News and Views on Tibet

‘I Pray for China’s Leadership’

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Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan people, discusses the uprising in his native Tibet, why he doesn’t support protests against the Olympic torch relay and his proposals for a compromise with Beijing.

SPIEGEL: Your Holiness, have you already received your invitation for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing?

Dalai Lama: The Chinese have chosen a different option: not to invite me, but to exclude me. And to blame me. Just yesterday, the Tibet Daily in Lhasa wrote some harsh words about me, once again. Your fellow journalists there are very inventive.

SPIEGEL: Some of the expressions we remember from the last few weeks include: criminal, traitor, separatist and then, coming from the head of the Communist Party of the Tibet Autonomous Region: “A wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast.” Does this name-calling hurt?

Dalai Lama: Oh no, not at all. You forgot “demon,” by the way. These are just empty words. If using this sort of language to describe me makes the Chinese officials happy, then they should continue. I will also be happy to provide a blood sample, so that scientists can determine whether I am man or beast. But what I do condemn to the fullest and consider a serious human rights violation is when the Chinese authorities force the Tibetans in my native Tibet to vilify me and, while threatening them, to compel them to denounce me in writing.

SPIEGEL: Beijing admits to this approach, calling it a “patriotic education campaign …”

Dalai Lama: … which, in truth, is a violation of religious freedom and, therefore, of the laws of the People’s Republic.

SPIEGEL: Despite the name-calling — even concurrently with it — the Chinese political leadership has made overtures to meet with you. Does this make any sense to you? And do you feel that the Communist Party leaders in Beijing truly believe that you have agitated the people in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet, or even incited them to commit acts of violence?

Dalai Lama: I don’t know whether they believe it, but if they do, perhaps they should go to Oslo and have the Nobel Peace Prize taken away from me. No, of course I am committed to nonviolence — I have been for my entire life and will always be. I have asked the Chinese authorities to come here to Dharamsala and examine all of my documents and speeches, to which they will be given access. And then they can present evidence for their accusations.

SPIEGEL: But you cannot deny that in addition to the peaceful demonstrations by monks, which were brutally suppressed, Tibetan youth in Lhasa have also been guilty of looting and arson.

Dalai Lama: I assume that this was the case. I condemn it, and it makes me sad to see my fellow Tibetans acting in this way — even though it was most certainly the result of deep-seated disillusionment and despair over being second-class citizens in their own country. But this is no excuse for violence. I have proposed an international investigation of the events in Tibet, to be completed by a recognized, independent institution. But one thing is certain: It was, for the most part, innocent Tibetans who suffered under the brutality of the police and military. We deplore the loss of more than 200 lives. But we too lack a complete and detailed picture of what happened and is still happening in Tibet.

SPIEGEL: Where do you get your information?

Dalai Lama: We have little that is exclusive: the occasional call on a mobile phone, or an e-mail. Of course, these new media are heavily censored, but it is difficult for Beijing to get them completely under control.

SPIEGEL: What was your reaction when you received the first reports of the atrocities, and when you saw the first images of the dead?

Dalai Lama: I wept. I was sitting with the prime minister of our government-in-exile, and we were both wiping the tears from our eyes. So much suffering, so much despair. I was simply sad, deeply sad.

SPIEGEL: But not angry?

Dalai Lama: Sometimes an angry word slips out, which is bad enough. But no, anger is foreign to me, because anger means wanting to do harm to someone. My faith helps me overcome such negative emotions and find my equilibrium. Each of my Buddhist rituals is part of a process of giving and taking. I receive Chinese mistrust, and I send out compassion. I must admit that it hasn’t always been easy for me in recent weeks.

SPIEGEL: Have you also prayed for the Chinese, including the perpetrators?

Dalai Lama: Despite all fears and worries, I am at peace with my subconscious, so that I can perform my duties quite normally. I have no trouble sleeping. Perhaps this is because I also pray for the Chinese, of course. For their leadership. And also for those who have blood on their hands.

