His Holiness The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama celebrates 50 years as Tibetan head of state

Dalai Lama celebrates golden jubilee
as Tibetan head of state

by Giles Hewitt

DHARAMSALA, India, Dec 3 (AFP) -

The Dalai Lama celebrates 50 years as Tibetan head of state on Monday -- a golden jubilee marked in Indian exile as temporal leader of a government with no international recognition.

Now 65, the Dalai Lama added the secular title to his position as Tibet's spiritual leader at the tender age of 15. He fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and established a government in exile in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The 50-year milestone comes at a crucial and difficult time for the Tibetan freedom movement.

While international respect for the Dalai Lama and sympathy for the plight of Tibetans under Chinese communist rule both remain strong, official support for the movement has been sacrificed to the necessity of maintaining political and trade relations with Beijing.

For several years, the Chinese government has frozen all direct and indirect contact with the Dalai Lama, issuing regular diatribes against his "separatist" tendencies and castigating any foreign government that champions his cause or allows him to visit.

In Tibet itself, Beijing exercises rigid control over religious practise, and its policy of populating the region with migrants from the majority Han Chinese community continues unabated.

Added to this is growing concern over the fate of the Tibetan movement after the Dalai Lama dies -- a concern he himself recognises.

"It will certainly be a great setback," the Dalai Lama said in an interview recently.

"But our struggle is for the six million Tibetans; their rights, their welfare, their future.

"This is a struggle of a nation to survive. Whether one particular leader remains or not, the nation will carry on the struggle."

The fact remains, however, that the Dalai Lama's high profile stewardship of the movement, which earned him a Nobel peace prize, will leave a leadership vacuum when he dies.

"The Dalai Lama has made it very clear that the Tibetan government in exile should be able to manage without his involvement, and preparations are already underway," said the exiled administration's information minister, T.C. Tethong.

"It is hard to forecast the future, but it is simply a reality we have to face."

The Dalai Lama's death would not only risk lowering the profile of the Tibetan movement in the international arena, but could also prove very divisive.

Spiritual and secular loyalty to the Tibetan leader is steadfast, and he is the adhesive that binds together the various factions within the movement, some of whom favour a far more radical agenda than the Dalai Lama's non-violent campaign for autonomy within the Chinese state.

The exiled government presents the possible fracture of the movement as a problem for China, arguing that Beijing should negotiate with the Dalai Lama now rather than risk confrontation in the future.

"Till now, His Holiness has been a moderating influence on the more radical elements of the Tibetan movement," the government said in a 45-page policy document released in September.

"By ignoring him, the Chinese leaders are set on a head-long collision course with an angrier form of Tibetan nationalism."

But some observers suggest such a scenario would be to Beijing's advantage.

China's military machine is more than capable of brutally snuffing out any armed insurrection in Tibet, while a switch from its existing non-violent policy could lose the movement international sympathy.

"The Dalai Lama is very concerned about the consequences of violence," agreed Tethong. "The final result would be a massacre of Tibetans."

The influential Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), while fiercely loyal to the Dalai Lama, favours a more radical policy and continues to campaign for Tibetan independence rather than autonomy.

"When His Holiness is no more, the possibility of splits may arise," said TYC general secretary Wang Chuk.

"We are lay people. We have desires and frustrations, and independence is our legitimate demand.

"When the Dalai Lama goes, we will lose a huge platform. There is nobody in the Tibetan community of his stature, but the Tibetan movement will not die," Chuk said.

Dalai Lama celebrates 50 years, announces fresh contacts with Beijing

by Giles Hewitt

DHARAMSALA, India, Dec 4 (AFP) - The Dalai Lama celebrated his 50th year as Tibetan head of state Monday, and revealed that his elder brother had reopened contact with the Chinese government after a two-year freeze.

Addressing a press conference in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala -- seat of his exiled government -- the Dalai Lama said his brother, Gyalo Thondup, had travelled to Beijing in late October at the instigation of the Chinese authorities. Thondup, who had acted as the Dalai Lama's envoy to China in the 1970s and 80s, returned with a message from the Chinese authorities, details of which the Dalai Lama refused to disclose.

"I then sent a message to China, saying I wanted to send some sort of delegation," the Dalai Lama said.

"The final response has not come yet," he added.

Formal contact between the Dalai Lama and Beijing, through the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, was cut in 1993. Informal links were maintained, but then severed completely by Beijing in November 1998.

Asked whether the dialogue might herald a Chinese change of heart, the 65-year-old spiritual leader said: "It is too early too say."

"What is essential is not whether we find agreement or not ... but that we meet person to person.

"One of the main obstacles between us is ignorance and wrong impressions," he said.

The Dalai Lama was called on to assume full political power in Tibet in 1950, even as troops from China's People's Liberation Army were marching towards Lhasa.

He fled Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and set up a government-in-exile in Dharamsala.

The Dalai Lama said he had asked his brother to travel around Tibet during his trip to China, but that he was prevented from doing so by the Chinese authorities.

Refusing to give any further details of the messages sent between Dharamsala and Beijing, he said it was sometimes better "to keep things low key."

China views the Dalai Lama as a separatist bent on "splitting the motherland" and reacts angrily to any foreign government that espouses his cause or allows him to visit in any semi-official capacity.

Earlier Monday, the Dalai Lama attended a colourful four-hour ceremony to celebrate his golden jubilee at the main temple in Dharamsala, presided over by senior Tibetan Buddhist clergy and watched by thousands of lay devotees.

The Dalai Lama, in full ceremonial robes, sat atop a throne, to the right of which was a framed photo of the young boy he had chosen as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama -- the second-ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

The boy was spirited away by the Chinese authorities, who appointed their own choice in his place.

One notable absentee at the ceremony was the Karmapa Lama, the teenage head of the Kagyu sect, who arrived in Dharamsala in January last year after making a dramatic escape across the Himalayas from Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama later told reporters that the Karmapa, who has been hospitalised twice since arriving from Tibet, had been unable to attend because of a stomach complaint.

However, Tibetan sources here said he had been prevented from attending by the Indian authorities, who felt his presence at such a high-profile celebration might antagonise Beijing.

Foreign official representation was almost non-existent, reflecting the fact that despite 40 years of lobbying, the Dalai Lama remains the head of a government that enjoys international sympathy but no formal recognition.

A US Congressional staff delegation comprised the most prominent overseas visitors, but would only speak to the press on condition of anonymity.

"We were invited by the (Washington-based) International Campaign for Tibet to come on a fact-finding mission," said one member of the delegation, which had an audience with the Dalai Lama on Sunday.

Open foreign criticism of China's repressive policies in Tibet has been muted in recent years, with many governments more anxious to maintain good trade relations with Beijing.
Despite his long exile, the Dalai Lama said he was still hopeful of finding a resolution of the Tibet issue within his lifetime, arguing that the global trend towards openness and democracy would eventually bring about a weatherchange in Beijing.
"If we look at the Tibet issue locally, there is a feeling of hopelessness and desperation, but from a wider perspective there are real signs of hope," he said.

The Dalai Lama also sought to ease concerns among Tibetans at large over the future of the Tibetan movement following his death, given that he is the only figure who commands the spiritual and political loyalty of all Tibetan groups.

"This is the freedom struggle of a nation, not an individual," he said, adding that the Tibetan people would carry forward the cause.



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