President Xi appeared open to discussing Tibet but the Dalai Lama’s hosts in Delhi were not so keen, a book reveals
Michael Safi and Lily Kuo
Sun 19 May 2019
China’s President Xi Jinping agreed to meet the Dalai Lama during a state visit to India in 2014, but the plan was quashed by Delhi, the Buddhist spiritual leader has said.
The bombshell claim, which could signal that in the early years of his term Xi was open to the most radical shift in China’s Tibet policy in decades, was made during an interview for a book by Indian journalist Sonia Singh, an executive at the Delhi-based television channel NDTV.
The Dalai Lama appeared to let the detail slip casually in the November 2018 interview, according to an audio recording the Observer has heard.
“I have a brief meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi, [and] when Xi Jinping came to Delhi, I also wanted a meeting with him,” he said. “So I already have some connection, some contact directly through my friend. So Xi Jinping agreed, but the Indian government … was a little cautious.”
“That would have been a landmark meeting if it had happened,” Singh replied. The Dalai Lama appears to agree before the talking moves on.
The stray remark might have been attributed to a misunderstanding or the use of imprecise language by the Dalai Lama, 83, who speaks English fluently but with a heavy accent. But Singh says she sent the transcript of the interview to his office for approval, and received no objections.
Nor has Tibet’s government-in-exile, based in the Indian Himalayan city of Dharamshala, issued a denial or any other comment since Singh’s book, Defining India: Through Their Eyes, was released in Delhi last week.
China’s ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement sent to the Guardian that the claim was “sheer nonsense”. “With regards to the 14th Dalai Lama, our policy has been consistent and clear,” the statement said.
The 14th incarnation, born Tenzin Gyatso, has lived in India since fleeing the province in 1959 after a failed uprising.
The Dalai Lama does not advocate independence for Tibet but more autonomy for the region. Yet successive Chinese leaders have portrayed him as a dangerous “splittist” and “wolf in monk’s robes”, and sought to prop up alternative Buddhist leaders. The officially atheist Chinese Communist party says it has the right to approve his successor.