HONG KONG—After years of stalled negotiations with Beijing, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader is trying a new tack in reaching out to the Chinese people: direct discussions with the country’s millions of netizens.
On Monday, the Dalai Lama took questions from Chinese netizens on the microblogging service Twitter—for the second time since holding a dialogue with Chinese users May 21.
Both events were moderated by Chinese writer Wang Lixiong, temporarily based in the United States and husband of the Tibetan dissident writer Woeser. Monday's conversation was hosted on the Noble laureate’s new Chinese blog on Twitter: @dailalamacn.
A total of 1,543 netizens submitted 326 questions with a further 12,771 votes submitted online to select a final 10 questions. The Dalai Lama’s office was to respond with all his answers, translated into Chinese, by Wednesday.
Now 75, the India-based Dalai Lama has already addressed pressing questions over who will succeed him after his death, amid fears that this would either spark division among his followers or slow the momentum of the Tibetan cause.
"Generally speaking, after my departure from the world," he answered, "Tibetan exile organizations, especially our educational system, will continue to function and develop."
“Another important element is the continuation of Buddhist studies. All Tibetan Buddhist sects possess elite members who can become religious leaders thanks to their hard work over the last two or three decades."
Cai Jia, the Dalai Lama’s personal aide for Chinese-language events, said Tuesday that the dialogue is helping Chinese netizens learn more about the Dalai Lama.
“I think it is important for Chinese netizens to understand more of the Dalai Lama’s principles, especially his thoughts on the Middle Path, a mutually beneficial plan for the solution of the Tibet issue in the future,” Cai said.
Since launching his Chinese language blog on July 6, Cai said, the Dalai Lama has seen his followers grow to nearly 5,000. As of Wednesday, this new exchange remained unblocked and uncensored in China, unlike his previous exchange with Chinese netizens.
“The Dalai Lama’s answers can be spread through his followers and through his followers’ followers, enabling many Chinese to further comprehend his stance, views, and thoughts. It is a very useful phenomenon,” he added.
Among the questions the Dalai Lama has already answered is an inquiry about “Tibetan autonomy,” to which he responded Tuesday:
“The term ‘autonomy by Tibetans’ should refer to having Tibetans as the majority and other ethnic groups as the minority [of the Tibet Autonomous Region],” the Dalai Lama wrote in his reply.
“If the situation were in reverse, then the word ‘autonomy’ would be meaningless."
The Dalai Lama said he hopes to “build up a big family that enables Chinese and Tibetans to coexist in a friendly fashion over 1,000 years, as before,” and said he wants to see all ethnic groups in China “coexist amicably with each other on the principle of equality.”
He rejected the concept of a so-called “Greater Tibet,” which he said was Beijing's propaganda.
“We never advocated ‘Greater Tibet.’ That is a label put on us by the Chinese Communist Party’s Department of the United Front,” he wrote.
“What we have been pursuing is that all Tibetans who use the same spoken and written language need equal rights to protect and develop their religious culture, as well as equal rights to economic development.”
The Dalai Lama also addressed the concerns of Chinese netizens on the matter of his succession, saying he is not the sole figure to embody the Tibetan spirit. He said that he has been operating in semi-retirement over the last 10 years and that all major political decisions have been made by a leadership group elected by Tibetan exiles.
After his death, he said, all policy would be managed in the same way. The Dalai Lama also responded to questions about the protection of the Tibetan cultural heritage.
China, whose heavy-handed rule in Tibet has drawn sharp criticism from rights groups and Western governments, has indicated it will take a hard line on selecting a successor, with Qiangba Puncog, Tibet's former governor, insisting in March that final approval lies with Beijing.
Beijing-based writer Yu Jie said Tuesday that the Dalai Lama’s online dialogue will be very helpful in addressing false propaganda created to attack his image.
“The scale of the dialogue is not that big, just several thousand [participants]. However, I believe its influence and impact are getting bigger and bigger,” Yu said.
“One day it will defeat all distorted propaganda on the Dalai Lama and truth in Tibet, which has been overwhelmingly portrayed in the newspaper, on the radio, on television, and via the Internet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
Original reporting by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.