CHICAGO — The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, said Wednesday he would not alter his non-violent quest for greater Tibetan autonomy, even after Beijing blamed him for inciting a wave of unrest.
A total of 34 Tibetans, many of them Buddhist monks and nuns, are reported to have attempted to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire in China’s Tibetan-inhabited areas since the start of 2011 in protest at Chinese rule.
Many of the protesters — who criticize Beijing for what they see as repression of their culture — have reportedly died from severe burns.
Beijing has repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama of inciting the self-immolations in a bid to split the vast Himalayan region from the rest of the nation, a charge he denies.
“Recently things become very, very difficult but our stand — no change,” the Dalai Lama told the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
“Independence, complete independence is unrealistic — out of (the) question,” the Dalai Lama said, saying his non-violent “Middle Way” of seeking change from Beijing still has the support of 90 percent of Tibetans.
“So we can continue,” he said in a press conference at the conclusion of the summit.
Tibet’s leadership-in-exile in India remains committed to “meaningful talk” with the Chinese government in order to establish “meaningful autonomy” for the Tibetan minority, he said.
The latest self-immolations by a pair of young Tibetan men occurred last week in the prefecture of Aba in a rugged area of Sichuan province, overseas Tibetan rights groups said.
China has imposed tight security to contain simmering discontent in Tibetan regions since 2008, when deadly rioting against Chinese rule broke out in Tibet’s capital Lhasa and spread to neighboring Tibetan-inhabited regions.
Many Tibetans in China complain of religious repression and a gradual erosion of their culture blamed on a growing influx of majority Han Chinese to their homeland.
China denies any repression and says it has improved the lives of Tibetans with investment in infrastructure, schools and housing and by spurring economic growth.
Twelve Nobel laureates including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have urged China’s president to resume talks with the Dalai Lama, but the Buddhist monk said that up until now, negotiations had not been productive.
“Sometimes I describe totalitarian regimes as no ear, only mouth,” he told the summit with a laugh.
The Chinese officials “lecture us, never really listen” and are angry that “I am not acting like ‘yes minister’,” he said.
“Our approach failed to bring some concrete or positive result from the government, but the Chinese public, or Chinese intellectuals, or students who study in foreign countries — they are beginning to know the reality,” he said.
“That, I think, is a positive side, a significant result.”
The Dalai Lama also expressed the need for patience in the decades-long struggle.
“Sometimes people have the impression (this is) some crisis very recently happened,” he said.
“I meet some Chinese. They are frustrated. Very hostile. Then I tell them long stories… 60 years of stories. Then they understand, oh — the Tibetan issue is really a very, very complicated issue.”