Mon, May 20, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Dalai Lama reveals India veto of Xi meeting

The Observer

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) agreed to meet the Dalai Lama during a state visit to India in 2014, but the plan was quashed by Delhi, the Buddhist spiritual leader has said.

The claim, which could signal that in the early years of his term Xi was open to the most radical shift in China’s Tibet policy in decades, was made during an interview for a book by Indian journalist Sonia Singh, an executive at Delhi-based television channel NDTV.

The Dalai Lama appeared to let the detail slip casually in the interview in November last year, according to an audio recording.

“I have a brief meeting with [Indian] prime minister Narendra Modi [and] when Xi Jinping came to Delhi, I also wanted a meeting with him,” he said. “So I already have some connection, some contact directly through my friend. So Xi Jinping agreed, but the Indian government was a little cautious.”

“That would have been a landmark meeting if it had happened,” Singh replied.

The Dalai Lama appears to agree before the talking moves on.

The stray remark might have been attributed to a misunderstanding or the use of imprecise language by the Dalai Lama, 83, who speaks English fluently, but with a heavy accent.

Singh said that she sent the transcript of the interview to his office for approval and received no objections.

Nor has Tibet’s government-in-exile, based in the Indian Himalayan city of Dharamshala, issued a denial or any other comment since Singh’s book, Defining India: Through Their Eyes, was released in Delhi last week.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement sent to the Guardian that the claim was “sheer nonsense.”

“With regards to the 14th Dalai Lama, our policy has been consistent and clear,” the statement said.

The 14th Dalai Lama, born Tenzin Gyatso, has lived in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising.

The Dalai Lama does not advocate independence for Tibet, but more autonomy for the region.

Successive Chinese leaders have portrayed him as a dangerous “splittist” and “wolf in monk’s robes,” and sought to prop up alternative Buddhist leaders.

The Chinese Communist Party says it has the right to approve his successor.

China says it liberated Tibet in 1950, overturning feudal practices and bringing the remote region into the modern era.

Rights advocates say Tibetans face cultural and religious repression, as Beijing has launched a harsh, years-long campaign to stifle dissent, namely self-immolations by protesting Buddhist monks.

Beijing says Tibetans are free to practice their own religion and culture.

The Dalai Lama’s exile in India has been a persistent source of discord — and, for Delhi, leverage — in relations between Asia’s two rising powers.

“If it’s correct, it’s a very major development,” said Robbie Barnett, former director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University. “I’ve never seen any suggestion of a [Chinese official] meeting with the Dalai Lama, let alone at this level.”

“It would completely overturn [Beijing’s] standard working method for dealing with Tibet, which since 1994 has been to insult the Dalai Lama literally at every opportunity, while also holding talks with his representatives, which have also mainly turned into attacking the Dalai Lama,” Barnett said.

A handful of academics and policy advisers had written articles after Xi came to power in 2012 urging a relaxing of the Tibet policy of former Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), Barnett said.

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