US, India Greet Tibet’s Dalai Lama on His 86th Birthday

The 86-year-old Dalai Lama says the well-wishers' words "encourage me to live as long as I can.”
US, India Greet Tibet’s Dalai Lama on His 86th Birthday Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets well-wishers in a virtual message on his birthday, July 6, 2021.
Central Tibetan Administration

The United States and India reached out on Tuesday to greet Tibet’s exiled Dalai Lama on his 86th birthday—a gesture likely to anger Beijing, which regards the exiled spiritual leader as a separatist working to split Tibet from Chinese rule.

Writing in a Tweet, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—whose country has clashed with China over disputed border areas in the last year—said he had greeted the Dalai Lama personally by phone to convey his good wishes.

“We wish him a long and healthy life,” Modi wrote.

It was a rare public statement of personal support from a leader of India, which has traditionally tried to balance its decades-long support for the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan exile community in the country with concern for stable relations with Beijing.

Amitabh Mathur, former advisor on Tibetan affairs at India’s Union Home Ministry said the Modi and the Dalai Lama have exchanged greetings before, “but this is the first time PM Modi tweeted about it.”

“In my interactions with Tibetans, many were apprehensive about the continued commitment of the government of India to the Tibetan cause so I think this statement will dispel many of the misgivings or doubts that the Tibetans have about India’s commitment to their cause. And certainly it can be interpreted as a signal to the Chinese that our commitment to the civilization struggle of Tibetans is undiluted and continues in a manner that it has in the last 60 years”.  

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday conveyed birthday greetings from the United States, saying, “Today, we wish a Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose grace and compassion have served as an inspiration to all of us."

“We commend his dedication to the global Tibetan community and to all those around the world who share in his important message of peace and kindness and his commitment to equality, and importantly to human dignity,” Price said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “deep respect and appreciation for His Holiness’ grace, wisdom, and humility, as well as his dedication to greater global equality and the equal rights of all people, including his fellow Tibetans.”

Also writing in a Tweet, House Speaker of the U.S. Congress Nancy Pelosi sent her own birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama, calling the exiled spiritual leader’s birthday an opportunity to celebrate "the message of hope and spiritual guidance that he has shared with the world."

“And it is an opportunity for all people to recommit to ensuring the Tibetan people can practice their religion, speak their language and celebrate their culture freely without interference or intimidation from Beijing.”

“May his birthday bring happiness, health and security to all,” Pelosi wrote.

In a statement Wednesday, the Dalai Lama thanked his well-wishers.

“I felt the friendly messages I received yesterday were sincere and whole-hearted, not just diplomatic gestures. They encourage me to live as long as I can," he said, and noted Pelosi's record on Tibet.

“Her support has extended beyond kind words. She has actually visited Tibet, spoken to Tibetan and Chinese leaders, as well as coming here to Dharamsala," said the Dalai Lama.

Good wishes from Taiwan

Birthday greetings also came from Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, who thanked the Dalai Lama in a Tweet “for teaching us the importance of coming together to help one another through this [COVID-19] pandemic.”

Taiwan’s foreign ministry in July 2020 said the self-governing island would welcome a visit by the Dalai Lama in his role as a spiritual leader “in accordance with the principle of mutual respect and at a time of convenience for both sides.”

A visit to Taiwan by the Dalai Lama would be his first since 2009 and would certainly anger Beijing, which claims democratic Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to take it by force.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet into exile in India in the midst of a failed 1959 Tibetan national uprising against rule by China, which marched into the formerly independent Himalayan country in 1950.

Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations of his birthday, and the sharing of his teachings on mobile phones or other social media are often harshly punished.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western China, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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