Tibetans want more autonomy, not independence or political separation from China: Dalai Lama

Speaking to journalists, 88-year-old Tibetan leader repeats assertions, wants to revisit Lhasa, but live in India

September 25, 2023 09:55 pm | Updated September 26, 2023 08:50 am IST - McLEODGANJ (Himachal Pradesh)

The Dalai Lama being greeted by faithful in McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh, on September 25, 2023. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Dalai Lama being greeted by faithful in McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh, on September 25, 2023. Photo: Special Arrangement

Tibetans are asking for more autonomy, but not political separation, asserted Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, and said that while he wishes to revisit Lhasa, he would prefer to live on in Dharamshala. Speaking to journalists at his home in Dharamshala on Monday, ahead of what is expected to be a gruelling series of trips around India, including visits to Sikkim, Karnataka, and Bodh Gaya in Bihar this year, the Dalai Lama repeated some of the seemingly conciliatory remarks he has made in the past. China has, however rejected these remarks, accusing the Dalai Lama who has lived in exile in India since 1959 of being a “splittist” or separatist. 

“We want to have full autonomy, as a part of the People’s Republic of China. Then we can help millions of Chinese, [without] political separation, and remaining a part of the People’s Republic,” the Dalai Lama said while speaking to a small group of journalists from Delhi that included The Hindu. He added jokingly that he could then “brainwash” the Chinese people as well, in a light-hearted response to Chinese allegations, that the Tibetan Buddhist diaspora spreads “propaganda” about atrocities in Tibet by the Chinese government.

In July this year, the Dalai Lama had surprised many by announcing that he had been contacted “officially or unofficially” by the Chinese government. “In order to deal with Tibetan problems, they want to contact me. I am also ready [for talks]”, he added. While the Chinese government did not confirm any talks at present, Beijing has maintained at various points, including in 2021, that any talks it holds are for the “future of the Dalai Lama”, not the “future of Tibet”, indicating that the Dalai Lama may be allowed to return to Lhasa for a visit. 

When asked by The Hindu if he would like to return to Lhasa, and to his summer home at Norbulingka in the city, the Tibetan leader was clear that he hoped to live in India, although he would like to revisit Tibet, especially as he perceives a “change” in China.

“China is also now changing... I think many people [in Tibet] love me... similarly many Chinese love me... and so they want me to go back [to Tibet]. But I do not want to stay there. Lhasa is very high…Dharamshala’s height is very suitable for my physical condition now,” he said in response, indicating the high-altitude issues that many visitors face on the Tibetan plateau. “I was born in Tibet, but my spiritual knowledge is from here, from Nalanda in India,” he said in a reference to the seat of Buddhist teachings in India, adding that “so half my body is from here at least.”

The 88-year-old spiritual leader has been meeting the public daily in the post-COVID period, waving to crowds from his golf cart, and seated as dozens of Buddhist devotees and visitors from abroad file past.

According to members of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA, the body that oversees the Tibetan population in exile) Dalai Lama is expected to hold daily teachings from October 2 in Dharamshala, and leave for Gangtok on October 10, holding discourses not far from the border with China and the Doklam plateau, where Indian and Chinese soldiers faced off in 2017. Earlier this year, he spent a month in Ladakh, as he does most years. He is also slated to travel to Bylakuppe in Karnataka, which houses the second largest Tibetan refugee settlement after Dharamshala, where he is expected to be joined by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

China has in the past objected to the Tibetan leader’s meetings with senior U.S. officials, formally protesting what it called contact between “external forces” and “Tibetan Independence” forces, including in July this year, when the Dalai Lama met U.S. Under Secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights Uzra Zeya, who is also the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, in Delhi.

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