May 25, 2001
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Middle path is the only way: Dalai Lama

Aziz Haniffa
India Abroad Correspondent in Washington

The Dalai Lama said on Thursday that what he seeks is not independence but a "genuinely autonomous Tibet within the People's Republic of China".

"Not autonomy on paper as was imposed on us 50 years ago in the '17-point Agreement', but 'autonomy with integrity' as former president Bill Clinton once referred to it," the Tibetan leader, said in his commencement address to the students of The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He said that in a "genuinely autonomous Tibet, Tibetans would be fully responsible for their own domestic affairs, including the education of their children, for religious matters, cultural affairs, the care of their precious environment, and the local economy".

The Dalai Lama said that taking a "middle way" approach, Tibetans "would accept China's responsibility for foreign affairs and defence, thus ensuring the territorial integrity of the People's Republic of China and the security and international role China desires".

He acknowledged that "of course, in every Tibetan heart there is a desire for a homeland. Many Tibetans believe that in my quest for this middle way I concede too much to China. I understand their fears, but we must also understand China's concerns.

"I believe that if the Chinese leaders were to enter into sincere dialogue with me or my representatives," the Dalai Lama predicted, "taking a 'middle way' approach such as I have described, we could find a solution that would be acceptable and beneficial to our peoples and would be hailed by the international community as an enlightened and positive contribution to humankind."

The spiritual leader, who lives in Dharamsala, India, since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a brutal crackdown on a Tibetan uprising by Chinese forces, said he had assured President George W Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell during his meetings with them in the past two days that "I am committed to such an approach and convinced that it is possible".

According to the Dalai Lama, "Many Chinese intellectuals with whom I have spoken also agree that such a course would be in the best interests of China and the Chinese people."

Thus, he said that it "saddens me deeply that such a dialogue has not yet begun, despite my efforts and the efforts of many mutual friends".

The Dalai Lama reiterated his offer that "I am ready to meet face to face with China's leaders and to talk to them without precondition or prejudice, as one human being to another".

"For long periods of history," he recalled, "Tibetans and Chinese have lived as friends and neighbours. This was to the advantage of us all."

He appealed to China's leaders to "join me in building a close friendship once more" and declared that "together we have the ability and the means to solve our problems and, then, to help each other".

In his address that was titled 'Mutual Respect and Compassion: Key to World Peace', the Dalai Lama said, "Even when the so-called 17-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was forced upon us, I still believed that it too contained the seeds for possible cooperation".

"After all," he argued, "by that agreement the Chinese government recognized the distinctiveness and the autonomy of Tibet and pledged not to impose their system on our people against out wishes."

But he said that in violation of their own agreement, "the Chinese authorities imposed their inflexible and foreign ideology on Tibetans and showed scant respect for our culture, religion and way of life. This caused the people to revolt and, in the end, I had to escape to freedom in exile from where I believed I could best continue to serve my people."

The Dalai Lama said, "China may regard Tibet as strategically important, but our greatest contribution to China's security would lie in securing peace and tranquillity on the Himalayan border and restoring Tibet's role as a zone of ahimsa [non-violence] on the central plateau of Asia that separates the great powers of south, east and central Asia."

Earlier in his speech to several hundred students, including a fair number of international students from India, China and Taiwan, the Dalai Lama without naming China or any other country took some hefty swipes at authoritarian and totalitarian regimes around the world.

He said, "Today, it is becoming increasingly clear that so long as totalitarian regimes remain in some parts of the planet, the world, as a whole, can never be truly free.

"Fortunately the values of democracy, open society, respect for human rights and equality are becoming recognized all over the world as universal values," he said. "Yet there still remain isolated corners where the leaders of some communities continue to reject this global trend."

Perhaps in a subliminal message to the pro-democracy forces within China, the Dalai Lama said, "I believe the creation of democratic societies in all corners of the world is in the interest of all members of our common human family.

He asserted that "where there is democracy there is a greater possibility for the citizens of the country to express their basic human qualities, and where those basic human qualities prevail there is also a greater scope for strengthening democracy."

"Most importantly," the Dalai Lama declared, "democracy is also the most effective basis for ensuring world peace and the achievement of a truly demilitarized world."

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