The Dalai Lama does not venture into China but he is one of the world's most intense China watchers. He has seen a distinct rise in the number and volume of voices calling for freedom:

"Now voice[s] about change, the necessity of change, now quite often you can hear, including Prime Minister Wen Jiabao," he told the Herald.

"Now more voice[s] for democracy, freedom and openness and even PM also has spoken of these things."

It reached the point where Beijing felt compelled to crack down, but the Dalai Lama said this would prove temporary: "This kind of attitude cannot remain forever. People are more educated, more independent about outside world, more and more people enjoy individual freedom.

"Naturally, even animal[s] want freedom. So therefore human being[s] naturally have desire of individual freedom. No force can stop that."

The uprisings in the Arab world had made a big impression: "These events remain in the minds of people, especially younger people."

He pointed out that China was much more economically successful and not ruled by a family but a party, in contrast to the Arab countries where dictators have been overthrown.

But nor would it require a revolution in China for greater freedom for its people. He said the Chinese communist party had shown it was capable of adjusting to new realities: "Same communist party, same system, but different reality".

He said the incoming generation of leaders would eventually learn the need for greater personal freedoms. But as for how long it might take, he did not want to be dogmatic: "That's difficult to say".

He also saw promise in China's attitude to Tibet: "Over two years we notice about 1000 articles in Chinese language wrote by Chinese - all these articles fully support our middle-way approach, not seeking independence but seeking genuine meaningful autonomy."

And while he remains an adviser, he is no longer the political leader of the Tibetan government in exile.

Instead an election produced a young, Harvard-educated lawyer.

"Nobody congratulates me" on standing down, he said, "but I am very happy."