China cranked up its attack on the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, with one official calling him “a wolf in a monk’s robe” and “a monster with a human face.”
Beijing’s vilification of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader came as Tibetan activists rallied around the 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who threatened Tuesday to quit as leader of his government in exile if followers did not stop acts of violence in the region’s largest anti-China protests in two decades.
Several activists, perhaps wary of showing divisions at a time when their movement is seeking international support, on Wednesday called the Dalai Lama an irreplaceable figure and the only person capable of uniting his followers.
“As long as the Dalai Lama is alive, he will be the central political figure in the Tibetan movement for political and human rights,” Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said from India. “He is the heart and soul of Tibet. He stands for our identity and spiritual survival.”
Tibet has been convulsed over the last week by often-violent protests against nearly six decades of Chinese rule, leaving scores of people dead by some estimates. Whereas protesters have chanted “Free Tibet” and clashed with security forces, the Dalai Lama has preached nonviolence and promoted a more limited goal of greater autonomy for Tibetans.
Chinese officials, however, have directed much of their rhetorical fire at the Tibetan leader. “We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” Tibet’s Communist Party chief, Zhang Qingli, was quoted as saying by the state-run Tibet Daily on Wednesday.
Zhang called the Dalai Lama “a wolf in a monk’s robe, a monster with a human face but the heart of a beast.”
In an interview with the official New China News Agency, he noted what he suggested was China’s success in bringing progress and prosperity to once-backward Tibet and called the Communist Party “the real living Buddha of the people.”
Such rhetoric has left some Tibetan activists fuming and calling for more aggressive action, despite the Dalai Lama’s pleas for nonviolence.
“Our hope is the Communist leadership would change its policy on Tibet. There is no sign of that,” said Wangpo Tethong, president of the National Olympic Committee of Tibet, a Switzerland-based group that this week pulled its application for a separate team of Tibetan athletes to attend the Beijing Olympics in August. “Now is not the time to find solutions through negotiations. We have to go back to protests.”
In some ways, the Dalai Lama is caught between the Chinese government, which accuses him of fanning the flames of independence, and many Tibetans who would push him to do more to support the goals of the protests. On Wednesday, he met with activists determined to march from India to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
“His holiness believes it’s not realistic,” said Tsering Tashi, the London-based representative of the Tibetan government in exile. “Even if they reach Tibet, they will be shot at and killed. He is worried about their lives.
“We live in a free world,” Tashi said. “His role is to advise his people. Whether they listen to him or not is up to them.”
China’s state media reported that authorities had arrested 24 suspects and charged them with endangering state security and other “grave crimes.” In addition, Beijing vowed to keep plans to include the Mt. Everest summit and Tibet on the Olympic torch relay route despite the riots and government crackdown.
Students for a Free Tibet, however, has called for a boycott of the Tibetan leg of the race “unless the International Olympics Committee wants the Olympic torch to become a symbol of bloodshed and oppression.”
Despite China’s harsh rhetoric, some Tibetans contend that the Dalai Lama offers Beijing its best hope of easing the conflict over Tibet.
“China is one of the most powerful countries in the world, yet it is afraid of one person, and that’s the Dalai Lama,” said Dalha Tsering, campaign coordinator for the Tibetan Community in Britain. “He is the only person holding Tibetans from turning violent and confrontational. When his holiness goes, nobody can predict where the situation will go.”