Fifty years after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet with his followers to India, his older brother lives on a quiet
hilltop here, just beyond his Himalayan homeland, like an exile among exiles.
At 80 years old with a stooped back and bad knees, Gyalo Thondup remains one of the Tibetan
community's strongest supporters of better ties with Beijing. But it is an increasingly unpopular stance
among younger Tibetan exiles as their bitterness toward China grows over years of fruitless dialogue
and a violent security clampdown in Tibet.
Relations between the two sides have become sufficiently tense that the Dalai Lama's envoys have
suspended talks with China. Still, Mr. Thondup has maintained his largely improvised role in trying to
bring the two sides closer together. Over the past year of troubles in Tibet, he has courted Chinese
officials to try to defuse tensions. His wristwatch is set to Beijing time.
'Even if we don't agree, I will go and talk to them,' says Mr. Thondup during an interview at his home
in Kalimpong, the Indian trading town wedged between Nepal and Bhutan. 'It's in the interest of China
and Tibet, we must live peacefully. We must deal with each other.'
It is a message that may be put to the test in the weeks ahead as the anniversary of the Dalai Lama's
flight to India approaches. Last year's protests in Tibetan areas of China to mark the March 10, 1959,
popular uprising in Tibet turned violent and were crushed.
There have been reports of fresh protests and arrests. On Thursday, a Communist Party official in Tibet
warned Buddhist clergy against political activity. Lobsang Gyaincain, a member of the standing
committee of the regional Communist Party, demanded that monks and nuns recognize what he called
the 'reactionary nature' of the Dalai Lama clique, the official Tibet Daily reported.
For its part, China has declared March 28 'Serf Emancipation Day' to celebrate the toppling of Tibet's
feudal leadership five decades ago.
As tensions rise, a Tibetan exile task force postponed dialogue with China until the anniversary passes.
'At the moment we are much more concerned with the situation on the ground,' said Lodi Gyari, special
envoy of the Dalai Lama. 'His Holiness has advised caution and restraint.'
Some Tibetan exile groups want to see the Dalai Lama take a tougher stand toward China -- an
approach Mr. Thondup opposes. The Tibetan Youth Congress is planning a series of pro-independence
rallies in the weeks ahead. One protest in Dharmsala, the north Indian town that serves as headquarters
for Tibet's government in exile, will burn effigies of Mao Zedong and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as
part of the traditional 'sweeping away of evil spirits' ahead of the Tibetan New Year, according to the
group's president, Tsewang Rigzin.
Mr. Thondup is blunt about why he hasn't achieved more in three decades of talks with Chinese
officials. 'How can a person discuss morality, reason and compassion with gangsters ' he says. 'Of
course,' Mr. Thondup chortles, 'they think I'm a gangster, too.'
Mr. Thondup's relationship with China began shortly after his brother was tapped as Tibet's spiritual
leader in 1937. In the early 1940s, a regent dispatched Mr. Thondup, then 14 years old, to Nanjing to
learn Mandarin. In the wartime capital, he befriended China's leader, Chiang Kai-shek, and eventually
wound up in India.
In an attempt to defend Tibet in the 1950s, Mr. Thondup entered the world of clandestine resistance,
eliciting aid from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for the training and arming of Tibetan fighters
who were parachuted back into Tibet. Most of the agents were caught or killed. With his brother's
consent, Mr. Thondup met in 1979 with the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, and embarked on 14 years
of talks. The talks failed to reach a settlement and Mr. Thondup bowed out of his role as envoy. Still,
he continues to engage his old contacts.
Following the year-ago protests, he met with Chinese officials to complain that their demonizing the
Dalai Lama would inflame Tibetan anger; he claims leaders later toned down their rhetoric. He has
lobbied fellow Tibetans to avoid provoking Beijing.
'Tibetans have to deal with China carefully,' he says.