DHARAMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama Sunday said he would not immediately break off talks with China over Tibet's future even though hundreds of his top followers want him to halt what they see as fruitless negotiations.
"Wait another month. Then we'll decide," he said at a news conference.
His remarks kept alive the possibility that six-year-long talks between Beijing and his government-in-exile have not utterly broken down.
The Dalai Lama, who is spiritual leader of Tibetans, warmly praised a historic forum of Tibetan exiles that brought together 560 scholars, activists, refugee leaders, business owners and senior monks from around the globe over the past week.
The forum, which ended Saturday, gave an unprecedented voice to younger exiles who want him to withdraw his recognition of China's sovereignty over Tibet while seeking greater autonomy. The majority of exiles still back the Dalai Lama's position but a minority group of pro-independence exiles was formally recognized as legitimate rather than rabble-rousers who should be excluded.
One participant in the forum said back-channel links with China remain active and may have prompted the Dalai Lama's call for a month-long hiatus.
"The Tibetan side is waiting for informal channels to give the final signal," said Lobsang Sangay, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School, who led a subgroup at the exile forum. "There are a few people going back and forth (between Dharamsala and Beijing). There are some common friends."
The Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959 with thousands of his followers as Chinese troops consolidated Beijing's control of Tibet. Since then, he has become a global icon for his peaceful efforts to loosen China's grip, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He set up a government-in-exile headquartered in this northern Indian hill town.
After an eighth round of talks ended earlier this month, China scolded the Dalai Lama for sending envoys to the talks with a proposal that it said was a hidden attempt to sever Tibet from China's' grasp. It described as "doomed" any effort to seek Tibetan independence.
The talks have drawn little international attention. No foreign country openly recognizes the Tibetan government-in-exile even though the Dalai Lama is widely admired outside of China for his pacifist approach and his secular calls for greater global compassion and united action to fight global warming and protect the environment.
At a final session of the Nov. 17-22 closed-door meeting of exiles, Tibetan exile parliamentary Speaker Karma Choephel said a majority of exiles "were in favor of the Middle Way approach" espoused by the Dalai Lama.
Deputy Speaker Dolma Gyari said participants urged the government in exile to cease sending envoys for further contact with China, and warned that if China does not send a positive signal soon "then there is no option left for us than to go for complete independence."
The Dalai Lama didn't take part in the forum because he said he didn't want to sway opinions among exiles, many of whom revere him as a deity, but was aware of daily discussions.
He warmly praised what he called the "very frank" debate among the exiles.
"They expressed fully what they believed, without fear," he said.
He recounted the history of negotiations with China, which began in 2002, offering a glimpse at the complexity of dealing with a one-party state where leaders must answer to a nine-member Politburo standing committee that is less unified than appears.
At one point in the talks, the Dalai Lama said, a go-between offered advice that "such-and-such a leader (is) very, very keen on talks," while others were not, adding up to "complicated, confusing signals."
He reiterated a contention that Tibetan culture is being choked by Chinese control, a charge that Beijing denies.
China is "trying to eliminate" Tibetan culture and spirit, he said, adding, "Things are very, very sad for us."
In an enigmatic aside, perhaps resulting from his operation last month to remove gallstones, from which he is fully recovered, he said: "I'm not a dead duck!" and began to giggle.
More from McClatchy:
McClatchy Newspapers 2008