Lodi Gyari: Standing With The Dalai Lama With the Olympics in Beijing less than a month away, the global spotlight is on China — and its treatment of Tibet. The Dalai Lama's chief negotiator, Lodi Gyari discusses the protests, the Olympics, and the best way for Tibet to push for autonomy.
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Lodi Gyari: Standing With The Dalai Lama

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Lodi Gyari: Standing With The Dalai Lama

Lodi Gyari: Standing With The Dalai Lama

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We're about to meet a man who is as old as communist China. He has spent almost his entire life in confrontation with it. Lodi Gyari was born in Tibet. He fled China's takeover of his country when he was a boy in 1959.

Mr. LODI GYARI (Chief Envoy for the Dalai Lama): I remember walking to India with only one shoe because somewhere, you know, on the road, I was too exhausted, and you know, my one foot got stuck in the mud, and when I pulled my leg, you know, it came back without a shoe.

INSKEEP: Lodi Gyari slipped away in the same year as Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, who is visiting the United States this week. The Dalai Lama will be honored in Wisconsin tomorrow. And this morning, we'll talk with the man who grew up to be his chief envoy, Lodi Gyari, that boy with one shoe. He's the latest voice in our series The Long View, our conversations with people of long experience. He's traveled for years to negotiate with Chinese officials. Since this spring's violence in Tibet, he has traveled twice to meet Communist party officials in Beijing.

Mr. GYARI: Well personally, I must say that our counterparts, they've been wonderful hosts. And sometimes, there is a tremendous arrogance. I'm not talking about arrogance at the personal level, but kind of an institutional arrogance.

INSKEEP: Do you mean they think they run the country, and they think you're causing trouble? Is that the attitude?

Mr. GYARI: Well, I mean, the fact is they do run the country. And yes, they do certainly believe that we are, I think, ungrateful and causing them unending problems.

INSKEEP: A few months ago on this program, we interviewed the Chinese ambassador to the United States and asked him about four times, I believe, if he would accept that whatever China's position, whatever China's concerns, that Tibetans may have legitimate grievances. He didn't answer. Let me turn the question around to you. You said you've spoken with Chinese officials. You've heard them, I'm sure, say they're concerned about law and order, about stability. Would you concede that China's government does have legitimate grievances that it's trying to deal with here?

Mr. GYARI: Well, first of all, I think, you know, you mentioned about your effort to get the ambassador, you know, and unfortunately, I have a similar difficulty with my counterparts. Even after the recent March events in Tibet...

INSKEEP: The violence in Tibet, yes.

Mr. GYARI: Well, unfortunately yes. There was some violence. But, you know, what I'm trying to say is that China sometimes take a position that oh, there's no problem in Tibet. Everything's fine. Tibetans are very grateful. There's prosperity. There's this and there's that. Now I told my counterparts look, how can you now deny that you have no problem?

INSKEEP: But is there a concern, is there a legitimate concern on the part of the Chinese government that you see in maintaining stability, law and order, however they would like to phrase it?

Mr. GYARI: Well as far as - yes, you know, they feel that, you know, this is more a law-and-order situation. And they feel that, you know, whenever there are disturbances, which they term then as, you know, being violent or, you know, inspired by separatist elements, they feel that, you know, they have a legitimate responsibility to crack down and to suppress. But unfortunately, you know, I told them repeatedly that look, you know, this is not going to resolve the issue. The more you suppress, the more the resentment. So they have to, you know, take this opportunity that the Dalai Lama is offering to reach out to him. We can provide them legitimacy, but if and only if the Tibetans are also given the opportunity to live in dignity.

INSKEEP: That leads to another point. You do get a sense of people talking past one another, that you will insist that you're looking for autonomy within China. And the Chinese will say we don't buy that. They seem to be seeking independence, something way beyond autonomy. I'd just like to approach it this way. When you went to Beijing recently for these talks, did you feel, as the plane landed, that you were landing in the capital of your country?

Mr. GYARI: No. I'll be very candid. At the moment, because of their misrule, the fact is that vast majority of Tibetans do not feel, you know, part of that family.

INSKEEP: That's what I want to know. Because if you don't feel like you were even in the capital of your country, isn't it emotionally too late? And that emotion may overcome any practicalities or any negotiating positions the Tibetans may have.

Mr. GYARI: Well, I don't think still it is too late. But yes, this is unfortunately the feeling of the vast majority of Tibetans. Now, because of the recent problems with the Olympics, what is really disheartening is that every Tibetan, including Tibetans who are party members, including Tibetans who occupy considerable important positions in the Chinese government, when they were trying to leave China - there has been cases where, you know, a delegation of 10 people leaving China for some conference. And among them, there happened to be one or two Tibetans. All others, you know, go without any hitch.

INSKEEP: The Tibetan doesn't get the exit papers.

Mr. GYARI: Well, he gets it. He or she gets it, but after spending, you know, an hour explaining.

INSKEEP: You're saying there's a lot of suspicion of Tibetans at each official port?

Mr. GYARI: Yes. Yes. And similarly, now, in China, where the Tibetans are kind of expected to check into some kind of hotel, there has been cases where, you know, Tibetans walk in, you know, to a nice hotel. Do you have a room? Oh, yes, yes. Of course. You see, because capitalism is very, you know, flourishing. Oh, yes, sir. Yes, oh, we do have a room. And then, you know, may I have your identity? Oh yes, sure. You know? They pull out the identity, which then says the nationality, Tibetan. Immediately, oh, it seems that we have sold out.

INSKEEP: The hotels are full, as far as Tibetans are concerned.

Mr. GYARI: The hotels are full. "Oh. I thought we had some room." So what I'm trying to say is that there is definitely, you know, very strong mental barrier that exists on both sides. So we will continue to make effort. We have agreed to meet again in October - of course, you know, typical Chinese style. You know? "If you behave."

INSKEEP: How, if at all, do you expect Tibetans to protest or make their views known during the Olympics in August?

Mr. GYARI: Well, his holiness the Dalai Lama has repeatedly urged - and I think his urging had a tremendous impact of not at all causing any disturbance to the Olympics, because Olympics, we certainly believe, is important for the Chinese as a people.

INSKEEP: Well, if nothing happens during the games in the way of serious protest that disrupts the games, do you think that when you return to the negotiating table with the Chinese Communist party in October after the games that things might be different?

Mr. GYARI: Well, this is the great opportunity for them to prove, one, that China does things by herself, not because of international pressure. Two, that they're serious, and they were not doing, you know, all these talks for the sake of the Olympics.

INSKEEP: Oh, to get past the Olympics.

Mr. GYARI: Yes, so therefore - yes. In fact, I think the October meeting is very important because then the Olympics will be behind us. I can certainly speak for the Dalai Lama - he's sincere, he's serious. So let's hope that President Hu is serious and sincere. And come October, we'll know it.

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INSKEEP: And that's The Long View from Lodi Gyari, special envoy to the Dalai Lama of Tibet. You can find more of our conversations with people of long experience at npr.org.

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