Dalai Lama “Neutral” on Self Immolations (Updated)

Radio Free Asia reports that a 43rd Tibetan self-immolation protest took place just north of Lhasa on Saturday. It is not known whether the protester survived.

The man, in his 20’s, shouted slogans in support of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as he staged the fiery protest in the seat of Damshung county (in Chinese, Dangxiong) in Lhasa prefecture on Saturday.

“He did it around 1 p.m. on July 7 in front of an old community hall in Damshung. He was able to walk about 100 meters (110 yards) with his body on fire before falling down,” a source in Lhasa city told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He called for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the source said.

In an interview with The Hindu’s Ananth Krishnan, the Dalai Lama  insisting that he should remain “neutral” on the protests amid growing discomfort from many other Tibetans. He also discussed India’s relationship with China and Tibet, the question of his successor, and why he continues to advocate genuine autonomy rather than independence.

Following the immolations, more people may be aware of problems, but on the other hand, some Tibetan poets and writers have expressed a concern that young Tibetans must be encouraged to cherish their life and not give it away. Do you share their view?

This is a very, very delicate political issue. Now, the reality is that if I say something positive, then the Chinese immediately blame me. If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their own life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong. So the best thing is to remain neutral. Right from the beginning, when this sort of event happened, what I said, and still I am insisting, is this is not happening due to alcohol or family quarrels.

Now the Chinese government must carry thorough research, what is the cause of this, and not pretend that nothing is wrong. Like [former Chinese leader] Hu Yaobang said in the early 1980s when he came to Lhasa, he publicly apologised about what they had done, the past mistakes. He promised they would follow a more realistic policy. Now for that kind of courage, that kind of spirit, the time has come.

Do you still have the belief that a solution to the Tibetan issue could be found within the Chinese Constitution, for meaningful autonomy?

That is the only way, the only realistic way. Number one, many Tibetans inside Tibet want independence, but according to the circumstance, the Dalai Lama supports the Middle Way approach, which is the best, realistic way. I have met, personally, quite a number of Tibetan intellectuals, some old, some young, and they all express to me they fully realise that our approach is the best approach.

Update: In a letter to The Hindu, the press secretary of China’s embassy in New Delhi retorts that the Dalai Lama’s comments “amount to encouragement” of self-immolation, accusing him also of secretly plotting independence and “muddying the waters with regard to reincarnation”.