Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has hit back at Beijing's claims that the use of the Tibetan flag is part of a bid to split Tibet from China, saying Mao Zedong had given him personal approval to keep and fly the flag.
The Dalai Lama came to the defense of the Tibetan flag when he was about to leave the National Diet Building in Tokyo after speaking to the Japanese All Party Parliamentary Group on Wednesday, according to a report on his official website.
Standing to leave, the Dalai Lama, his attention caught by the Tibetan flag standing next to his table, said he would like to tell the Japanese lawmakers a story.
He said that during one of his meetings with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1954, Mao had asked him whether Tibet had a flag.
When the Dalai Lama cautiously answered that it did, Mao replied, “Good, you must fly it alongside the national flag,” according to the report.
"This is why, today, despite hardliners in Peking [Beijing] asserting that the Tibetan flag is a symbol of the ‘splittists,’ His Holiness feels he has Mao Zedong’s personal permission to keep and fly it," the report said.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He later founded a government in exile after being offered refuge by India. He has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle since then.
Despite persistently denying that he is seeking independence for Tibet, the Dalai Lama continues to be vilified by the Chinese leadership, who call him a "splittist" and a "wolf in monk's clothes."
The Dalai Lama's remarks in Tokyo followed a number of reports in recent weeks of Tibetans resisting campaigns by Beijing ordering them to fly Chinese flags in their homes, at monasteries, or at government-funded community centers.
Weeks of protests last month in Driru (in Chinese, Biru) county in the Tibet Autonomous Region by villagers who refused to fly the flags and dumped them in a river prompted a security crackdown in which Chinese police fired into unarmed crowds.
The Tibetan flag was a symbol of the military of Tibet, introduced by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1912 and used in the same capacity until 1959. It was designed with the help of a Japanese priest, according to reports.
The flag continues to be used by Tibetans and exile groups as a banner for seeking greater freedom.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing's rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.
According to the report on the Dalai Lama's website, there was only time for him to be asked one question at the meeting with the Japanese lawmakers and it was related to the Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama said the burning protests are "sad."
He said because of "the great difficulties" Tibetans face, "these people are prepared to give up their lives."
"It’s not because they are drunk or beset by domestic problems," he said, in response to claims by the Chinese authorities.
The Dalai Lama said it is difficult for him to ask the Tibetans "to act differently" because he has "nothing to offer them."
"It’s for the Chinese authorities to investigate the situation thoroughly to establish why so many in Tibet have chosen this path," the Dalai Lama said.
He said he was sad that some of those who have set fire to themselves have been young mothers.
A total of 123 Tibetans in China have set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests calling for Tibetan freedom.
The latest burning protest was reported on Nov. 11 in Pema (Banma) county in Qinghai province's Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.