Dalai Lama steps away from political role over Tibet exiles

BEIJING — The Dalai Lama announced Thursday that he intends to transfer his political authority over the Tibetan government in exile to an elected leader, a move that he said would promote democratic development but that the Chinese government slammed as "tricks to deceive the international community."

"We have been able to implement democracy in exile that is in keeping with the standards of an open society," the Dalai Lama said from his base in Dharamsala, India, on the anniversary of the unsuccessful 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese government.

He later added, in prepared remarks, "My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run."

The Dalai Lama's push for democratic succession in the exile government, coupled with his calls for more freedom of expression and political transparency in China, brought swift condemnation from Chinese authorities, who exercise tight control over Tibet and have sought to cast the Dalai Lama as a dangerous outside political agitator.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu described the 75-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader as being "engaged in activities aimed at splitting China."

The state Xinhua news service carried described the Dalai Lama's speech as a "political show" that one Communist Party official from Tibet said was evidence that "some anti-China forces in the West are still using (the Dalai Lama's) residual value."

It wasn't clear how soon the Dalai Lama's proposed changes might take effect _ he is to formally propose them to the Tibetan parliament in exile that begins its session on Monday, though the Associated Press quoted the current exile prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, as saying "despite His Holiness' request, the people and the government do not feel competent to lead ourselves."

The Dalai Lama has spoken previously about stepping back from political duties, but his role in the Tibetan cause is so towering and central that it's difficult to imagine without him at the forefront.

The Dalai Lama said that in blaming him for troubles in Tibet _ where riots broke out in 2008 _ the Chinese government fundamentally misstates the situation.

"The reality is that the ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people has provoked widespread, deep resentment against current official policies," he said.

Beijing's repressive measures, the Dalai Lama said, are themselves what undermine "unity and stability."

The Dalai Lama's comments came on the same day that a senior Chinese official, politburo standing committee member Wu Bangguo, told China's rubberstamp congress that it was necessary to "unswervingly uphold the (Communist) Party's leadership."

"All the laws and regulations must be conducive to strengthening and improving the party's leadership, and be helpful to consolidate and improve the party's ruling status," Wu said in his address at the Great Hall of the People.

To suggest otherwise, he'd said, would risk a scenario in which "the fruits of development that we have already achieved will be lost and the country could even fall into the abyss of civil strife."

The Chinese government recently declared a temporary ban on foreigners traveling to Tibet, presumably because the 2008 unrest came during March.


Follow Tom on Twitter

Follow China developments at McClatchy's China Rises blog

China wants better image, but not at the risk of security

China cracks down on protest threats, rounds up dissidents

Even more than Mideast, China keeps firm grip on Internet

In China, a New Year's cartoon tests boundaries of free speech

Thousands of cameras watch China's Uighurs, inhibiting discourse

Death in China: Crushing dissent or tragic accident?

Nobel awarded to empty chair as China keeps dissidents quiet

Related stories from McClatchy DC