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Yvan Cohen for Asiaweek.
"Ours is the struggle of a nation to survive".

'More Freedom Must Come'
A talk with the Dalai Lama

Struggle for Tibet's Soul: As Tibetan exiles battle for power, Beijing seeks greater control over their homeland
Interview: What the Dalai Lama sees in Tibet's future
Reincarnation: The politics of Buddhism's central mystery

Tibet's spiritual leader practices what he preaches. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, shows much compassion and smiles a lot. His recent book, The Art of Happiness, is a U.S. bestseller. But for the 1989 Nobel Peace Prizewinner, the past few years have neither been peaceful nor brought much to be happy about. The Dalai Lama has faced a stonewalling China and growing sectarian strife within the Tibetan exile community. He discussed those issues, plus his own mortality, with Asiaweek's Julian Gearing in Dharamsala. Excerpts:

Who is the true Karmapa Lama — Urgyen Trinley, who this year fled Tibet, or Thaye Dorje?

Right from the start, the official recognition was Urgyen Trinley. So there is no question of a dispute. But some centers accept the Sharmapa reincarnation. Eventually it should be okay.

In 1995, Beijing arrested the boy you recognized as the 11th Panchen Lama and substituted their own. Are you concerned about your candidate?
At first we were worried about the threat to his life. But because of the publicity and worldwide concern, he may be safe. I think truth will prevail. After all, it is rather ridiculous for unbelievers to be involved in the recognition. They put too much emphasis on politics and ignore the other aspects. So they damage Tibet's stability and unity.

Will Beijing use its Panchen Lama to recognize the future Dalai Lama?

Yes — that is why [there is concern]. I made clear that if I passed away, [my] reincarnation would logically come outside Tibet, in a free country. That's because the main purpose of reincarnation is to continue the task not yet accomplished in this life. But China will pick a boy as the next Dalai Lama, though in reality he isn't. As with the Panchen Lama, Tibetans won't recognize him.

Beijing is getting involved in the reincarnation of top lamas.

Yes. For more than 10 years, the Chinese have taken positions on the reincarnation of prominent lamas inside Tibet and not outside the country. That means they don't want the recognition from the Dalai Lama.

Does that worry you?

No — as long as the reincarnation is the true one. In the Panchen Lama's case, some of my friends and some Tibetans said the reincarnation must be found outside Tibet. And I thought that [position] was politically motivated — and wrong. The top priority is that the reincarnation should be the true one. Outside Tibet or inside, that is secondary. Through my own investigations, it became clear that the true reincarnation was in Tibet.

How hard will your death be on the Tibetan people?
It will certainly be a great setback. But our freedom struggle is not to restore the Dalai Lama institution or my privileges. If that were the case, the whole struggle would collapse with the death of the Dalai Lama. But our struggle is for the 6 million Tibetans, their rights, their welfare, their future. This is the struggle of a nation to survive. Whether one particular leader remains or not, the nation will carry on the struggle.

You argue for Tibet's autonomy, not independence.

Right. When I explain this to Tibetans, sometimes they are disappointed. The reality, since we are a small community, is that our survival completely depends on whether we have closer ties with China.

But dialogue with the Chinese has ceased.

For the moment. But the Chinese have repeatedly said they are open to talking with me. Despite the increasingly serious situation in Tibet and the growing criticism of me, my position will not change. So as soon as there is a serious indication from the Chinese, I'm ready to talk. But if they really believe that their present ruthless policy is right, then I think there isn't much room to talk.

Do you see a breakthrough in the near future?

The possibility is still there. The Tibet issue is linked with development in China proper. Compared with 20 years ago, much has changed in China, and is still changing. China has become part of the world, so the international climate will have an impact on it. On a global level, totalitarian systems have no future. So sooner or later, China will become a more open society. More freedom must come.

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