Autonomy Is Solution for Tibet,
Dalai Lama Says
By Edward Wong
Published in nytimes.com on May 28, 2009
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The Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India on
Monday. He says the Tibetan way of life faces “something like a death
sentence” under China’s leadership.
DHARAMSALA, India. The influx of Han Chinese and the growing
restrictions on religious practice have become the biggest threats to
Tibet, which faces “something like a death sentence” under Chinese
rule, said the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
The only solution is to allow genuine autonomy for the six million
Tibetans, he said. The regional authority would make policy on
education, religious practice and the use of natural resources, while
Beijing would retain the right to keep military forces in the region
and oversee foreign affairs, he added.
An autonomous Tibetan government would not force out Han Chinese who
had already settled in the vast Tibetan plateau in China’s west, but
would place limits on any future migration. “Autonomous regions should
be the native peoples’ majority,” the Dalai Lama said during an
hourlong interview this week.
The Dalai Lama sought to rebut assertions by Chinese officials that the
Tibetan government-in-exile’s proposal for autonomy advocated “ethnic
cleansing.” The proposal was presented last October to the Chinese
government, which strongly rejected it. Tibetan leaders here say they
plan to finish another document by June that will clarify the proposal
but not veer from its premise.
“We never thought of seriously asking the Chinese government to remove
the Chinese people or Chinese military forces,” the Dalai Lama said.
“In fact, we made very clear that foreign affairs and defense are up to
the Chinese central government.”
During the meeting in his private residence in Dharamsala, a Himalayan
hill town, the Dalai Lama, nearly 74, spoke in English on a wide range
of topics, from his vision of autonomy to nostalgia for his homeland’s
desert climate and deep blue skies. He chuckled throughout the talk and
slapped visitors on the back.
But he sharply criticized the continuing crackdown on Tibetans. Since
widespread riots and protests by Tibetans in March 2008, Tibet has
become a crucial political and security concern for China, which took
full control in 1951. This past winter, fearful that protests might
erupt again, Chinese soldiers and paramilitary forces flooded Tibet.
The Dalai Lama received a Khata, a ceremonial scarf in Dharamsala.
Credit...Shiho Fukada for The New York Times
“Our main concern is the Tibetan people inside Tibet,” the Dalai Lama
said. “They are really passing through difficulty. So mentally, I have
some heavy sort of moral responsibility to serve them, to help them.
But meantime, I also have the feeling of helplessness.”
The Dalai Lama said that the Chinese government’s practice of rounding
up monks and nuns to take part in “political education” campaigns was
partly to blame for the protests last year. Since then, the stepping up
of those campaigns and other restrictions on religious practice show
that the Chinese government is “now deliberately carrying out some kind
of systematic policy to eliminate Tibetan unity,” he said.
“In the hard-liner Chinese Communist view, so long as Tibetan unique
cultural heritage and Tibetan Buddhist spirituality remain there, they
see that as a source of threat of separation,” he said.
Chinese officials say that Tibetans have freedom of religion and that
policies in Tibet are aimed at developing the remote region’s economy.
They also contend that the Dalai Lama supports Tibetan independence and
that he fomented the violence last year.
Lian Xiangmin, a scholar at the China Tibetology Research Center in
Beijing, a government-supported institution, said that the Dalai Lama’s
plan for autonomy went “against the basic political system of the
The Dalai Lama said that autonomy was enshrined in the Chinese
Constitution, which guarantees the right of regional self-rule for
ethnic minorities. Based on that, he said, the large area of western
China that is predominantly Tibetan including Tibet, but also parts
of the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan should be
united under a single Tibetan authority. Chinese officials have balked
at the demand, saying it would mean turning over one-quarter of China
to Tibetan governance.
The Dalai Lama said the flood of Chinese who move to Tibet for work
must be curbed to prevent Tibet from going down the path of Inner
Mongolia, where Han Chinese now far outnumber Mongolians. But Tibet can
benefit economically from remaining part of China, he said.
“Tibet materially is very, very backward,” he said. “And every Tibetan
wants to modernize Tibet. So for that reason, remaining within the
People’s Republic of China is in our own interest as far as economic
development is concerned, provided we have full guarantee to preserve
our own culture, our own language, our own spirituality and full
protection of environment.”
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