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The Dalai Lama speaks

Interview: Matthias von Hein
August 31, 2014

On the sidelines of his visit to Hamburg, the Dalai Lama talked exclusively to DW about his optimism for Tibet, the situation in Iraq and Syria, and the growing number of Tibetan Buddhists in China.

Dalai Lama in Hamburg 25.8.2014
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: Your Holiness, China is becoming more powerful, both economically and politically. Beijing is also using its power to increasingly isolate you – the face of the struggle for meaningful Tibetan autonomy. What do you think: If China had been that powerful already in 1989, would you have been awarded the Nobel peace prize?

Dalai Lama: I have completely retired from my political responsibilities since 2011. The nature of your question is rather political. However, since you ask that question: Yes, the People's Republic of China is gaining more strength economically and militarily. But, in the meantime, we can see that a number of Chinese very much support our basic rights because we are not seeking independence.

We decided as early as 1974 that we are not seeking independence. We just try to seek those rights that are mentioned in the constitution. These should be implemented. That's our request. So, therefore, a number of Chinese intellectuals fully support us – including Liu Xiaobo (awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010 and currently serving an 11 year prison sentence).

During the last four years we noticed about 1000 articles in Chinese, some written by Chinese inside China, some outside, which fully support our 'middle way' approach. They are very critical about their own government's policy. So this is not our criticism. It is criticism within the Chinese community.

On top of that, there is quite a large Buddhist population in China. About three or four years ago, a Chinese university carried out a survey about how many Buddhists there are in mainland China. They came up with a figure of more than 300 million. Many of these Buddhists are educated people. And nowadays more and more Chinese Buddhists really show interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Even a number of Chinese Communist Party members, officials, even high officials are showing interest in Tibetan Buddhism.

Then on the practical level: The Chinese government is very much concerned about the image of China. The military, the economy alone cannot make a constructive contribution to world affairs. The People's Republic of China needs moral authority, more respect, more trust from the outside world. And the Chinese people themselves are very much concerned about the image of China, too. Many Chinese told me, that even though their country has over 1.3 billion inhabitants, it is lacking moral authority or moral power.

The Dalai Lama in Hamburg (Photo: Bodo Marks/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Dalai Lama: 'In the long run, the power of truth is much stronger'Image: picture-alliance/dpa

But now, President Xi Jinping is seriously tackling corruption. And also recently during his visit in Europe, in Paris, Xi openly stated, that Buddhism has a very important role for Chinese culture. So Buddhists should take more responsibility. For me this is something very unusual: A communist leader publicly praising or making a positive remark about Buddhism. So things are changing.

But, your Holiness, do you see any improvements on the ground in Tibet?

Our struggle is the struggle between the power of the gun and the power of truth. In the short run, the power of the gun is much stronger, very decisive. But in the long run, the power of truth is much stronger. I believe that. Already there are some signs that Chinese leaders or intellectuals now raise questions whether the existing policy is really helpful in the long run to the interest of the People's Republic of China. So things are changing.

But, up to now, my impression is that the Chinese leadership is still thinking that the way to deal with ethnic minorities in Tibet or in Xinjiang is repression and investment. That is their twofold approach.

Investment is good. But at the same time they should be seriously concerned about the environment. The use of force is often counterproductive no matter how sincere the motivation is. Look at the Iraq crisis and President Bush. I know that his motivation was very good: Democracy in Iraq. But the method was wrong. So, unexpected consequences happened. In China there is basically a similar situation.

Talking about Iraq, this brings me to a question that is troubling a lot of people in Germany right now. It is the question of how to deal with the "Islamic State." You are loved and respected the world over because your approach is dialogue and tolerance. But now in Germany we are debating whether Germany should supply weapons to the Kurds in Northern Iraq to fight the "Islamic State" – which would be a breach with former policies. What do you do if dialogue fails or if the other is not ready for dialogue?

I am student of Buddhist psychology. And I am also a firm believer in the law of causality. There are these unthinkable, sad events: The killings of human beings, mercilessly, including children, women. I believe this is the result of certain causes. The Iraq crisis: If the American policy in order to topple Saddam Hussein had been carried out in a more non-violent way, I think, the situation today would probably be a little better. I believe this unthinkable crisis in the beginning of the 21st century is the result of the mistakes of previous centuries.

So, what would be your advice?

Basically I say: It is much better and safer not to use violence. But now the reality is: So many people are suffering. If the world remains indifferent, that would be also immoral, too. The best thing would be to try to talk. If that fails, according to the reality, according to circumstances…That´s very difficult to judge.

Coming back to Tibet, you sounded very optimistic about the prospects of positive change in Tibet through the Chinese government side. So are you optimistic yourself to be able to visit Tibet, see Lhasa and the Potala?

Watching China for more than 60 years, I describe four eras: the Mao Zedong era, the Deng Xiaoping era, the Jiang Zemin era and the Hu Jintao era. Within these four eras a lot of changes happened. The Mao Zedong era put very much emphasis on ideology. Then the Deng Xiaoping era:

He considered the economy, the living standard to be more important than just the ideology. So he did not hesitate to follow a more market-oriented economy, or even capitalism. Then Jiang Zemin: He discovered that because of the new reality, the Communist Party was no longer a party of working class people. So he created the concept of the "Three Represents." Wealthier people and intellectuals were admitted into the party.

In the Mao Zedong era that would have been unthinkable. Then came the Hu Jintao era. Because of the growing gap between rich and poor he emphasized the promotion of the "Harmonious Society". So, the same party, confronted with a new reality had the ability to take some new initiatives, develop a new thinking.

When Hu Jintao announced the "Harmonious Society," I fully supported that. But ten years passed and I think as far as "harmony" is concerned, things worsened. The goal, the motivation was good. But the method? They used force. The Chinese government's budget for internal security is bigger than the defense budget. I think there are about 200 nations on this planet. But I don't think any nation's budget for internal security is bigger than the defense budget.

But Xi Jinping, his policy, his actions, seem more realistic. As Deng Xiaoping stated: "Seek truth from facts." I think the new leadership follows that advice: seeking truth from facts. The late Hu Yaobang (reform-minded, liberal Communist Party general secretary 1980 – 1987) followed that approach. President Xi Jinping seems to be in favor of that approach.

When Hu Yaobang visited Lhasa in the early 1980's, his public speeches and comments were very realistic. At that time, everybody developed great hope. I still believe, if Hu Yaobang had remained in power for a longer time, the Tibet issue would have already been solved. Xi Jinping seems to follow that same sort of more realistic approach. So there is some hope. In any way: It is better to remain with hope and in the meantime better prepare for the worst.

Thank you very much your Holiness.

The interview was conducted by Matthias von Hein.

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