SPIEGEL: You aren’t just praying for the Chinese. More recently, you are also negotiating with them once again, through two of your representatives. These emissaries have just come here to Dharamsala to deliver their report to you on a series of talks with Chinese negotiators in Shenzhen. What is your assessment of the meeting?

Dalai Lama: During this informal, one-day meeting, my two envoys and their Chinese counterparts agreed to hold a seventh round of formal talks as soon as possible. A day will be set in the coming days following mutual consultation. In the meeting, there were considerable differences over both the cause and nature of the recent unrest in Tibet. But despite their differing views, the two sides showed a willingness to agree to a joint approach to overcoming the problems at issue in Tibet.

SPIEGEL: This sounds more like a discussion of procedural issues.

Dalai Lama: In this spirit, both sides offered concrete proposals that can be used as the basis for formal talks in the next round.

SPIEGEL: Is that progress?

Dalai Lama: We must seek truth from facts, as Deng Xiaoping liked to say, and rightly so. In any event, this time the mood was apparently pleasant. The other side took a respectful and not an aggressive stance. But this is still far from a breakthrough. The recent meeting in Shenzhen was merely a dialogue, but at least the Chinese side, for the first time, sought out this dialogue in advance, as a meeting with Dalai Lama representatives, and announced it in the press.

SPIEGEL: Many assume that Beijing only made the offer to engage in a dialogue for tactical reasons, to stop the wave of worldwide criticism of Beijing’s behavior in Tibet, to give it time to conduct the Olympics without having to face protests. And to be able to say to Western leaders: Look, we are negotiating. Are you being hoodwinked by the Communist Party leadership?

Dalai Lama: Indeed, talks for the sake of talks are pointless. I am only interested in serious discussions to address the core of the problems. They are highly welcome, and without preconditions. But they must be conducted in a way that is transparent for the outside world — enough of the secret talks behind closed doors. Of course, the international pressure on Beijing has worked. I can only encourage every free society, especially Germany, to keep up the pressure. The whole world must help us. The Chinese are very much concerned about their international reputation.

SPIEGEL: And what, specifically, do you want from China?

Dalai Lama: The Chinese must finally admit that there is a Tibet problem. This is supposed to be the focus of the next talks to which we just agreed. Unlike earlier unrests, this time they not only affected Lhasa, and not just the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. The protests encompassed all Tibetan-speaking parts of China. Even Tibetan students at Beijing University were demonstrating. This overwhelming and complete rebuff of the Communist Party government and its policies can’t just be ignored. Beijing must know that something has gone terribly wrong in the last 50 years.


Dalai Lama: Everything they have tried. Oppression and torture didn’t do any good in Tibet, and political reeducation has failed. Political indoctrination and the resettlement of more and more immigrant Han Chinese in Tibet did not succeed in muzzling the Tibetans. Then Beijing’s Communist Party leaders tried programs to improve the standard of living and pumped money into infrastructure projects, only to discover that the Tibetans valued their cultural independence and spirituality far more. After years of oppression, the Tibetans simply no longer trust the Chinese. Now the people in power in Beijing, those nine members of the Politburo whose decisions affect 1.3 billion people, stand at a crossroads. I hope that they will choose a fundamentally new policy, a realist policy.

‘I Welcomed the Awarding of the Games to Beijing from the Start.’

SPIEGEL: What do you see as potential solutions? And in what direction do think Beijing will go?

Dalai Lama: Our policy of extensive autonomy for Tibet offers the best prospects. The Tibetans must have the power to decide on all issues relating to culture, religion and the environment. This is something completely different from being an independent state. Under international law, this new Tibet would also be part of the People’s Republic of China, which would remain responsible for foreign and security policy. If Beijing would agree to such a model, I can guarantee you that we would no longer have such unrest and such a crisis as we have now. This is the one variant, the positive one.

SPIEGEL: Is there a negative variant?

