Tibet's exiled leader talks of homeland now ruled by China

The Dalai Lama, the leader of the Tibetan government in exile, has seen the door toward reconciliation with China swing ajar, only to nearly close again. Now the Buddhist leader says in an interview that he is canceling a proposed 1985 trip to Tibet.

China's new liberalization that began in 1978 fanned hopes for a freer Tibet. At the invitation of the Chinese, the Dalai Lama sent three fact-finding delegations, beginning in 1979, to assess the changed conditions.

But in 1980, the ''Lhasa incident'' - in which 3,000 Tibetans in the Tibetan capital openly expressed their faith in the Dalai Lama and their dissatisfaction with Chinese policies - led to the premature expulsion of the second delegation from the country. Simultaneously, wall posters demanding Tibetan independence sprang up in Lhasa and nationalist independence groups were formed.

Last year, thousands of Tibetans donated money and labor to reconstruct Lhasa's Ganden monastery, which the Chinese had reduced to rubble after the 1959 takeover. A baffled Chinese leadership, overwhelmed by such spontaneous religious outpouring, saw the situation getting out of hand. Some 3,000 participants were arrested and the leaders sentenced to death.

Today, the Dalai Lama lives in Dharmsala, India, as the spiritual and temporal leader of the 100,000 Tibetan exiles in India. He is considered the most respected Buddhist spokesman in the world. He is seen by most Tibetans as the 14th reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama. His stentorian voice readily breaks into deep laughter, reflecting a humor characteristic of a monk who has practiced the teachings of Buddha.

The following are excerpts from an interview in Dharmsala earlier this year:

Many Tibetans fear for your safety if you make your proposed visit to Tibet in 1985. Others feel that a visit under Chinese auspices legitimizes the Chinese occupation. How do you respond?

My main concern is the opinion of the Tibetans inside Tibet. Although they want very much to see me, I know that the majority of them feel that I should not come for a visit. They say that there is too much physical danger, that my safety is at risk, and they want the visit postponed.

While I have a strong desire to go, I must comply with their wishes.

Do you believe that refugee Tibetans may someday return to a free Tibet?

It's possible. I strongly believe that. So long as human determination is there, things will change. Inside Tibet, nationalism is even stronger than among those in exile. Quite remarkably, the Tibetan people's determination is stronger than the Dalai Lama's determination.

The real factor which makes for this determination is the Chinese. The Chinese made the Tibetans tough and determined. Moreover, they brought out the greatness of Tibetan determination, willpower, and unity. So from that point of view, we must be grateful to the Chinese! [He laughs.]

The Tibetan government in exile has sent three delegations to Tibet. What is your latest information on human rights abuses?

Around last September or October, a large number of Tibetans were arrested. We don't know the exact numbers nationwide, but in Lhasa alone there were more than 3,000 detainees.

We also are certain that the Chinese carried out secret executions, although we don't yet have an exact number. The nature of these arrests was not criminal, that is quite clear. We have the names of 16 Tibetan nationalists with no record of any crime who were executed. Some of them were arrested simply for practicing their religion; others for being nationalists.

The Chinese say they have improved the economic and educational facilities in Tibet. Is there any truth in this claim?

As for education, they have established more schools. Before 1959 there were very few institutions, and modern education was virtually nonexistent. Since the Chinese came, they did open many schools.

But we have to evaluate this issue from a wider perspective. First of all, the real standard of education is very low. In many cases the so-called school has no educational activities. It is, in reality, a child labor camp. They have a short study period, and the rest of the time they are used as field workers. Since 1979 [the implementation of general liberalization in China], education has seen some improvement, but the standard is still very low.

There was no modern education in old Tibet, but many monasteries acted like learning centers.... Now all of that has been completely destroyed by the Chinese. So, I think, if we look at the overall educational picture, there has not been much progress.

Economic production has been increased, no question. But all of the production is rigidly controlled. Most of the products are taken away to China, and the real amount consumed by Tibetans is very little. There is strict rationing, and the people's stomachs are often empty.

Many posters put up by Tibetan refugees throughout India claim that China has stationed nuclear weapons in Tibet. As far as you know, are these claims true?

I don't know. You could get the correct information from spy satellites. [ Laughs.] But in the far north of Tibet, and to the west, there are certain remote places where the Chinese never allow any Tibetans to go, only Chinese military. What is happening there? We guess there's a strong possibility of nuclear missiles.

Your symbolic role among Tibetans has been likened to the role of the present Pope for the Polish people. Would you comment on this?

There are great similarities. But in the case of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, it is not only the present generation who is concerned. The relationship goes back for centuries. In this sense, it's much deeper than the relationship between the present Pope and the Polish people. On the other hand, the papal institution is worldwide, a recognized and independent institution. The Dalai Lama is just a refugee. (He laughs.)

March 10 marked 25 years since the nationalist uprising and the beginning of Tibetan exile. What did you do on that day?

At nine o'clock I spoke a few words at the Tibetan freedom demonstration in Dharmsala. Then I returned to my duties, as usual. The 10th of March is more or less like any other day....

You have said that among the changes you'd like to implement in a free Tibet is a democratic political system. Wouldn't such an elected leadership threaten to usurp your position as the leader of the Tibetan people?

I believe in democratic leadership. In our national Constitution (drafted by the Tibetan government in exile in Dharmsala in 1963), it stipulates that, according to majority opinion, even the Dalai Lama's position could be changed.... The Dalai Lama would retire and remain a humble monk, watching the situation. Other people would carry the responsibility. If something becomes seriously wrong, then I could intervene. Otherwise, I'd have time to relax. [He laughs.]

In the future, we want to have a united Tibet [including what the Chinese designate the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and areas of eastern Tibet which have been absorbed into Chinese provinces, such as Sichuan and Yunnan], with a firm central authority.... In such structure, the presence of a figure with no real power but with wide popularity could be most helpful.

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