Tibet Can Stay in China, Dalai Lama Says

The Dalai Lama has said that Tibet can remain a part of China if Beijing guarantees to protect the disputed region's culture and autonomy.

Speaking to mark the 60th anniversary of his exile to India on Sunday, the 82-year-old said Tibetan and Chinese citizens could have a mutually beneficial relationship, daily Indian newspaper The Hindu reported.

The Dalai Lama—the 14th person to be chosen for the position—left Tibet at the start of the unsuccessful 1959 uprising against the Chinese central government. He has since been based in northern India, initially serving as both political and spiritual leader of the Tibetan community in exile. Over the following decades, political influence was gradually ceded to the democratic Central Tibetan Administration.

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama attends a press conference in Cambridge, U.K., on April 19, 2013. The leader has been living in exile for 60 years. He has said that Tibet can remain a part of China if Beijing guarantees to protect the disputed region’s culture and autonomy. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

"Historically and culturally, Tibet has been independent. The region's geography shows where Tibet begins," he said. "So long as the constitution of China recognizes our culture and Tibetan autonomous region's special history, they can remain [part of China]."

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate noted that while Tibet stood to benefit economically from remaining a part of China, the rest of the country could gain from exposure to Tibetan Buddhism. Although the speech is an important step toward compromise with Beijing, the Dalai Lama stressed the need to protect Tibetan culture.

China has been accused of a "cultural genocide" against the Tibetan people—sometimes by the Dalai Lama himself—over its policy of Sinicization of the region. Beijing has been uncompromising in its rule of the Himalayan region and considers the Dalai Lama a separatist.

The Communist Party has encouraged Han Chinese migration to Tibet and restricted the teaching of traditional languages. Such policies have drawn fierce opposition from Tibetans. In 2008, Tibetan protests against the central government broke out. The movement was brutally suppressed, with scores killed and thousands arrested. Since 2009 there have been more than 100 self-immolations as desperate Tibetans voice their continued dissent.

Tibet protests
A Tibetan monk walks past an overturned barrack at a square in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, on March 14, 2008. That day, Lhasa had erupted in deadly violence, with security forces using gunfire to quell the biggest protests against Chinese rule in two decades. Rune BACKS/AFP/GettyImages

Nonetheless, the Dalai Lama is now encouraging cooperation and reconciliation. "There was a time when every French looked at the Germans as enemies," he said. "But today they are in the European Union. Similarly, we can work together."

The Dalai Lama's remarks come ahead of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 27 and 28. Regional rivalry and border friction have meant relations between the mammoth neighbors have often been tense, and occasionally outright hostile.

The "informal summit" will be held in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and will be the first since the 2017 Doklam border standoff. The Dalai Lama said he was in favor of the meeting, encouraging both leaders to improve relations. "I think it is really good that they are meeting," he said. "They have to live side by side, so it is better to live as a family."

The Dalai Lama was formally assigned his leadership duties at age just 15. With China's tight control of Tibet, he has admitted he may be the last to hold the position, and Beijing says it has the power to choose his successor. "The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day," the leader told the BBC in 2014. "These man-made institutions will cease."