Sat Dec 18, 4:59 am ET

BEIJING (AFP) – The Dalai Lama said last year the world should focus on climate change in Tibet rather than politics as environmental problems in his Himalayan homeland were more pressing, a leaked US diplomatic memo says.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said the Chinese-ruled region could wait "five to 10 years" for a political solution, according to the cable released Friday by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and the Guardian newspaper.

The Dalai Lama, who is seen by Beijing as a "splittist" despite his repeated calls for autonomy rather than independence for Tibet, made the comments in an August 2009 meeting with the US ambassador to New Delhi, the cable reveals.

"The Dalai Lama argued that the political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau," the August 10, 2009 cable says.

"Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that 'cannot wait'," the memo quoted the Buddhist monk and Nobel peace laureate as saying to ambassador Timothy Roemer.

The Dalai Lama criticised China's energy policy, saying the construction of dams in the region had displaced thousands of Tibetans and flooded religious sites. He called for compensation and vocational training for the displaced.

He suggested the United States "consider engaging China on environmental issues in Tibet" -- prompting Roemer to speculate about a possible "broader shift in strategy to reframe the Tibet issue as an environmental concern".

In the same cable, the Dalai Lama said his faith in China's government had grown "thinner" after several rounds of failed negotiations on the future of his homeland, and said Tibetans believed China favoured "ruthless oppression".

He warned that should China become a global superpower, it would "resemble the former Soviet Union, securing its rule using suspicion and fear," the cable said.

The Dalai Lama is the global face for the Tibetan struggle against Chinese rule. He was forced to flee into exile following a failed 1959 uprising against Beijing's control of the region, and now lives in India.

In March 2008, demonstrations in Tibet's capital Lhasa marking the anniversary of that uprising descended into violence and spread to neighbouring areas with significant Tibetan populations.

China says 21 people were killed by rioters during the turmoil. But exiled groups say more than 200 Tibetans died -- most of them at the hands of Chinese security forces.

In a cable from the US embassy in Delhi dated April 10, 2008, amid the heavy security crackdown in Tibet following the protests, US diplomats reveal a desperate plea for help from the Dalai Lama.

The monk asked the diplomats to "use all effective means to persuade the PRC (China) to engage in dialogue with him" and urged Washington to take action that would "make an impact" in Beijing, the cable says.

"Tibet is a dying nation. We need America's help," it quoted the Dalai Lama as saying.