Jun 01, 2004

Tibet: Dalai Lama laments "rule of terror" in Tibet

The Chinese authorities have been vehemently opposed to the Dalai Lama trip to Britain, warning of diplomatic repercussions
Curled in a chair in his hotel suite in Glasgow, the Dalai Lama was asked what he might have said to Tony Blair had he been invited to Downing Street during his visit to the UK. Leaning forward, he chuckled: "Nothing in particular."

Despite the fury of his followers that the prime minister refused a request to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, he insisted it made little difference to him whether he got to see Mr Blair or not.

In an interview with the Guardian on the latest leg of his week-long British tour, he said he would have been disappointed had there been a political motive for his trip. "My visit here is not political ... I have no political agenda to discuss with the British government."

The Dalai Lama said there had been similar pressure for him to meet the Canadian prime minister, Paul Martin, last month. While the meeting did go ahead, he said he did not consider a prime minister to be someone with "miracle power" in his hand. "Whether a meeting materialised or not [was] not much difference to me," he said. "So, it's similar now here." He smiled broadly.

Any political indifference to his visit, however, has been countered by the crowds who have turned out in force to hear him give a series of talks.

Almost 10,000 people gathered in Glasgow on Saturday for a lecture, and similar numbers are expected as he moves around Scotland this week. The Chinese authorities have been vehemently opposed to his trip, warning of diplomatic repercussions. They also recently issued their first white paper on Tibet, which they occupied in 1950, attacking the "Dalai clique" and calling on the exiled leader to "relinquish his quest for Tibetan independence".

The Dalai Lama, who is not seeking independence but genuine autonomy for his country, said the situation in Tibet was "almost hopeless". "I think [China's] policy [is] very hardline ... short-sighted and one of repression.

Actually, a rule of fear, a rule of terror is carrying [on] in Tibet." But he remained optimistic that changes taking place in Chinese society could benefit his people.

"If you look from a wider perspective, then, of course, very, very hopeful, because the People's Republic of China is changing; the way of thinking of people there, not only people, but even leaderships. I think their concepts are becoming much wider, much more comparatively open, more realistic ... "Things are improving, things are changing in a positive direction. Plus, among Chinese intellectuals, among Chinese businessmen, Chinese artists, more and more are showing interest about Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism. And also some Chinese thinktanks, they consider my approach is very realistic and of mutual benefit, not only of benefit to Tibetans but also in the long run to the benefit to people of China as a whole."

Much of his teaching during this trip has been taken up with the issues of world peace and non-violence. Yesterday, he repeated his line that it was too early to tell if the Iraq war was justified or not, but said he had been greatly distressed by the images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. Tibetans, he said, had much experience of abuse, "a lot of torture, a lot of abuse, sexual abuse".

"But America generally we consider a champion of liberty, justice, these things, so then for something such as this [to] happen, we regard as shocking."

However, he said he had been heartened by the outrage in the US and elsewhere at the abuse, and the fact that the media had kept the issue in the spotlight.

In such troubled times, he said, the best solution was a long-term strategy of education, personal contact and dialogue. Each point was emphasised with a clap of his hands.

"I think the various leaders are doing their best. Of course mistakes will happen. But my main concern is about the future, and also each individual from the ordinary public and, particularly, the younger generation. We must ... educate what is going wrong now, what many unnecessary problems we are facing today."

On a personal level, meanwhile, he remained confident that he would one day be able to return to his homeland.

"Oh yes. I believe," he said. "But if you ask when, I don't know. Perhaps you say two years, three years, five years, 10 years. I don't know."

Source: The Guardian