The Dalai Lama gestures prior to receiving an honorary degree from the Jamia… (Manan Vatsyayana / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from New Delhi — The Dalai Lama plans to give up his largely ceremonial role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, an aide said Tuesday, in what appeared to be part of a long-term strategy to make the movement less vulnerable to Chinese strong-arm tactics.
But the 75-year-old leader would retain his role as spiritual head of the Tibetan community and remain a focal point for efforts to achieve greater religious and cultural autonomy for the Tibetan people, said spokesman Tenzin Taklha.
Beijing, which views the Dalai Lama as a pariah bent on splitting China, has adopted various tactics in its bid to weaken the leader and undercut his efforts to expand Tibetan autonomy in China.
The Chinese Communist Party has named its own Panchen Lama, the second-highest-ranking lama after the Dalai Lama, in competition with the Dalai Lama's choice for the post. It has issued regulations forbidding "reincarnation without authorization."
Beijing has also outlawed photos of the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan plateau, which accounts for about 25% of Chinese territory, and used its diplomatic clout to discourage foreign dignitaries from meeting the religious leader.
In response, the Dalai Lama has tried to decentralize the structure of the Tibetan movement and make it less dependent on him and less vulnerable to Chinese pressure, analysts say, even as he has considered innovative ways to ensure a smooth succession after his death.
He has been "advising Tibetans for quite a while now that they must carry out their responsibilities as if he weren't there," Taklha added. "This is not an issue of one person but 6 million people."
China assumed sovereignty over Tibet after invading it in late 1950 and maintains that Tibet has always been an integral part of its territory; many Tibetans say their ancestors enjoyed de facto independence from their giant neighbor for centuries.
The Dalai Lama's advanced age has sparked concern inside and outside China that his eventual death could splinter the diverse Tibetan community.
The Dalai Lama is expected to propose an end to his ceremonial role at the next session of the parliament-in-exile in March in Dharamsala, the Indian hill town he settled in after fleeing Tibet in 1959 to evade advancing Chinese troops.
It is not a given, however, that the parliament-in-exile will agree.
"The parliament may refuse to let him resign," said Matthew Akester, an independent Tibet researcher based in Dharamsala. "As we've seen in the past, other leaders may say, 'We can't do without you' and 'We don't want democracy,' because he's holding everything together."
Although China, which in the past has called the Dalai Lama a "wolf in monk's robes," tends to respond often in scathing terms to every bit of news about the exiled leader, Akester said he didn't expect Beijing to go "particularly crazy" with this development.
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been working to reduce his role in the government-in-exile for the last decade, spokesman Taklha said, considering himself in semi-retirement since the 2001 election of a Tibetan prime minister-in-exile.
If the parliament-in-exile accepts his request to relinquish such ceremonial duties as addressing the body and signing resolutions, the change would take effect next fall.
"But he'll always be the Dalai Lama, and in terms of the political struggle, he'll always be looked upon by the Tibetan people as their political leader," Taklha said. "And promoting human values, he's made very clear, is his lifelong commitment."
Anshul Rana in The Times' New Delhi Bureau contributed to this report.