Dalai Lama: There is a risk that the Chinese leadership believes that it no longer stands a chance of pacifying Tibet, and that it has lost the loyalty of the Tibetans forever. At the same time, the Chinese want to completely control a country with such rich natural resources. In that case, they will oppress our people even more brutally, eventually turning them into an insignificant minority in their own homeland. Variant number two is a Tibet for Han Chinese. It would be the end of all dialogue with us, and the end of all measures to build trust.

SPIEGEL: Which road is Beijing likely to choose? Will there already be a sense of it on June 20 in Lhasa, when the controversial Olympic torch is carried through the Tibetan capital and more demonstrations are a possibility?

Dalai Lama: I have advised my countrymen in Lhasa and elsewhere, including San Francisco, not to stage demonstrations against the Olympic torch. I don’t know what the point would be. Perhaps I will make another appeal. The Chinese are constantly accusing me of sabotaging the Olympic Games and the torch relay. In truth, I welcomed the awarding of the games to Beijing from the start.

SPIEGEL: Many Tibetans see the torch relay from Mount Everest, which is sacred to the Tibetans, along with the Lhasa route, which passes your former seat of government, the Potala Palace, as a provocation. Don’t you?

Dalai Lama: If times were calm, I wouldn’t get upset about it. But now I do understand the protests, without supporting them, of course. I also counseled the organizers of the so-called peace march, from here in Dharamsala to the border of the People’s Republic, to cancel the plan, because it could lead to clashes with the armed border guards. But all I can do is dispense advice, not suppress other opinions. I hope that the Chinese will not use all of this as an excuse to commit another bloodbath.

SPIEGEL: Your nonviolent path is losing support among your countrymen in exile, even though you continue to be revered as a symbol of Tibet. The militants in the Tibetan Youth Congress, who insist on fighting for independence, are gaining influence. The Chinese leadership recently dubbed the TYC a “terrorist organization.”

Dalai Lama: Of course I understand the impatience of the young. But they have no concept, just emotions. I have been familiar with such dreams for many years, and I had hoped that they had subsided long ago. Aside from the moral question, what would this mean? That the Tibetans should take up arms to achieve their independence? Which arms, and where would they come from? From the mujahedeen in Pakistan, perhaps? And if we get the weapons, how do we get them to Tibet? And once that armed war of independence has begun, will the Americans come to our aid? Or the Germans?

SPIEGEL: Of course not. Nevertheless, some Tibetans believe that you are too willing to compromise. Your role model, Mahatma Gandhi, preached both nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. Non-cooperation with the occupiers and provocative marches through the country seemed like a good idea to him.

Dalai Lama: You’re right. And yet there is one big difference: Gandhi was free to argue his case in a court of law. Try doing that in Lhasa. The British imperialists were bad enough, but no comparison with the Chinese of today — they are far worse. And, besides, I believe that a hunger strike to the death would be an inadmissible act of violence. One doesn’t stand a chance against the Chinese with that sort of thing.

SPIEGEL: Now you are condemning the People’s Republic rather broadly. China is certainly no constitutional state. But there are unmistakable signs of a slowly growing civil society: courageous journalists, lawyers and environmentalists. And China’s economic progress is phenomenal.

Dalai Lama: That’s true. You should know that I am a great fan of the “harmonious society” that the party leadership is currently promoting. But words must also be followed by actions. I am certainly optimistic about China in the long term. It is difficult to violently suppress people in the long run, as the example of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries has shown. China’s society is already in flux today, and this has led to many positive changes. The Chinese are rediscovering religion. Former party leader Jiang Zemin is a Buddhist, and so is former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji. Many businesspeople and artists have also begun showing an interest in Buddhism. Exciting and certainly nonconformist essays critical of the regime are appearing on the Internet. This could lead to growing sympathy and solidarity with the Tibetan cause.

SPIEGEL: Are you homesick for Tibet?

