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Impasse with China erodes Dalai Lama's patience

On his recent European tour, Tibet's exiled leader preached compassion, but expressed frustration over 'lies and hypocrisy' from Beijing

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During his recent Europe tour, the spiritual leader gave talks on "Compassion in Turbulent Times" to large gatherings. Speaking to the press, however, he bluntly decried conditions in Tibet as a "hell on earth," and spoke of official Chinese "cruelty." He repeated a statement he made in Rome in February that now is the "darkest period in Tibetan history."

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University of Hong Kong legal professor Michael Davis, who has followed the Tibet issue closely, says the sharper tone is born out of frustration.

"Neither Tibet, the Dalai Lama, or the exiled Tibetans have gotten anything in all their efforts to quietly negotiate," Professor Davis says. "The Dalai Lama's years trying to create a more conducive atmosphere has failed, and there's an accounting of that."

In Paris on Sunday, in front of 4,500 people, the Dalai Lama appeared jocular and relaxed. He offered a message on how individuals can learn to be as unconditionally compassionate toward each other as a mother is toward her children.

He highlighted the concept of "secular ethics" – that being and doing good has a universal quality that is achievable not only through formal religion.

At the end, he said, "The 20th and 21st centuries are the most important in world history. We have a responsibility to develop compassion more universally. A lot depends on individuals."

Yet, with reporters asking about Tibet and China, he offered that: "'I am getting old, and the Chinese are especially preoccupied with that! They are awaiting my death.... I have little hope of reaching a negotiated solution with the Chinese government. My trust in that government is very thin, because the whole communist political system is based on lies and hypocrisy. The local authorities lie to the regional leaders, who lie to Beijing, who then broadcasts those lies to the rest of the world!"

Pico Iyer, author of "The Open Road: The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama," noted in a recent New York Review of Books article that "in the 34 years I've been regularly talking and listening to him, I've grown used to seeing the [Dalai Lama] begin each day by praying for his 'Chinese brothers and sisters,' and constantly asking his fellow Tibetans to 'reach out to the Chinese people and make better relations,'" but that "for the first time … he could no longer contain his impatience and disappointment with Beijing."

Rare support from inside China

During the Dalai Lama's European trip, the Open Constitutional Initiative, a group of independent Chinese legal scholars, issued an unusual dissenting report on Beijing's insistence that the Dalai Lama is responsible for last spring's violent uprisings in Tibet.

The group, in a fact-finding mission to Lhasa and Gansu, found that it was China's restrictive policies and the marginalization of Tibetans in their own land, not the Dalai Lama, that brought the uprising in spring 2008.

"Even though research was carried out in the field for only a month, we deeply sensed the popular discontent and anger behind the incidents, and the complexity of their social roots," the scholars' report stated, adding later that a violent protest in Lhasa on March 14, 2008, "was reaction made under stress by a society and people to the various changes that have been taking place in their lives over the past few decades."

Kate Saunders, of the London-based International Campaign for Tibet, says the report "Is the first time an independent group in China has openly disagreed with the position of the state … and state propaganda. It is very courageous." [Editor's note: The original version misstated the name of the group.]