The Dalai Lama says Chinese President Xi Jingping may be willing to consider more autonomy for Tibet but is being held back by Communist Party’s hardliners.
The Tibetan spiritual leader told France 24 television in an interview Wednesday that change is difficult because the old thinking is still entrenched, although the Chinese leader is quite “active and realistic.”
“There is a lot of hardliner thinking still there," so the president "sometimes finds it's a difficult situation,” he said.
But China, which labels the Dalai Lama a separatist, denies there is a split within the government over the issue of Tibet. Indeed, the exiled leader's remarks drew a sharp rebuke from China’s Foreign Ministry.
"The Dalai Lama must stop undermining the unity of China," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang was quoted as saying during a press conference, adding that the Dalai Lama needs to take concrete actions and create specific conditions to establish any contact between himself and the Chinese officials.
"Inside China’s party or the government there is no such thing as the hardliner or dove," the official said. "China’s unity is one common aspiration shared by all Chinese people."
The Dalai Lama has long denied Beijing's charges of separatism, saying he only seeks true autonomy for his homeland, which he fled in 1959 when China’s Communist troops crushed a Tibetan uprising. Chinese troops had occupied the remote region as early as 1950.
Nine rounds of talks between representatives of the Nobel Peace laureate and ruling communist party officials between 2002 to 2010 stalled due to protests in Tibet and a subsequent crackdown by the Chinese government.
Isabel Hilton, head of Chinadialogue.net, an independent, non-profit organization based in London and Beijing, says the Dalai Lama’s recent comments may not reflect China’s willingness to grant Tibet autonomy, but they do signify a desire for renewed talks.
“He sends a signal that the Tibetans are still open to talks with the Chinese, talks that never got very far and have not really happened substantively for several years now,” she said.
According to Hilton, the Dalai Lama was encouraged when Buddhism was mentioned recently by President Xi, whose mother was a Buddhist. Hilton also says Xi’s family background, including the fact that his father was friendly with the Dalai Lama, has raised hopes for improved ties.
“I think he is signaling that the situation continues badly, and with a new leader there may be a hope to start again, more in hope rather than in expectation,” she said.
Protests in Tibet against Chinese rule continue. This week a Tibetan man set himself on fire and died in Gansu Province, becoming the 134th person to self-immolate as a form of protest of the Chinese government.