Dalai Lama in 'informal' talks to return to Tibet

AFP

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Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama (R) shares a light moment with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams during a commemoration event marking 25 years since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang temple in M Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama (R) shares a light moment with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams during a commemoration event marking 25 years since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama at Tsuglakhang temple in M
The Dalai Lama indicated Thursday he was in informal talks with China to make a historic pilgrimage to his Tibetan homeland after more than half a century in exile.
In an interview with AFP at his base in northern India, the Tibetan spiritual leader also spoke of his optimism about the new leadership in Beijing and of his hopes for a peaceful end to the stand-off in Hong Kong.
But he also criticized China over its treatment of dissidents, particularly for its recent jailing for life of a prominent Uighur poet.
Now aged 79, the Dalai Lama has been exiled from Tibet since he fled a failed uprising in 1959.
But he revealed that he had "made clear" his desire to undertake a pilgrimage to a sacred mountain in Tibet to contacts in China, including "retired officials".
"It's not finalized, not yet, but the idea is there," he said during celebrations to mark 25 years since he won the Nobel peace prize.
"Not formally or seriously, but informally... I express, this is my desire, and some of my friends, they are also showing their genuine interest or concern," he added.
"Recently, some Chinese officials, for example the deputy party secretary in the autonomous region of Tibet, he also mentioned the possibility of my visit as a pilgrimage to that sacred place."
The Dalai Lama has long expressed a desire to visit the Wutai Shan mountain, considered sacred by Tibetans.
His comments Thursday come amid speculation of an easing of tensions with China, which in the past has decried the spiritual leader as a "splittist" and accused him of seeking secession.
The exiled monk, who retired from politics in 2011 but who Tibetans the world over still regard as their leader, says he wants greater autonomy for Tibetan areas.
Last month, an anonymous blog post appeared briefly on a Chinese-run website describing the Dalai Lama's return in positive terms, before it was taken down.
It was seen by some experts as an indication that China's tone may be softening on Tibet -- a view shared by the Dalai Lama.
  'Optimistic' about Xi 
On Thursday, he welcomed recent comments by President Xi Jinping on the importance of Buddhism in Chinese society.
"This is something very new, a Communist Party leader saying something about spirituality," said the exiled leader, who recently described Xi as "more open-minded" than his predecessors.
The Dalai Lama, who enjoyed a close relationship with Xi's father before he fled Tibet, also praised the Chinese leader for a crackdown on official corruption that has taken down senior Communist Party leaders.
"These things show he (Xi) is approaching these problems more realistically," said the Dalai Lama.
"So we'll see. I have some optimistic view, but still too early to say."
He criticized China's treatment of dissidents, and said he hoped the current stand-off between authorities and pro-democracy campaigners in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong could be "resolved peacefully, with mutual benefit".
Beijing has been widely condemned over its treatment of the Uighur poet Ilham Tohti, who was recently sentenced to life in prison for separatism.
"These people firstly are not anti-government, not anti-people," the Dalai Lama said of Tohti and other jailed dissidents.
"So I think not necessary... I think actually long run, harmful."
 Nobel controversy
The celebrations to mark his Nobel award anniversary have been marred by South Africa's failure to grant him a visa to attend a summit of laureates in Cape Town next week.
At a ceremony in Dharamshala Thursday, he said the summit had been cancelled, accusing the authorities of "bullying a simple person".
In 2011 the Dalai Lama delegated his political responsibilities to a prime minister elected by Tibetan exiles around the world, as part of an attempt to begin planning his succession.
But he remains the most powerful rallying point for Tibetans, both in exile and in their homeland, and remains the universally recognised face of the movement.
Last month he told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that doctors had told him he could live to 100, adding, "in my dreams I will die at the age of 113 years".
His advancing years have raised questions over his succession as Dalai Lama, and he has stated previously that he will not be reincarnated in China if Tibet is not free.
On Thursday he was in jovial mood, chuckling throughout the interview and telling AFP he was "always quite okay", even if he felt more tired as he got older, and had to consider his health as he planned his still-hectic schedule.
On the prospect of a trip to Tibet, he remained sanguine.
"If things go that way, a more sort of happy way, very good. If not - okay," he said, smiling.
"Now 55 years I spend (in the) outside world. Okay, I feel very happy, and more important, I think I made some contribution for individual level or family level, or society level, some peace of mind."
 

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