Censorship at heart of Tibet/China issue: Dalai Lama

by Lisa Baertlein, Reuters

Posted at Feb 21 2010 08:30 PM | Updated as of Feb 22 2010 04:30 AM

BEVERLY HILLS, California, United States - The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, said the United States and other countries could help his campaign for a free Tibet by promoting an open society in China.

"Censorship ... is the source of the problem," the Dalai Lama said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday in Beverly Hills.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He now lives in exile in India and advocates "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet within China.

"The Chinese people have no opportunity to know our issue," said the Buddhist monk, who Beijing has branded as a dangerous separatist for demanding Tibetan self-determination.

"Once China becomes an open society -- freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of information -- all this unnecessary fear and doubt will reduce," he said. "That's the real answer for this problem.

"American can help in this change," he said, adding that the lack of free information has helped the Chinese government portray him as a demon and a terrorist.

"Do I look like a demon?" the winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize joked, holding his fingers beside his head to make devil horns.

The Dalai Lama, who was to speak on behalf of Whole Child

International, an organization that works for orphans around the world, said Western search engines like Google Inc were important to the free flow of information within China. He noted they had ceded to pressure from the Communist government there to limit what users can see.

Google last month threatened to pull out of China if the government did not agree to stop censoring its Chinese-language service.

The Dalai Lama's visit to the Los Angeles area came on the heels of his low-key meeting on Thursday with U.S. President Barack Obama, which upset Beijing.

Obama used his first presidential meeting with the Dalai Lama to press China to preserve Tibetan identity and to respect human rights in the region, which has been under Chinese rule since 1950.

Tibetans living near the Dalai Lama's birthplace in northwest China celebrated the meeting with a rare display of fireworks while China, the second-largest creditor to the United States, condemned the move.

The Dalai Lama was reluctant to predict what impact the meeting would have.

"We will have to wait ... it's very difficult to predict," he said.

The Dalai Lama had no comment on golfer Tiger Woods' high-profile public apology on Friday. In the televised statement that riveted Americans and slowed trade on Wall Street, Woods said he had strayed from the teachings of Buddhism, a religion he practiced in his youth, when he carried on extra-marital affairs with multiple women.

The Dalai Lama said he did not know of Woods and that his own lack of knowledge about sports of all kinds was "my disgrace."