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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obituary: Lodi Gyari

Special envoy to Dalai Lama who fought for Tibet

Gyari's last post was executive chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet . Photo: Getty Images
Gyari's last post was executive chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet . Photo: Getty Images

Lodi Gyari, who has died aged 69, was a special envoy to the Dalai Lama and spent years negotiating with Chinese officials over the status of Tibet.

China invaded the Himalayan kingdom in 1951, and the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. In talks that began in 2002, Gyari pushed the Dalai Lama's proposal that Tibet be given true, rather than merely nominal, autonomy, while remaining under Chinese rule. That proposal, referred to as the "Middle Way", was rejected in 2008, the Chinese arguing that it would presage a bid for full secession.

Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari was born in 1949 in Nyarong, a Tibetan district later seized by China. He was recognised as a rinpoche, the reincarnation of a Buddhist master, and schooled in the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

He fled to India when he was 10, during the 1959 Tibetan rebellion which saw the Dalai Lama and his government relocate to Dharamsala. In 1970, he co-founded the Tibetan Youth Congress to fight for his homeland's independence; the Chinese have long said that the Congress is a terrorist organisation.

Gyari worked for a time as part of a CIA plan to train Tibetan guerillas. He then went into journalism. He edited a Tibetan-language newspaper before moving to what later became the Tibetan Review.

Jovial and eloquent, he went on to work in Dharamsala as the kalon, or minister, of the exiled government's Department of Information and International Relations - effectively foreign minister. He continued to knock on China's door, remarking in 1989: "Our strategy is to keep chasing them around so they finally sit down and talk."

His tactics bore fruit, though patience was needed: in 2002, Beijing finally reached out to the Dalai Lama, and gruelling negotiations began.

In 2005 he remarked: "The Chinese took a long time to accept me as the Tibetan interlocutor. Their objection against me has been that I am an active 'splittist' and that I am actively involved in internationalising the issue of Tibet... They wanted us to stop our international activities."

Chinese mistrust may have been heightened by Gyari's work with the US Congress on the 2002 Tibetan Policy Act, under which the US government pledged support to the Tibetans to protect their "distinct" culture. The act also created a State Department special coordinator on Tibet: the position has been vacant under President Trump.

Gyari's last post was executive chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

Lodi Gyari, who died on October 29, is survived by his wife, Dawa Chokyi, and by their six children.

© Telegraph

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