"I'm Ready to Talk Any Time"

  • Share
  • Read Later
The Dalai Lama's brief chat with U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House in November raised hopes that Beijing's leaders might at last agree to meet with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. But expectations that Washington could broker a dialogue between the 63-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and the Chinese swiftly foundered. In an uncharacteristically somber mood, the Dalai Lama met recently with TIME's New Delhi Bureau Chief Tim McGirk in Bodh Gaya, northern India, and explained his frustrations in trying to discuss with Beijing the issue of Tibetan autonomy. Asked how the relationship was progressing, he glumly replied: There's no news. Nothing's working.TIME: During President Clinton's trip to China, a glimmer of hope emerged that Beijing might start talking to you. What's happened? Has the door shut?Dalai Lama: I cannot say it's shut. Shut is maybe the wrong word. But there are some confusing signals coming from Beijing. One of the informal channels which we used to make contact with them is now more or less closed. It's not working.TIME: Why did the Chinese leaders change their minds about speaking to you?Dalai Lama: It seems that lately, the overall government policy regarding dissidents--and the democracy movement--has hardened. Their attitude toward me and Tibetans has gone the same way. It seems that the influence of the hard-liners is increasing.TIME: Is President Jiang Zemin himself responsible for this?Dalai Lama: We know there are two groups [in the Politburo], one moderate and one more hard-line, on Tibet.TIME: What's next? How can you convince the Chinese leaders that there's no harm in talking with you?Dalai Lama: My position hasn't changed in spite of the tougher Chinese attitude. I'm fully committed to the middle-way approach [of seeking autonomy for Tibet], one which can actually help to achieve genuine stability and unity for China. It's actually an antidote to separation. The Chinese government should appreciate this, but unfortunately there's too much suspicion. As soon as some positive indication comes from the Chinese government, I'm ready to talk anywhere, any time, without preconditions.PAGE 1  |  
TIME: Are you optimistic?Dalai Lama: One encouraging thing is that some Chinese writers and intellectuals are now becoming more aware about Tibet. Certainly America and Western Europe are also increasing their support for us. I'm very pessimistic for the immediate future. In the long run, though, I'm always optimistic.TIME: At times, it seems as though the Chinese strategy is simply to ignore you and hope that they will outlast you.Dalai Lama: Yes. One opinion [among the Chinese leadership] is that if the Dalai Lama dies things will become easier. There will no longer be any resistance in Tibet. But there's another opinion: that as long as the Dalai Lama is there, only then can a real solution be found through the middle way. Without the Dalai Lama, things could become difficult and more dangerous.TIME: But in the meantime, it seems that Beijing is trying to destroy Tibet's separate identity.Dalai Lama: That's my concern. Tibet's living Buddhist culture and tradition are not only of benefit to 6 million Tibetans but also to the Chinese. In the past, Tibetan Buddhist traditions have helped the Chinese a lot. In the future, these traditions can also help to give the Chinese deeper values.TIME: In what way? Do you believe the Chinese people have lost their values?Dalai Lama: Today, there's nothing--only money. Marxism doesn't have any effect. There's corruption and scandals everywhere. Nowadays, the Chinese are saying that if corruption is eliminated then the Communist Party will die, and if corruption is not eliminated then the country will die. Self-discipline based on spiritual values--that's the real answer to corruption.TIME: There are reports that a new crackdown is under way in Tibet. What advice would you give to those Tibetans--in particular the Buddhist monks and nuns--who are being forced to denounce you as their spiritual leader?Dalai Lama: I'd say O.K., denounce me. Especially if they're being subjected to physical torture. I don't want them to undergo that pain.TIME: Why are the leaders in Beijing so afraid of you?Dalai Lama: [He laughs and shakes his head.] I don't know. I don't know. They have big military power but no truth.  |  2