Global acclaim can't hide Dalai Lama's troubles

As Tibetans mark 50 years since China's occupation of Tibet, Dalai Lama is as far as ever from returning home

A young demonstrator waves a Tibetan flag during speeches at a pro-Tibetan march and rally in Trafalgar Square in central London, England on Saturday.

Tibetan voices

A young demonstrator waves a Tibetan flag during speeches at a pro-Tibetan march and rally in Trafalgar Square in central London, England on Saturday.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, listens to his staff during a news conference in Narita city, Chiba prefecture, Japan in this April 200

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, listens to his staff during a news conference in Narita city, Chiba prefecture, Japan in this April 200

Fifty years after fleeing Tibet, the Dalai Lama is as far as ever from returning home - leaving him the leader of a people he never sees and the head of a stateless government.
The harsh reality is that his decades of campaigning have achieved little, in contrast to his status as one of the world's most admired men - greeted with near universal acclaim wherever his gruelling itinerary takes him.
In Dharamshala, the Indian hill town where he and his fellow exiles are based, the Dalai Lama's predicament is shared by the whole community.
"The last 50 years have been extremely difficult, perhaps the toughest period in the history of the Tibetan people," Ngawang Woebar, a former political prisoner who escaped from Tibet in 1991, said.
"His Holiness the Dalai Lama has done a lot but we accept that he has not received the due response required from China."
Woebar, 40, fled over the Himalayas on foot after serving a prison sentence for his political activities and fearing he was about to be arrested again.
"Even though we agree that the Dalai Lama's policies have failed to bring about a solution, we think that he can still secure progress," he said, reflecting the Tibetans' continuing loyalty to their leader.
And, despite China's complete rejection of the Dalai Lama's pleas for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet, Woebar struck a note of defiance ahead of events in Dharamshala to mark the Nobel peace laureate's 50th year in exile.
"We don't believe it will take another 50 years to go back home because a lot of things are changing," Woebar said. "Globalization and the spreading awareness of human rights are two areas that give us hope."
The failure of the Dalai Lama to negotiate any concessions from China was brought into sharp focus last year when he publicly acknowledged that his "middle way" policy - as it is dubbed - may have run out of steam.
Such an outburst of frustration was uncharacteristic for the 73-year-old, whose smiling face symbolizes for millions of people a heroic, non-violent struggle against injustice.
"I have to accept failure," he said at the time. "Suppression (in Tibet) is increasing and I cannot pretend that everything is OK."
But an ensuing meeting of prominent Tibet exiles held in Dharamshala to find a new way forward concluded, after a week of talks, that the Dalai Lama's conciliatory approach should be maintained.
One reason for the reluctance to change policy to an overt call for Tibet's full independence from China was the fear that such a move would cost the movement much of its international support.
It also demonstrated the lack of options available to the Dalai Lama, five long decades after he fled Tibet in 1959 following a quashed rebellion against Chinese rule.
"We should exert more pressure on China," said Tenzin Choeying, of the influential Students for a Free Tibet group, which backs a more aggressive stance towards Beijing.
"We need to be the catalyst for changes in China that will bring about democracy."
Apparently stuck in a permanent impasse, and with concern mounting over the Dalai Lama's health, Tibetans rely on bottomless optimism to fuel their dreams.
"I don't think it will be another 50 years in exile," Choeying said. "The way that the Tibetans inside Tibet have shown their resentment and issued calls for freedom has been an inspiration for us.
"I'm very positive. Of course I believe that one day I will see Tibet."
Tibet since 1959
October 1950: Chinese communist forces pour into Tibet and easily defeat Tibet's small armed resistance in what China calls a "liberation" of the Himalayan region from feudalism. The exiled Tibetan government, now based in India, calls it an invasion.
May 1951: Tibetan representatives sign an agreement in Beijing with the People's Republic of China, which affirms China's sovereignty over Tibet. Tibetan exiles later insist the agreement was entered into under force.
March 10, 1959: Revolt erupts in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, against Chinese rule. China invokes martial law in Tibet. Tibet government-in-exile says the Chinese army killed tens of thousands of people in the crackdown.
March 31, 1959: The Dalai Lama, Tibet's ruler and spiritual leader, arrives in India and begins his life in exile after the uprising failed. India grants him political asylum on April 3.
1965: China creates the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which includes about half of traditional Tibet. Other areas are incorporated into existing Chinese provinces.
1988: Hu Jintao, China's future president, becomes Communist Party chief of Tibet, and presides over a crackdown in the region.
January 1989: The 10th Panchen Lama of Tibet, the region's second-highest ranking figure who spent many years living in Beijing, dies unexpectedly in the Himalayan region after criticizing Chinese rule.
March 1989: Unrest in Lhasa to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1959 uprising leads to martial law, and a crackdown that exiles say leaves dozens and possibly hundreds dead.
October 1989: The Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize. The award infuriates China, which declares Tibet a "sacred territory" of the "motherland."
May 14, 1995: The Dalai Lama names Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama, but the Chinese government quickly names another child. Gedhun and his family subsequently vanish. Rights groups say he was imprisoned and may be dead. China says he is in protective custody.
March 10, 2008: Buddhist monks and others in Tibet and around the world stage peaceful demonstrations on the 49th anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising.
March 14, 2008: Major anti-Chinese rioting erupts in Lhasa and spreads to neighbouring areas of western China with Tibetan populations. Tibet's exiled government says more than 200 Tibetans are killed in China's subsequent crackdown. China reports killing one Tibetan "insurgent" and says "rioters" are responsible for 21 deaths.