good. After one or two days, he visited the chief's home and asked privately about the conditions. Then, the chief said, the money received from the government was not sufficient so they had to take a loan. Then everybody became completely worried about paying back the debt. Here [in McLeod Ganj] we have received more than 100,000 Tibetans. Some come and go back, and they're from all over Tibet. Every person complains and often cries about conditions there.China is pursuing one of the largest social-engineering projects to date—the forced resettlement of 1 million–plus Tibetan nomads—supposedly to protect the environment. What do you think about this?
For thousand of years nomads had a certain culture that fit in with their way of life. Initially they received subsidized housing and they were happy, but once they had spent the money they were given, they had no way to earn more. They had no experience in how to build a new life, so they are now facing immense difficulties.Your thoughts must be on the earthquake that rocked the eastern Tibetan plateau this April. Do you think that has caused more Chinese people to be sympathetic to the Tibetan movement?
Monks were going through the rubble and found one person. They were about to pull the person out, but the military came and pushed those monks away. Then they pulled out the person and took a picture. It was really unfortunate. But I think the Chinese people's enthusiasm to help and rebuild is very, very genuine. Now they have the opportunity to see the real Tibetan areas, where there is not much development and very poor conditions. But everything depends on government policy.Are you optimistic about China's next generation of leaders?
When Hu Jintao took over, there was a wave of hope. That hopefulness is gone. Now the fifth generation is coming. In my view, Hu's emphasis on a harmonious society is very important. But harmony and stability [now] depend on the gun or putting people in prison. That is the wrong method. So I hope the next generation of leadership will fulfill the slogan Hu started. Many party members are outwardly atheist but Buddhist deep inside. There is hypocrisy. Some of the high officials have my picture on their mobile phones. They criticize me, but inside they are normal people.So have any of these officials conveyed to you their support through back channels perhaps?
That's top secret [laughs]. This has happened with staff members in Chinese missions.Will no change in Tibet mean the eventual extinction of the movement?
I don't think so. Sixty years of experience say it is not easy to diminish the Tibetan spirit. The Tibetan spirit is very strong.