Born in Taktser of Qinghai on July 06, 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was declared the reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas in 1937.
The 14th Dalai Lama is the living emblem of Tibetans-in-exile. Albeit he has resigned from political role, yet he continues to be the spiritual leader of some five million Tibetans.
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Tim Johnson, an expert on Tibetan issues, discussed the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibet’s struggle for freedom, future of Tibet and self-immolations.
Tim Johnson, a former Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, is the author of "Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China”.
Kamna: Dalai Lama has stepped down as Tibet`s political leader. But do you think he failed to achieve enough in that role? Or are we expecting too much from the spiritual leader?
Tim: I first heard the Dalai Lama speak about his "right" to retire in a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on November 03, 2008. The process of selecting a new Kalon Tripa (prime minister) took years, but now the Tibetan exile community has a very astute and experienced legal expert, Lobsang Sangay, who argues the case for greater autonomy on their behalf. I personally cannot imagine what else the Dalai Lama could have done to achieve more in negotiations with China. China believes there is nothing to negotiate except the Dalai Lama`s retirement. Could the Dalai Lama have made a bold move to actually go to China? Yes, but it would have carried enormous risk for him. Would China have let him leave again? Or would he have been put under house arrest?
The 14th Dalai Lama is a universal figure who has achieved worldwide renown for Tibetan Buddhism, for Tibetan autonomy and for universal values such as compassion and warm-heartedness. It is impossible for me to imagine a figure who could have done more for Tibetan people.
Kamna: The Dalai Lama has said he has lost faith in the Chinese government and is giving up efforts to push for greater autonomy for Tibet. What do you think is the future of Tibet and Tibetans-in-exile?
Tim: China is not interested in serious negotiations about autonomy for ethnic Tibetans. It is waiting for the Dalai Lama to die in order to commandeer the reincarnation process and name a docile successor to serve its interests. Yet there are major internal pressures within China. We await a leadership change later this year. I don`t think China`s political system will last indefinitely. At some point Chinese themselves will demand a greater say in their country`s affairs. When that moment arrives, there will be an opportunity for Tibetans to seek greater autonomy. That moment may come suddenly, when it is least expected. Study the case of East Timor for a historical example.
Kamna: What about self-immolations? Who is to be blamed for such incidents?
Tim: By some counts, 42 Tibetans have set fire to themselves since the wave of self immolations began in February 2009. The self-immolations are a sign of desperation of people who feel their culture and identity are being extinguished. The blame for the self-immolations does not rest with the Dalai Lama. He understands that the situation on much of the Tibetan Plateau is intolerable. If anything, blame should be cast on a political system that does not allow for Tibetans to protect their culture and language and practice their religion freely.
Kamna: How significant is India in China-Tibet row?
Tim: The Tibetan Plateau is the source of headwaters for the seven biggest rivers in Asia. Water alone as a resource makes Tibet hugely valuable. It also has significant mineral reserves. Geopolitically, it is of great importance to China, as it serves as a buffer with India, a potential rival. India and China are, at best, ‘frenemies’-they are neither friends nor enemies. China will press its claims on parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. Only when the territorial disputes along the 4,000-kilometer border are settled will there be full hope of normalised relations.
Kamna: Will China ever soften its stance on Tibet?
Tibet: The Chinese Communist Party will never soften its stance on Tibet. Too much is at stake. If greater autonomy is given to the Tibetans, then the Uyghurs, the Mongols and the ethnic Koreans will demand the same. The great Chinese motherland will begin to fray.