Dalai Lama to tweet with Chinese public

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 May, 2010, 12:00am


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In an effort to reach out to the mainland public, the Dalai Lama will chat online today with Twitter users.

It is the first time the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader will interact with a large number of the Chinese, whose knowledge of the Nobel Peace Prize winner is largely derived from the authorities' frequent condemnations of him as a separatist.

The roughly hour-long session between 8pm and 9pm will be broadcast on Twitter via the account of Wang Lixiong, a mainland critic of China's Tibet and Xinjiang policies who has close ties with the Dalai Lama.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 260 questions, mostly in Chinese and submitted from the mainland, had been collected through Google Moderator, an internet tool that has been used by US President Barack Obama to collect questions for his town-hall meetings.

The Twitter session was conceived after Wang sent a letter to the Dalai Lama on May 5 suggesting he tap into the influence of Twitter among mainland users so that they could better understand him.

'Over the years, only the official scenario of the Tibet problem exists inside China, and this unquestionably makes it difficult [for the Chinese people] to know the truth of the issue,' Wang wrote in the letter, which was posted on his blog.

'In the past, only a few selected people from the mainland could have contact with you owing to isolation ... and lack of information flow, but this is not enough.'

Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric against the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile since 2008, when the Beijing Olympic torch relay was almost derailed by an international outcry against China's heavy-handed crackdown on the bloody protests in Tibet in March that year. China accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests and plotting to sabotage the Games. Public campaigns also inflamed nationalism among many Chinese at home and abroad in denouncing the causes championed by the Dalai Lama.

A popular social networking tool around the world, Twitter has been blocked on the mainland since the middle of last year. Yet many have managed to circumvent the 'Great Firewall' of internet censorship and log on to the website. The Dalai Lama recently registered a Twitter account.

'More than 80,000 mainland Chinese have skirted internet censorship and established a free Chinese Twitter community,' Wang wrote to the Dalai Lama. 'Many of them are opinion leaders and communicators among the Chinese public. Your direct interaction with them would amount to interaction with the Chinese public.'

The Dalai Lama and Wang are both in the US and will meet in New York for the online chat.

Wang said on his blog he would hand a list of the most popular questions to the spiritual leader. His answers would be excerpted on Twitter, and a full transcript would be uploaded on Wang's Twitter account later.

Among the questions most asked are those about Tibet's future and the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

'The dialogues between the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Chinese Communist Party have been going on for 10 years without yielding any result. What are the major sources of divergence?' one says.

Tenzin Taklha, the Dalai Lama's spokesman, said: 'It's important to have contacts with the mainland Chinese because a lot of information conveyed by the Chinese government is not true.'