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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The Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet in 1959 as it became clear that Mao Zedong's China would take complete control of the region, and perhaps abduct him. He has lived since in the Tibetan exile community of Dharamsala, India, where he has begun work on creating structures of democracy and even a secular system of rule among Tibetans. He has also intensified his outreach to the Chinese people.
In the past 15 years, Tibet has been flooded with Han Chinese. Fears are mounting that the Chinese are overrunning the Himalayan kingdom, assimilating Tibetan culture, and denying a free practice of Tibetan religion.
Current dynamics have brought a kind of Alice in Wonderland quality to the Dalai Lama's attempts to travel.
He continues to assert, as he has since the late 1980s, that he does not advocate Tibetan independence, but wants negotiations on autonomy – in keeping with China's constitution ensuring minority rights.
Beijing continues to claim that the Dalai Lama wants independence. Hence, under China's definition, any world leader or state that meets or hosts him is complicit in what China terms the Dalai Lama's "splittist" activities.
The situation led Paris's Mayor Bertrand Delanoe to state with some exasperation that, "I have never been in favor of Tibet's independence. I am not a Buddhist. I take positions related to Paris's values and my deep convictions. I do not pretend to rule over the world."
The Paris leg may have been the most sensitive of the European trip. Franco-Chinese relations suffered after protests in Paris over the Olympic torch run last year, and after President Nicolas Sarkozy, as president of the European Union, met the Dalai Lama in Poland.
The Paris protests, broadcast around the world, were an embarrassment ahead of China's Summer Olympic Games coming-out party, and forced Beijing to offer "talks" with the Dalai Lama's exile community in India. Those talks never seriously materialized once the Olympics ended.
Before the Olympics, China asked the exile community to set out its talking points. Dharamsala responded in the fall with a "Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People."
China immediately derided the memo, and said any talks would focus on limiting the Dalai Lama's "splittist" activities. At a key meeting in Dharamsala, and with pressure on the Dalai Lama to appease younger Tibetans impatient with 50 years of stalemate, the exiles nonetheless resolved to continue with the nonviolent "third way" to resolve the dispute.
China, meanwhile, resumed its earlier campaign to isolate and demonize the leader, who it has termed a "wolf in monk's clothing."
"Beijing trashed the Tibetan memorandum and used it as the basis for the campaign against the Dalai Lama," says Davis, the legal scholar from Hong Kong. "That flies in the face of a growing view that China is better off negotiating with the Dalai Lama right now. He's the one who can make a reasonable deal. After him, I don't know."