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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

It takes a monk

October 26, 2007

The Economist
Oct 24th 2007

Why the Dalai Lama threatens China

IT IS not just in Myanmar that Buddhist monks have been causing trouble for a repressive regime. According to reports from human-rights groups and in the Hong
Kong press, monks in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, have clashed with the Chinese police over the past month.

In the late 1980s monks and nuns led large protests against Chinese rule. They were suppressed with brutal ease, and since then, defiant Tibetan nationalism has
flickered only sporadically.

On this occasion, the confrontation was sparked not by protests, but by some do-it-yourself work. Monks in the Drepung monastery were whitewashing and
painting auspicious symbols on the walls of one of its buildings, assigned as a ceremonial residence for the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, who has been in exile
since fleeing Chinese repression of an uprising in 1959. The painting celebrated his latest trophy: a Congressional Gold Medal from the United States—its highest
civilian honour.

The police wanted to stop the painting. The monastery was then sealed off and surrounded by armed police. The reports tell of a similar showdown at another Lhasa
monastery, Nechung, and of various other attempts by Tibetans to celebrate the congressional honour. It is impossible to confirm their accuracy. For all the relative
openness of China these days, much of what goes on in Tibet remains hidden from the outside world. New rules introduced at the beginning of the year to make it
easier for foreign reporters to travel and report in China excluded Tibet.

The reports are entirely plausible, however. Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, both as a spiritual leader and as a symbol of a national identity that is not "Chinese".

Every year, hundreds of Tibetans risk capture, gunfire, frostbite and hypothermia to escape through Nepal to the Dalai Lama's home in exile, near Dharamsala in
northern India. Many say they come simply to see him.

He retains enormous influence in his homeland. In 2005 conservationists, alarmed at the threat to endangered wildlife posed by a Tibetan fad for wearing tiger and
other skins, asked the Dalai Lama to broadcast a message decrying the practice. It had an almost immediate impact. There were bonfires (which China tried and
failed to ban) of the prized pelts.

Hu Jintao, the man "re-elected" this week as China's leader, made his name as a repressive Communist Party secretary in Tibet. He understands the following the
Dalai Lama enjoys at home. That, however, is only one reason why the Chinese government so loathes him.

Another is his international standing. His fame as a Nobel-Prize-winning guru and friend of the stars has produced little concrete benefit—no country recognises his
"government in exile"—but he is a very impressive man. Senior politicians as well as private citizens are drawn to him. Because of him, Tibet is a pebble in the shoes
of China's long march to become a respected international citizen.

Besides meeting George Bush and receiving his congressional medal, the Dalai Lama last month visited Angela Merkel, Germany's president, and will soon call on
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper.

His recent high profile presumably explains why China has stepped up its criticism. But unlike many Tibetans, the Dalai Lama does not demand independence,
merely genuine autonomy, of the sort China promised him in an agreement he signed in 1951.

In his acceptance speech before the American Congress, he offered to use his influence in Tibet to forge a consensus on a "mutually agreeable" solution. But, as he
also said, China insists he has a "hidden agenda", and there is no sign it is listening to him.

It sees him as its Tibet problem, not the solution to it. He is 72, and, as he also noted in his speech, the Chinese population in Tibet is increasing. He expressed the
fear that Tibetans "will be reduced to an insignificant minority in their own homeland." The Dalai Lama has a lot of goodwill, respect and moral authority on his side.
But not time.

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