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A Conversation with the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama renewed his call for "meaningful" autonomy for Tibet within China and said China, "whether intentionally or unintentionally," is carrying out "cultural genocide" in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Seattle late last week to promote "compassion." He found himself talking about confrontation — in Tibet, in China and along the path of the Olympic torch.

Once again, the Dalai Lama is caught up in the complications of being both a spiritual and a political leader. And he carries the expectations of those who come to see him, including 55,000 people who filled Seattle's football stadium.

"If some people have the belief or view that the Dalai Lama has some miracle power, that's totally nonsense," he told the crowd. "I am just one human being."

The Dalai Lama insists he's just a simple Buddhist monk. He's also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the head of a government-in-exile, who fled his land nearly 50 years ago after Mao Zedong sent China's army into Tibet.

'Much Worry' About China's Clampdown

In an interview Sunday with Renee Montagne, the Dalai Lama discussed his concerns about China's recent clampdown in Tibet.

"If things continue as it is, then tightening control will increase," he said. "So naturally, a lot of suffering, a lot of problems and great damage about Tibetan Buddhist culture. So there's much worry."

In his first public comments on the protests, Chinese President Hu Jintao took a hard line Saturday on the unrest in Tibet, saying problems in the region are an internal affair that directly threatens Chinese sovereignty.

"Our conflict with the Dalai clique is not an ethnic problem, not a religious problem, nor a human rights problem," Xinhua quoted Hu as saying, referring to supporters of the Dalai Lama. "It is a problem either to safeguard national unification or to split the motherland."

In the interview, the Dalai Lama called Hu's remarks "quite strange but OK if they really enjoy to attack [me] .... People, I think, don't believe that. Even the Chinese people."

China's Control of Information

The Dalai Lama said he's saddened by the negative image of him painted by China's government-controlled media.

The Dalai Lama said "millions of Chinese — those innocent Chinese — who have no other way to access the situation, totally rely on the government information. These millions of Chinese then really feel anger towards me. At that I feel very sad. What's the way to tell these innocent Chinese brothers [and] sisters the reality? But there's no way to send information or to send news."

The Dalai Lama has said he does not support a boycott against the Summer Olympics being held in Beijing this August, but he also backs people's right to demonstrate — "provided [it's] strictly non-violent."

The Dalai Lama said the freedom of speech is very important. He noted that even in Tibet and "among our friends, some are very, very critical towards me," saying he's too moderate.

"For example, my own elder brother one time described me as a traitor" to Tibet, the Dalai Lama said.

"But I never say to these people, 'Shut up.' ... It's their right to express what they feel."

Holding on to a Culture

The Dalai Lama said Tibet gains many benefits by remaining part of China, but it must hold on to its cultural heritage.

Tibet is "materially backward," he said. "Every Tibetan" wants a "modernized Tibet," he added. "It's their right: more prosperity, better [facilities for] education, health and daily life. So in this respect, China [is] becoming richer and richer. So therefore, [Tibet should] remain within the People's Republic of China. As far as material development is concerned, we gain much benefit.

"Since we have our own unique cultural heritage, including our language, our script, these matters should be in the hands of [Tibetans who know] about our culture, about our religion," the Dalai Lama said.

He agreed that Tibetan culture is in the process of being destroyed or overwhelmed by China.

"With this present arrangement, whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place," he said.

The Dalai Lama said China's central government should be in charge of foreign affairs, but "the rest of local business should be in the hands of Tibetans. Autonomy is meaningless just on paper. So we are appealing to the Chinese central authority: Now give us meaningful autonomy. ...

"In the constitution in the early 1950s, Chairman Mao recognized [the] Tibet case is something very special. So if [the] Chinese government [keeps] that spirit, then these problems will not happen."

As the interview ended, the Dalai Lama was asked one last question: Do you think you'll see Tibet again?

"Yes, we believe, we believe," he said with a hearty laugh.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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