Unrest in Tibet can kindle a major conflagration if China does not change its policy toward the Himalayan region, says the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual and temporal leader of some 1.5 million Tibetans. ``Basically the situation in Tibet is very grave. And there is deep resentment among Tibetans over the way they are being treated,'' according to the Dalai Lama, who fled to India after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. The people in Tibet feel it is a separate nation, a different culture with its own history.''
Militancy is growing among young Tibetans educated in Chinese universities, he claims. ``Monks involved in protests are young, new monks.'' Education has made the young more aware of their rights and helped renew nationalism, a factor the Dalai Lama describes as the ``most significant aspect of the unrest.''
The spiritual leader's remarks during an interview at his mountain resort headquarters appear to mark a change from his more cautious appraisal of September's demonstrations in Tibet at an Oct. 7 news conference here. At least 14 people were killed in anti-Chinese protests.
The 52-year-old Dalai Lama says a major factor fueling unrest is China's aggressive resettlement policy which threatens to reduce Tibetans to a tiny minority in their own homeland. After Tibet was annexed in 1950, China merged parts of it with neighboring provinces. China says the settlers number less than 100,000; Tibetan groups claim the influx is already overwhelming the indigenous population.
Another reason for popular anger is what the Dalai Lama calls China's ``very bad'' human-rights record in Tibet. After a three-decade policy of ``torture, starvation, and summary execution of Tibetans, the Chinese in the last few years have become more clever, more subtle in their human rights violations,'' he says.
As an example, the Tibetan leader cites what he describes as ambush beatings of 100 monks by police in Lhasa on Oct. 6. The monks, pleading for release of colleagues jailed earlier, were ``brutally beaten up'' he says. ``Wherever foreigners were present ... police were more restrained because they knew the news would travel overseas.''
The Dalai Lama argues that the recent disturbances received widespread publicity abroad because of better communications and the presence of many Western tourists in Lhasa. There were ``much bigger'' anti-Chinese protests in the 1960s and 1970s, he says, but they received little notice because ``we got the news from Tibet after months or after years.''
A third factor stoking unrest, he says, is discrimination against Tibetans in education and employment. ``The transfer of more and more Chinese to Tibet is ... a fundamental abuse of human rights [and] the worst kind of genocide,'' he adds.
Economic development is pursued, he says, so that it benefits mainly Chinese citizens and the state, with ``Tibetans getting something very, very minimum.'' Tibet, China's most backward area, has per capita annual income of $110.
The unrest in Tibet is also linked, the Dalai Lama says, to the large number of troops brought in to strengthen China's control of the region. A number of military bases and armament factories have been built in the region, while a secret facility at the Dalai Lama's birthplace is producing nuclear weapons, he says.
He claims a virulent tirade against him by the Chinese media after his September trip to Washington was the ``immediate cause'' of the rioting. The protests were seen as a serious setback to Peking's bid to persuade the Tibetan leader to return home. Last month, China said the Dalai Lama would be made the national parliament's vice-president if he came home.
The bespectacled leader roars in laughter at the offer. ``I have always considered liberty the most precious thing. Although India is poor, there is freedom. In the 28 years that I have spent in this country, I have become spoilt ... I don't want to lose this liberty and freedom.''
The reasons that forced him to flee Tibet, he says, have not changed. ``The Chinese are trying to hide the real issue to simply show the world there is no problem except the Dalai Lama. ... If the basic situation remains like this - tense - there is no question of our return.''