Dalai Lama tweets to Chinese citizens about Tibet

The Dalai Lama tried to hold a rare direct conversation with people inside China, answering questions live on Twitter.

Updated: May 21, 2010, 23:55 PM IST

Beijing: The Dalai Lama tried to hold a rare
direct conversation with people inside China on Friday, answering
questions live on Twitter about the fate of long-tense Tibet.

The hour-long session with the exiled Tibetan spiritual
leader had been requested by Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer
and convert to Tibetan Buddhism who lives in Beijing. The two
met for today`s online conversation in a hotel room in New
York, where the Dalai Lama is visiting.

Through a Chinese interpreter, the Dalai Lama tweeted
messages of criticism about the Chinese government`s policies
in Tibet and words of welcome to Chinese citizens.

"The government made these tensions, not the people," he
said.

It wasn`t clear how many people inside China were
reading his comments. Twitter is blocked in China, but the
service has become popular with thousands of Chinese,
especially activists, who find a way around controls.

Wang`s Twitter feed, where the conversation was posted,
had more than 8,000 followers as of on Friday.

The Dalai Lama remains a highly sensitive person for
China, which objected strongly when President Barack Obama
personally welcomed him to the White House in February.

China maintains that Tibet has been part of its
territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was
functionally independent for much of its history and consider
the Dalai Lama their rightful leader. He fled 51 years ago and
lives in India.

China`s government says the Dalai Lama seeks to destroy
the country`s sovereignty by pushing independence for Tibet,
but he says he wants some form of autonomy instead.

While a spokesman for the office of the Dalai Lama,
Tenzin Taklha, confirmed today`s conversation, it was
impossible to tell who posed the questions selected from
almost 300 submitted online.

But it was a start, Wang said.

"For years, there have been only official statements
about the issue of Tibet inside China," Wang said in his open
letter to the Dalai Lama on May 5 requesting the online chat.
"No doubt, it`s hard for people to know the truth about
Tibet."

Tibetans in China have long complained about
restrictions on Buddhism, government propaganda campaigns
against the Dalai Lama, and an influx of Chinese migrants.
Those feelings boiled over in deadly anti-Chinese riots in
2008 that shocked Beijing`s leaders.

The Dalai Lama said today the gap between Tibetans and
China`s majority Han Chinese "is getting deeper and deeper"
and said that in some areas the Han community has grown so
dramatically that "Tibetan culture faces a great crisis."

Calls to the United Front Department of the Communist
Party, which handles talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama, rang
unanswered on Friday.

More than one of those questions concerned what will
happen when the Dalai Lama dies, and whether the Tibet issue
will be resolved before then.

"I`ve been through many eras ... and I`ve seen big
changes," he answered. He pointed out that already some
retired Chinese government and Communist Party officials, as
well as intellectuals, are saying the country`s ethnic
policies are not right and need more reflection.

"I believe not far in the future there will definitely
be change and the problems will be resolved," he said.

Talks between China and representatives of the Tibetan
government in exile haven`t gone far. In January, Chinese
officials told the Dalai Lama`s envoys that Beijing would not
make any compromises on its sovereignty over the Himalayan
region and that both sides` views remained "sharply divided."

Any question of the Dalai Lama`s return to China did not
come up in Friday`s conversation.

PTI