Dalai Lama seeks new Tibet path

TIBET'S exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has described his 14-year strategy of seeking negotiations with China as a 'failure', and is consulting his people about what to do next.

Although he is revered by Tibetan Buddhists as a reincarnated god-king, the 59-year-old Dalai Lama yesterday showed greater signs than ever before of weariness with the struggle against China, which seized his homeland in 1950. 'If it is true that my approach is becoming a factor for demoralisation, sadness and discouragement for the people inside Tibet, then I cannot stay with that position, I cannot take that responsibility,' he said.

Dissension has broken out in the exile community over the best way to defend the interests of the 6 million Tibetans, who are in danger of being outnumbered by Chinese immigration, and support among Western nations is being eroded by the economic cost of offending Peking.

Visiting London for a religious conference, the Tibetan leader revealed yesterday that he had had no contact with the Chinese authorities since August last year. Since 1979 he had been prepared to set aside the question of independence in favour of seeking meaningful negotiations with China and concrete improvements within Tibet, but repression had increased. Since his 'middle way' had achieved nothing, he was asking Tibetans whether it should be changed. This might take six months to two years, but he was confident that the views of 'educated people' in Tibet could be canvassed.

The Dalai Lama said he was under criticism from some Tibetans for being too soft on China, and implied that the lack of response from Peking could lead to a revival of demands for independence. Radicals were demanding an armed struggle, said the Nobel Peace Prize winner, but 'so long as I have responsibility, this is out of the question. If it gets out of control, then I withdraw or resign'.

For more than 40 years China has alternately used repression and bouts of modernisation to weaken Tibetans' 'feudal' loyalty to the Dalai Lama, with limited success. But economic strength has fed Peking's confidence: visitors to Tibet report that Chinese incomers are ousting Tibetans from jobs, while karaoke bars replace demolished historical buildings. Since 1990 Peking has insisted that the Dalai Lama not only renounce demands for independence, but any claim that Tibet was independent in the past.

Observers saw the Dalai Lama's unusually stark language as an effort to keep pressure on China to negotiate, and on the West to give him more support. In Peking, however, it may be seen as a confession of weakness.

(Photograph omitted)

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