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Dalai Lama to Stay Quiet on Tibet's Future

November 4, 2008

By Coco Masters / Tokyo

TIME, Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

After a stunning Oct. 25 announcement in India that he had "given up," 
the Dalai Lama reiterated during a visit to Japan this weekend that he 
is losing faith in talks with the Chinese government over Tibet's 
future. Having served the Tibetan people for 68 years as their 
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama said that the situation for Tibetans 
is deteriorating, and that Chinese rule in Tibet is "almost like a 
death sentence." The leader has declared a position of complete 
neutrality, intending to stay silent on how the Tibetan people should 
engage with the Chinese government in upcoming talks in Dharamsala and 
New Delhi.

The Dalai Lama's latest comments come as his representatives, having 
left for Beijing on Oct. 29, are expected to visit with Chinese 
officials in the latest dialogue between the Tibetan government-in-
exile and Beijing since July. The Dalai Lama did not say when the 
talks would begin. During a week-long visit to Japan - his first 
overseas trip since undergoing surgery to remove gall stones in early 
October - the Dalai Lama is scheduled to meet with Buddhist monks and 
to speak on spirituality. He will not, however, meet with politicians, 
as the Japanese government is careful to avoid criticism from China by 
meeting with the leader, who Beijing accuses of fomenting riots in 
China and anti-China demonstrations.

The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, India, has 
been engaged in talks with China since 2002. He has sought autonomy 
for Tibet, which is described as a middle ground between Tibet's 
current status under the People's Republic of China, and full 
independence. He now, however, views this "middle way" approach as 
having failed to produce "positive results" and he is therefore 
changing his course of action - by stepping back. "My trust in the 
Chinese government has become thinner, thinner, thinner," the Dalai 
Lama said to reporters on Monday, reiterating statements that he has 
made over the past week that his faith in Beijing is waning. "I cannot 
take direct responsibility dealing with the Chinese government," he 
says. "If I say, 'I think this is better or that is better,' then 
people may not express freely," he said on Sunday. "Now it's up to the 

Stepping aside on the political front would allow a younger generation 
of Tibetans, in whom the Dalai Lama has stated he has confidence, to 
carry the torch of responsibility for what happens next. The Dalai 
Lama has said that he wants Tibet to enjoy the prosperity of China, 
while maintaining Tibetan language and culture. Buddhist monks also 
want more religious freedom, and one peaceful protest to that end in 
March in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, caused the city to fall into chaos 
and violence. There is increasing division among Tibetan monks in 
terms of what should be done. Some even advocate the use of violence 
to achieve Tibetan independence - something that the Dalai Lama has 
never done.

This month, however, there will be many opportunities for discussing 
what the right way forward may be. The Dalai Lama has called for a 
special weeklong meeting, starting on Nov. 17 and convened by the 
government-in-exile in Dharamsala, to discuss how to engage the 
Chinese government from this point forward. At the end of November, 
international supporters of the Tibetan cause are also expected to 
meet in New Delhi.

The Dalai Lama said Sunday that he does not know what will come of the 
meetings. Now 73, he said he is looking forward to complete 
retirement. "My retirement is also my human right," he said, laughing 
during Monday's press conference in Tokyo. "Since 16 years old I 
carried this responsibility. There should be a limit." And though his 
negotiating life may be coming to an end, as far as his being Tibet's 
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama says that he will remain committed 
until death.
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