The Dalai Lama said in a lengthy interview with Radio Australia today that Tibetan-Chinese contact has entered a new phase, revealing that there has recently been some movement in the process. During the interview the Dalai Lama also talked about the current situation in Tibet, his vision for Tibet’s future, and his views on the current Chinese leaders.

Talking to Radio Australia’s Tricia Fitzgerald, the Dalai Lama said that although there has been no formal contact with the Chinese leaders since 1993, there have been some informal channels of communication. He said that he believes there are elements within the Chinese leadership that feel that it is better to talk with him.

The Dalai Lama said that around 1998 there was some informal contact with the Chinese leadership but that the contact stopped abruptly.

“And very recently [we entered a] new phase,” he said. “Some Chinese businessmen, some intellectuals are now showing some movement,” he said.

Talking about the future of the Tibetan people the Dalai Lama said his desire was that the entire Tibetan people — not just Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also those presently located in Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan and Gansu — should be under one genuine autonomous entity. He said the previous Panchen Lama had the same desire.

Full text of the interview follows below:

Interview transcript

Radio Australia, May 22, 2002.

FITZGERALD: What is the current status of communications between the Tibetan government in exile and Beijing?

DALAI LAMA: The formal contact is no longer there. Actually since 1993, (there’s been) no sort of formal contact, but some informal channels. Now at the moment, there is some contact, but no meaningful sort of dialogue. Not yet.

So it seems, I think, some Chinese government leaders have the feeling the better to have talk with Dalai Lama or outside Tibet. But some are reluctant. But basically I feel that China is changing. Now the leadership also now changing. Of course although the leadership has different sort of views from the public or from the intellectual people, but certainly the intellectual sort of views eventually I think will be reflected in the regime’s mind. This is my feeling.

So amongst Chinese intellectuals and some writers, some artists, now begin to realize the Tibetan culture is something good, something worthwhile to preserve and even some Chinese are very eager to learn and eager to follow the Tibetan Buddhism.

And then, among the intellectuals there are more signs who possibly realize in past that the government attitude towards Tibet is not as good as Chinese propaganda says! So these things certainly I think are positive signs.

FITZGERALD: And you said there are informal negotiations. What sort of level and at what sort of delegates are you sending?

DALAI LAMA: Now at the moment, no officials. Sometime back, I think ’98, we eventually developed contact with some semi-officials, but that somehow stopped. And very recently [we entered a] new phase. Some Chinese businessmen, some intellectuals are now showing some movement.

FITZGERALD: So are they coming to meet with you in exile in India or are you sending representatives to meet with them in China?

DALAI LAMA: Mainly my representative meet in some different places. Not in China, not recently.

FITZGERALD: And you have dropped your initial call for Tibetan independence, what is your current desire for your homeland, cultural autonomy? I know there’s been a five point plan which lists demilitarization, caring for the environment, human rights, what is your current desire?

DALAI LAMA: Now in early 1950, after some different attempts we finally dealt with the Chinese government directly, then the seventeen point agreement which was signed – although it was not like a general agreement, I mean [it was] signed under duress. Since then I feel our basic approach is dialogue.

Then in 1959, of course things completely changed, over the next 20 years there was no serious sort of thing about how to deal with China because, you see, China [was going through] the Cultural Revolution and in [exile in] India our main effort is resettlement, especially education – things like that.

Then 1973, we begin to think how to deal with China. We decided the best thing, almost the only thing, is dialogue with Chinese government. So the question of independence is out of the question. So we considered a middle approach, autonomy, general autonomy [which would] also includes the other Tibetan territory.

Actually the Chinese constitution provided some form of autonomy; because they said officially they recognize these are Tibetan ethnic area, so therefore in 1973, you see, we made up in our mind, a middle…

FITZGERALD: A middle road?

DALAI LAMA: No, a middle of approach. So then ’79 when we received some sort of indication from Chinese government that they wanted to meet with us, then we immediately responded. So the middle approach is actually since ’73.

At the beginning I publicly express the maximum happiness. I’m not saying, [wasn’t] talking independence or autonomy during those years I just used to talk the maximum happiness, maximum benefit to local people. The meaning was autonomy.

[In the last] few decades, to my way of thinking [there has been]no change. I am still fully committed to the middle road approach, in spite of some sort of failure to materialize some meaningful dialogue, but still I am fully committed [to a middle approach].

FITZGERALD: So the fact that some of those regions are not included in the current autonomy area is a problem. Which regions are they, would they be, for example, where you were born, Amdo, and which other areas are not included that would need to be?

DALAI LAMA: I think the Tibetan population is around six million, the entire population. But in the so-called autonomy region of Tibet, the population is around two million. So that means the rest, about four million, are in the other four Chinese provinces – that means Yunnan, Sichuan Province, Gansu Province and Qinghai Province. So actually the Tibetan population is bigger outside the Tibet autonomous region.

So I think my desire is the same as the [10th] Panchen Lama [who was] also very, very serious about the whole Tibet should have genuine autonomy as a one sort of entity.

FITZGERALD: About the region’s such as?

DALAI LAMA: So you see my approach, genuine autonomy should cover all the Tibetan territory, all Tibetan ethnic groups’ areas.

You see I receive many supportive messages, [including] written messages. Since I’m not seeking separation, within the People’s Republic of China boundaries can [be] changed easily.

Then other hand, our top most concern is preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan spirituality and Tibetan involvement.

