Cambridge, MA, USA, 30 April 2009 (By Michael Paulson, The Boston Globe) - The Dalai Lama, kicking off a four-day visit to the Boston area, today acknowledged China's extraordinary economic and political might, but said the world's largest nation's quest to be considered a superpower will be stymied as long as China continues to dodge human rights concerns.
The 73-year-old spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who has led a government in exile in India for 50 years, beamed and laughed as he fielded questions from the Boston news media at the Charles Hotel, sitting in a conference room decorated with images of doodles and notes by former President John F. Kennedy. As he began the session, he was noticeably fatigued, but he became increasingly animated, and as he rose to leave, a reporter's shouted question about whether he ever expected to set foot in Tibet again prompted a lengthy finger-pointing response about the meanings of home and of hope, and he then plunged into the media scrum to bow, shake hands, and pose for pictures.
Perhaps the most pointed moment of the news conference came when the Dalai Lama appeared to compare the U.S. to China, criticizing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside his criticism of China's repression of Tibetan demonstrators last year.
Despite the fact that some have criticized the Obama administration, and particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for allegedly soft-pedalling human rights concerns when talking with China, the Dalai Lama said he saw no change in American policy toward Tibet with the arrival of the new administration, and he praised Obama as "straightforward" and for trying to improve some of America's testier foreign relationships.
But the Dalai Lama also acknowledged that he is not meeting with Obama during his current trip the US, and said that he hopes, but is not certain, that he will meet the president during another trip to the U.S. in October. And the Dalai Lama said, referring to former President George W. Bush, "I love President Bush,'' acknowledging serious policy disagreements, but citing Bush's warm personality.
The Dalai Lama offered warm remarks about Harvard University, which he first visited in 1979, and will visit again tomorrow with a speech at The Memorial Church and a tree-planting ceremony in Harvard Yard. The Dalai Lama has cultivated a relationship with Harvard because of a perception that many the nation's future leaders study there.
During this visit to Boston -- the Dalai Lama's sixth trip to the region -- he will also dedicate a new ethics center, named after him, at MIT; will discuss the relationship between meditation and psychotherapy at a Harvard Medical School sponsored panel discussion, and will host two large public events, including an introductory course in Buddhism, that are expected to be attended by as many as 13,000 people on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
While in Cambridge, the Dalai Lama was scheduled to meet privately with a handful of elderly and disabled Tibetan-Americans, but most of the area's tiny Tibetan community -- estimated at about 600 people -- is expected to arrive en masse in Foxboro on Saturday.
"I doubt there is a single Tibetan in Boston who won't be there -- this is a huge deal for Tibetans to see His Holiness,'' said Dhondup Phunkhang, a spokesman for the Tibetan Association of Boston. "Tibetans in Tibet risk their lives to see him, so of course we who live in a free country should go. It's a huge honor to be able to see him and to associate with His Holiness.''
The Dalai Lama, asked whether, after 50 years with no success in his quest to win greater autonomy for Tibet, there is any reason for hope for the Tibetan cause, acknowledged that rationally there is little cause for optimism. However, he offered a brief history of post-revolutionary China, suggesting that the nation has repeatedly changed course in serious ways, and so it is possible it will change again. He said China has essentially abandoned socialism -- he called it a "capitalist autocratic communist'' nation. And he said the Chinese people have been more sympathetic to the Tibetan cause than has the Chinese government -- he cited as evidence what he said were articles sympathetic to Tibet that have been written by Chinese authors over the last year.