Dalai Lama Asks to Hand His Political Role to Tibetan Government-in-Exile

The Dalai Lama told Tibetans he wants to end his role as the political head of their government- in-exile.

The Dalai Lama, who traditionally is the spiritual and political leader of the almost 3 million Tibetans, said in a speech he will ask the parliament elected by more than 120,000 Tibetan exiles to let him relinquish his political authority. That move would leave the parliament and an elected prime minister to handle negotiations with China.

The Tibetan leader, 75, said he will continue his campaign to press China for broad political autonomy for his homeland, which China has ruled since invading it in the early 1950s. He spoke in Dharamshala, India, the headquarters of his exile government, on the 52nd anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule that led him into exile.

In a transcript published by his office, the Dalai Lama said he will ask the exile parliament next week to accept “my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.”

The Dalai Lama’s decision “is partly about preparing the Tibetan people for a future beyond his lifetime,” said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, which helps represent the Dalai Lama overseas. While the Dalai Lama has insisted on non-violent resistance to Chinese rule, riots erupted in Tibet in 2008 and exiles say the direction of their movement will be less clear once the Dalai Lama dies.

China’s foreign ministry said the Dalai Lama’s plan was a bid to manipulate international opinion.

‘Religious Cloak’

The spiritual leader is “a political exile under a religious cloak,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing today. “We think these are his tricks to deceive the international community.”

China accuses the Dalai Lama of spreading “anti-Chinese propaganda” and seeking independence for Tibet, which forms about a quarter of China’s territory. In the two sides’ most recent talks, in January 2010, China rejected “a high degree of autonomy” for Tibet.

The China Geological Survey said Feb. 24 that Tibet has the nation’s biggest reserves of chromium, copper, and salt lake lithium amid total mineral deposits valued at more than $152 billion, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. China’s Tibetan authorities say mining could contribute more than 30 percent of Tibet’s gross domestic product by 2020, compared with 3 percent now, the agency said.

Exiled Government

While Tibet’s Dalai Lamas historically ruled by decree, the current lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has built a government-in-exile that is largely run by an elected prime minister and parliament. A democratic government-in-exile poses a challenge to China, where the Communist Party has repressed any sign of dissent by ethnic Tibetans.

China’s government pledged at the ongoing annual National People’s Congress in Beijing to increase support for the development of Tibet and other regions inhabited by ethnic minority groups, according to Xinhua. Still, Communist Party chief for Tibet, Zhang Qingli, vowed to “strictly” crack down on violence and “terrorism” aimed at splitting up China, according to a commentary published in the People’s Daily newspaper Feb. 24.

China routinely calls any protests by ethnic groups against Chinese rule terrorism. The government restricted the number of visitors to Tibet, citing a shortage of hotel rooms, ahead of today’s anniversary, Xinhua reported. In the past, it has also cut Internet and mobile phone access to control protests.

Tibet Riots

The March 2008 riots broke out in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities between ethnic Tibetans and the majority Han Chinese after Chinese security forces suppressed a protest by monks.

China says at least 19 people died in the riots, the biggest protests in almost 20 years. Tibet’s government-in-exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in China’s ensuing crackdown. Tensions over Chinese occupation in Tibet are also played out in Xinjiang, where mostly-Muslim Uighurs have become a minority in their own homeland after decades of state- sponsored migration of Han.

Communal rioting between Uighurs and Han Chinese in the far western region of Xinjiang left about 200 people dead in 2009, forcing President Hu Jintao to cut short a visit to the Group of Eight summit in Italy.

Minority groups complain of discrimination and that the fruits of economic expansion have been unevenly distributed.

‘Jasmine Revolution’

Xinjiang party chief Zhang Chunxian said this week at the Congress, China’s parliament, that the government needs to learn the lessons from the “jasmine revolutions” that brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt and sparked rebellion in Libya, the South China Morning Post reported this week.

High rates of inflation, unemployment and corruption were all factors that fueled the unrest in the Middle East, he said, adding that governments needed to pay more attention to people’s livelihoods.

Shutting down the Internet is not a long-term solution to maintaining stability, he said, according to the Hong Kong newspaper.

“China’s leaders consider the communist ideology and its policies to be correct,” the Dalai Lama said. “If this were so, these policies should be made public with confidence and open to scrutiny. If citizens are fully informed, they have the ability to distinguish right from wrong.”

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rupert in New Delhi at jrupert3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.