“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London in mid-June.
But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese leadership beginning late this year. The Communist leaders now lack self-confidence, but I have heard from my Chinese friends that after a year or two the new ones will take some initiatives, so more freedom, more democracy.
The Dalai Lama, with whom I have been talking periodically since 1981, was in an ebullient mood even for him. He was referring to a meeting with Obama in 2011. I had asked the Dalai Lama about those national leaders throughout the world, from South Africa to Britain, who refuse to hold formal meetings with him because they fear Beijing’s anger. President Obama declined to meet him in 2009, the first rebuff from an American president since the Tibetan leader began visiting Washington in 1991.
Two meetings finally took place, in 2010 and 2011. Both were held in the White House Map Room rather than the Oval Office, after Beijing had warned against such an encounter: “We firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form.” In Britain, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron found other venues for their meetings, far from 10 Downing Street. This June Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg held a brief, unpublicized meeting with the Dalai Lama, who was about to address several thousand admirers in St. Paul’s Cathedral. All such meetings, including the one at the cathedral, are routinely condemned by Beijing as “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.”
“If these national leaders don’t see me that’s up to them,” the Dalai Lama said. “But slowly Chinese people realize they have been exploited, censored. The Communists tell them they don’t need Western-style democracy and human rights.”
In recent months, there have been reports of self-immolations by Tibetans in China and Tibet, and there are concerns that the human rights situation is worsening. Yet as in previous meetings, the Dalai Lama reflected without rancor on Chinese Communist rule over Tibet. “What has kept Tibetans going for 2,500 years? The Dharma.” This is the traditional Buddhist view of the universe and its principles of human behavior and wisdom. “How old is the Communist Party? Less than two hundred years [it was founded in 1921]. Admiration for Tibetans throughout the world is always rising. Attitudes toward the Chinese Communist Party, inside and outside China, couldn’t be worse.”
He noted that the Party sees how Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader and a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was admired throughout the world for more than twenty years when she was a captive in Rangoon and …