Fifty years after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, the US is still searching for how to support the spiritual leader who commands enormous respect but is up against a rising China.
The US once covertly funneled weapons to Tibetan guerrillas — despite unease by the Dalai Lama himself — and has long criticized Beijing’s policy. But a consensus is emerging to nudge China gently.
John Kenneth Knaus was an officer for the CIA as it trained Tibetan insurgents and dropped arms in the Himalayan territory — an effort the US gave up in 1968 as it became clear the Chinese were fully in charge.
“Was it worth it? These are questions that old men ask themselves,” Knaus, now 85 and retired from the CIA, said meditatively at his home in suburban Washington. “I’d like to think so, obviously. I think it’s really a typical American thing, support for the underdog.”
But Knaus was surprised that the Dalai Lama gave him a cool reception when they first met face-to-face in 1964.
“I didn’t get it. I was going there practically as a convert, a disciple — I knew several hundred of his people, these kids, and I loved them — and I was disappointed,” Knaus said. “It took me some time before I realized that to him, I represented the whole problem — we were providing arms to his people, we were in a sense sustaining violence, which he simply just by definition could not support.”
The Dalai Lama first traveled to the US in 1968 and has since become a regular visitor, addressing packed crowds on spirituality and helping spark a worldwide surge of interest in Buddhism.
To China’s fury, the Dalai Lama has gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but the 74-year-old monk has not succeeded in returning to Tibet, where China has poured in extra troops and forbidden any public support for the Dali Lama, who it accuses of separatism.
The US has also changed its tone. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Beijing last month, said Tibet and other human rights concerns would take a back seat in US-China relations in order to collaborate on issues such as fighting the global economic crisis.
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