Last week, the aging 14th Dalai Lama said in an interview that he might be the last reincarnation of the high lama, de facto global ambassador of Buddhism, and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people—an announcement that scholar Robert Barnett said was likely intended to de-politicize the historical institution ahead of Beijing’s probable attempt to nominate his successor. Despite this comment—a clear reflection of long-held tensions between Beijing and the Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader made favorable comments about Xi Jinping earlier this week as the Chinese president was on a diplomatic tour of India. The South China Morning Post reports:
The Dalai Lama hailed Xi Jinping as “more open-minded” on Thursday as the president held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a rare visit to India.
“Xi Jinping’s approach [is] more realistic, more open-minded” than that of his Chinese predecessor Hu Jintao, the Tibetan spiritual leader said in Mumbai.
[…] As Xi and Modi held formal talks on boosting trade and strategic ties, Tibetan students protested against China outside the venue in the capital. [Source]
The Wall Street Journal notes further indication of thawing in the relationship between Beijing and the Dalai Lama:
In December, the government announced plans to introduce a new law that would stress protection of the Tibetan language – a persistent source of concern among Tibetans who worry that Chinese immigration and educational requirements are eroding traditional culture. Scholars have also noted that Beijing has subtly toned down its rhetoric on the Dalai Lama, referring to him more often by his full title instead of the pejorative truncation “the Dalai.”
On Thursday, an anonymous Chinese blog post describing the Dalai Lama’s return as a “win-win” added to the intrigue. Illustrated with a photo of a serene looking Dalai Lama bowing with his hands pressed together, it argued that allowing the spiritual leader to return home would reduce the ability of Western countries to assault China over the Tibet question while winning the confidence of Tibetans in and outside of the country and undermining extremists.
[…] The post, which was taken down on Thursday night, was based on rumors of talks between the Dalai Lama and Beijing that the Dalai Lama’s camp says are untrue. Columbia University Tibet specialist Robert Barnett said he nevertheless saw it as significant, noting that it was left online long enough to rack up more than 50,000 views.
[…] Mr. Barnett said it was difficult to say what the appearance and popularity of the blog post meant. But he also said he thought it was probably only a matter of time before Beijing made “at least surface level” gestures aimed at re-starting talks with the Dalai Lama on a possible return, in part because of a surge in anti-government violence tied to the mostly Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang. [Source]
Read more about Beijing’s troubled relationship with the Dalai Lama, or China’s restive and ethnically-distinct regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.