China Still Walking the Tough Talk on Tibet

China hardens its line on the Dalai Lama, 50 years after his exile.

March 9, 2009, 12:21 PM

BEIJING, March 9, 2009— -- In the eyes of many people around the world, the Dalai Lama appears to be a benign, affable spiritual leader who hardly seems capable of representing a threat to anyone. So it can seem difficult to understand how a Chinese party official could describe the Nobel Peace Prize winner a "wolf in monk's clothing."

The chasm between China and the Dalai Lama remains as wide as ever, as two key anniversaries occur this week -- the failed uprising in Tibet that led to the Dalai Lama's exile in India 50 years ago and last year's protests that spread across Tibetan communities in the Himalayan region.

Chinese leaders continue to be suspicious of the Dalai Lama's motives, insisting he is intent on attaining independence and not simply autonomy for the Tibetans. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi reflected such a mood Saturday when a German journalist asked him about Tibet during a news conference.

"The difference between China and the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with religion, human rights, ethnic relations and culture," Yang said. "It is an issue of whether to defend China's unity against attempts to separate Tibet from China."

"The Dalai Lama's side still insists on establishing a so-called Greater Tibet on a quarter of Chinese territory. They want to drive away Chinese armed forces on Chinese territory and ask all non-Tibetans to relocate themselves, people who have long spent their lives on that part of Chinese territory."

"Do you call such a person a religious figure? Would Germany, France or other countries accept that a quarter of their territory be separated?"

Yang called on other countries not to invite the Dalai Lama and allow him to use their territory for his "secessionist activities" and warned that China considers Tibet a core issue involving sovereignty, thus elevating Tibet on the same level as the sensitive issue of Taiwan.

The Final Word on Tibet

But the foreign minister's remarks were even less strident than the long document issued by the Chinese government last week. Entitled "Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet," the white paper is meant to be the authoritative Chinese critique of the Dalai Lama's rule.

It described Tibet under the Dalai Lama as "a society, which was even darker than medieval society in Europe," and described the historical significance of the communist rule in Tibet "as entirely comparable to the emancipation of the slaves in the American civil war."

Buttressed with statistics about Tibet's progress in economic development, education, health and other areas, the white paper dismissed charges of "cultural genocide" and "religious persecution" and instead accused the West of ulterior motives:

"It is thus clear that the so-called 'Tibet issue' is by no means an ethnic, religious and human rights issue; rather, it is the Western anti-China forces attempt to restrain, split and demonize China."

Allowing no room for compromise, it asserted that "there is no way for the Dalai clique to uphold 'Tibetan independence,' neither will it succeed in its attempt to seek semi-independence or covert independence under the banner of 'a high degree of autonomy.'"

So what do Chinese authorities want the Dalai Lama to do?

As this white paper put it, "The only way out for the 14th Dalai Lama is to give up advocating 'Tibetan independence' and any attempt to restore the old system, to admit that Tibet is an inalienable part of Chinese territory, to disband the so-called 'Tibetan government-in-exile' and stop all his activities aimed at splitting the country."

With this hard-line position, it is not surprising that the talks between the Dalai Lama's representatives and the Chinese negotiators have gone nowhere.

From the Chinese perspective, the Tibetans already have their autonomy and any demand for a greater degree of autonomy is simply a cover for independence.

With the security clampdown in the Himalayan region this week, the Chinese leaders have shown they are in no mood to compromise. And it remains to be seen if they will ever reconcile with the Dalai Lama.

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