So Tibetan spirituality and culture is also facing a similar threat in the areas outside the autonomous region, in some cases, it’s even worse.

Therefore they are also very much concerned about the preservation of Tibetan culture, environment and religious belief. Therefore it is much better you see to have one body in the whole Tibetan area and that give genuine satisfaction to Tibetan masses. Result, general unity, general stability – which the Chinese government is most concerned [about].

Unfortunately, up to now, they are mostly concerned about stability and unity [which they have tried] to achieve under gun. That’s a very short-term temporary, short sighted policy isn’t it?

Actually this is a very much counterproductive.

FITZGERALD: And what about the conditions for your own return. Is there any progress in that area? What is your thinking in that area?

DALAI LAMA: It’s a question of my return is related with the basic Tibet situation.

If the basis of the situation improves, the Chinese [are] ready to look at the Tibetan issue and then of course the time for my return. I can make some contribution.

But I already made very clear now I’m getting older and the younger generation should take more responsibility. Therefore even we outside Tibet, we already have our political leadership through election. We elected political leadership. It’s already there. So now that there is an elected leadership there, my responsibility now becoming less. So now this is very appropriate, I’m now getting older and now [it is] time for preparation for next life.

FITZGERALD: But as the leading role you have played, why do you believe that the talks foundered and have in fact almost stopped? Where does the blame lie, the international community, United Nations with China’s intransigence, where does the problem lie? We’ve seen other smaller countries like East Timor for example get their independence, why not Tibet?

DALAI LAMA: Of course there are so many I think factors, so many…

FITZGERALD: But, perhaps, the most important?

DALAI LAMA: But one I feel is fear on the Chinese side. Fear and also ignorance and I think that today they already make a lot of mistakes in the past 50 years, particularly the last 40 years, a lot of mistakes.

So therefore they find it very difficult to change that and I think they actually there are some indication they completely lost faith towards Tibet.

And similarly on the Tibetan side also, even those party members now very much resentful of the Chinese rule, Chinese leaders, so that’s the problem.

Now, my feeling is we need political will and some kind of bold decision from the Chinese government side. I think [they have a] wrong policy without knowing the proper condition and also I think some policies are based on their own propaganda.

Den Xiaoping’s slogan, seeking truth from fact, that’s very correct. That’s very scientific. But the fact must be genuine fact. What they are doing is seeking truth from false facts. This is difficult.

In China proper, in the economy, the amount of production estimates is always exaggerated as you know. So therefore you see the fact is not a genuine fact, just artificially made, and then some kind of policy is made according to that fact. So that I think it is a disaster.

Now for example, one small example, in 1954 I went to China. At that time Tibetan people – the intellectuals [were] supporters of my decision to visit to China, but the masses were very much against. But Chinese newspapers in China presented the Tibetan masses [as being] very happy at the Dalai Lama’s visit to China. This always happen. That’s I think very unfortunate.

FITZGERALD: Do you think the fear is based on religion? We’ve seen the persecution of, say, Christian, unauthorized Christian groups and Falungong (members). How much do you identify with persecution on that level or is it more of a territorial-nationhood issue for example as we’ve seen with Taiwan and some of the Western states of China? What’s that fear really based on do you think?

DALAI LAMA: I think both. After all you see in a few years ago they said that one Chinese local leader in Tibet – their party member – publicly mentioned the ultimate source of threat of separation is Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhism.

After all Tibetans, we have our own culture, heritage and long history. Now we need some kind of open or broad policy and for the two different cultures and peoples – for the common interest – to come together, live together, work together. Now that is what we need.

I think in the early ’50’s under the leadership of Chairman Mao, when I met him personally you see he clearly indicated he recognized the Tibet as a separate identity. And then, you see, they the Chinese Central Government formally or publicly considered Tibet case as something very unique, something very special. In 1956 Zhou Enlai came to India. He also mentioned to the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, that the Chinese government considered the Tibetan case as something very unique, something special. Now today, really unique means poorest, suppressed – that is now unique this thing of Tibet now today.

FITZGERALD: And of that the fears about the cultural denigration of Tibetan culture. What’s the most worrying aspect? We’ve got say 260 political prisoners, physical changes being made in Lhasa and you mentioned also out in the countryside. What’s the most worrying aspect of that cultural denigration at the moment?

DALAI LAMA: Tibetan studies. [There have been] some restrictions now for the last I think two decades, you’ve seen little sometimes a little leniency about Tibetan studies and sometimes you see more restrictions.

Nowadays, I’ve heard in some areas the study of Tibetan is growing, so that’s a positive sign. But in some areas, there are more restrictions. It seem [that in the] autonomous region [there are] more restrictions.

The main thing is, I feel the main thing is [that in] the overall population now, like Lhasa, the Tibetan is become a minority. The majority of the population are Chinese, so their lifestyle is now changing, including food habit and the mentality also now changing. Less and less are singing Tibetan songs but more and more Chinese [songs]. And the young Tibetan are compelled to speak Chinese rather than Tibetan.

So there’s overall – whether intentionally or unintentionally – some kind of culture genocide is taking place. This is serious.

Now the railway link. The one Tibetan fear is if this is used properly, then [it’s] good. Easier communication, it helps economy in other fields. But if you see this as a easier communication used for different purpose then this is a very, very serious matter. You may see millions of Chinese come to Tibet and settle and the damage for environment will be very serious. So those are I feel in the long run the most serious threats to the traditional Tibetan culture.