Dalai Lama: Homesick? No. Home is where you feel at home and are treated well. This is, of course, the case in India, but also in Switzerland, in the United States — and in Germany, which I like very much.

SPIEGEL: Have you given up hope of seeing Lhasa again, and the Potala Palace, where you grew up and ruled the country?

Dalai Lama: Oh no, not at all. I am optimistic that I will be able to return one day.

SPIEGEL: When and under what conditions?

Dalai Lama: I already consider myself semi-retired today. The day-to-day business of government is already handled by the cabinet led by Prime Minister Rinpoche, which was democratically elected here in exile. I would like to retire completely in a few years.

SPIEGEL: You recently said, during the days of the worst violence in Lhasa and the militant protests here in Dharamsala: “If things go out of control then my only option is to completely resign.” Some interpreted your remarks as an open threat to the radicals from the Youth Congress, that they could no longer count on your support. Others saw them as a hidden threat to China’s leadership, as the last, best chance to seek a compromise.

Dalai Lama: It was meant the way I said it. I look forward to a life as a simple monk. Well okay, perhaps there was a bit of a warning to it, in the sense you mentioned.

SPIEGEL: The Chinese will demand other concessions from you before they will even consider allowing you to return to Lhasa. After all, you claim to speak for all Tibetans, and you have called for extensive autonomy for a Greater Tibet, which includes both the current Autonomous Region and parts of the provinces of Qinghai…

Dalai Lama: … where I was born…

SPIEGEL: … Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, or close to a quarter of the landmass of the People’s Republic.

Dalai Lama: It is my moral obligation to speak for 6 million Tibetans, and the cultural rights and freedoms must apply to all Tibetans — as it is stated in the Constitution.

SPIEGEL: Can you even resign as the Dalai Lama, essentially handing in a religious and political title and its obligations?

Dalai Lama: I will no longer play a political role or a pronounced spiritual role. When the day of my return comes, when a certain measure of pluralism, freedom of opinion and rule of law has returned to Tibet, I will relinquish all of my historic authority to the local government.

Dalai Lama: Will you be the last Dalai Lama? To what extent do you intend to be involved in the process of choosing your successor?

Dalai Lama: We discussed this issue within a high-ranking group here in Dharamsala just the other day. There are various models, but the key factor should be the will of the Tibetan people. I have already considered a referendum on this question. Everything is possible: a conclave, like in the Catholic Church, a woman as my successor, no Dalai Lama anymore, or perhaps even two, since the Communist Party has, astonishingly enough, given itself the right to be responsible for reincarnations.

SPIEGEL: And what is the most likely scenario?

Dalai Lama: I was unanimously asked to take part in choosing my successor and to keep the institution alive. But I hope that there is still plenty of time, and that I will have another 10 or even 20 years to think about things. Of course, if we are still in exile then, my successor will presumably have to be found somewhere in India, certainly outside Tibet.

SPIEGEL: You travel around the world a lot …

Dalai Lama: … and that’s the way it will remain for a long time. Even if I am to return to Lhasa, I would like to continue traveling. I consider myself a citizen of the world and am very interested in the relationships between science and Buddhism. My main goals are to promote fundamental human values and exchange among the religions. Then comes Tibet.

SPIEGEL: You will be coming to Germany for a few days again next week — a country you visit often.

Dalai Lama: Yes, I like being in your country very much. I will give talks and probably meet with a few politicians.

SPIEGEL: The chancellor will be traveling in Latin America at that time, but Norbert Lammert, the president of the German parliament, and Jürgen Rüttgers, the governor of the state of North Rhine Westphalia, apparently want to meet with you.

Dalai Lama: Well, let’s hope that the Chinese can contain their protests this time.

SPIEGEL: You know that you are especially popular in Germany, and that more Germans name you as a role model than the pope, who is German?

Dalai Lama: I cannot account for that. It puts me to shame.

SPIEGEL: Your Holiness, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Erich Follath and Padma Rao at the exile headquarters of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India.

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