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Dalai Lama's 'middle way' leading nowhere

by Peter Alford, The Australian, November 3, 2008

Tokyo, Japan -- THE Dalai Lama has called his "middle way" approach to negotiating Tibetan autonomy with China a failure and says he will "remain completely neutral" in discussions among the Tibetan exiles and their international supporters to formulate a new policy.

The Dalai Lama, who is both Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader and head of the government-in-exile, said in Tokyo yesterday that the human rights situation was deteriorating and that "this old nation with ancient culture (is) now dying". "Now I find my direct responsibility, dealing with the Chinese Government, I find very difficult," he said.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama wasgiven autonomy to deal with Beijing politically by a referendum among the exile communities.

"My trust towards the Chinese Government is thinner, thinner, thinner," said the 73-year-old leader, who appears to have recovered well from gallstone surgery in October.

His envoys have arrived in Beijing this week for an eighth round of talks in six years with Beijing officials, but the Dalai Lama's comments suggest he expects nothing positive to emerge and that the talks will not resume again in the current form.

Insisting that he wanted only proper autonomy within China, not independence -- about half historical Tibet is administered as the Tibetan Autonomous Region by a local government effectively directed by a Beijing-appointed Communist Party branch secretary -- the Dalai Lama blamed Chinese authorities' fear and ignorance for the deadlock.

The regional administration in Lhasa has been in the forefront of Chinese criticism of the "splittist" Dalai Lama, particularly since the March riots that began within the autonomous region but spread to other parts of the Tibetan Plateau.

"Our approach failed to bring some kind of positive change inside Tibet, so criticism (among exiles) is also increasing," the Dalai Lama said.

He said that he did not want his opinions to obstruct discussions about a new approach to easing Tibetans' oppression in their homeland: "So at the moment, now I remain completely neutral."

The Tibetan government-in-exile, headquartered in Dharamsala, northern India, will meet on the questions in a fortnight and supporters from India, the US, Australia and Japan will join the debate at a further meeting in Delhi the following week.

"For the short term, for locally, the Tibet issue is hopeless. If you look to the wider perspective, still hopeful," the Dalai Lama said.

There was growing sympathy and support for the Tibetan cause among Chinese students and academics, and an increasing realisation worldwide of the ecological dimension of the problem.

The Dalai Lama is making the ecological threat to the Tibetan Plateau, sometimes called "the third Pole", a new focus of his campaign. He said he had been told the ice and snow melt on the plateau was more extensive than in the polar regions and that within 20 years the Indus River could run dry.

"There are many scientists telling us the Tibetan ecology is disturbed," he said. "The consequences face not only the six million Tibetan people but also a billion human beings, that is the whole northern India, with many lives depending on these rivers and also China and many Southeast Asian countries."

The Tibetan leader said he was looking forward to retirement.

"Some people tell me it's impossible the Dalai Lama retire. I tell them my retirement is my human right -- since 16 years old I carried this responsibility in difficult circumstances, the darkest period of Tibetan history."

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