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Tibet looms as diplomatic liability for Beijing as EU head prepares to visit China

April 22, 2008

The Associated Press
Monday, April 21, 2008

BEIJING: The European Commission's president plans to discuss concerns
over Tibet on a visit to Beijing, in the latest sign that unrest in the
Himalayan region is becoming a diplomatic distraction for the communist

Jose Manuel Barroso, whose two-day China visit begins Thursday, will
take up the prickly topic as part of discussions on human rights and
freedom of expression, a commission spokesman in Beijing said Monday.

The visit comes amid rising calls from world leaders for Beijing to sit
down with its critics and discuss accusations that its hard-line
policies there are alienating many Tibetans and eroding the region's
traditional Buddhist culture.

Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda put it clearest on Friday when he
told China's visiting foreign minister that China "must face the reality
that the Tibetan conflict has become an international issue."

Protesters against China's rule in Tibet have shadowed the global torch
relay for this summer's Beijing Olympics, forcing organizers to severely
curtail several legs of an event China hoped would showcase its
prosperity, modernity and rising global influence.

A major Japanese Buddhist temple last week withdrew from a plan to host
the April 26 torch relay in the central city of Nagano, citing safety
concerns and sympathy among its monks and worshippers for Tibetan

Barroso will be leading a delegation of nine commissioners for
discussions on topics from intellectual property protection to climate
change during his visit that was planned months ago.

Yet recent events in Tibet will likely dominate the news coverage, if
not the actual talks themselves.

China was also expected to repeat complaints about a recent European
Parliament resolution calling on the 27 governments to explore "the
option of nonattendance" at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in
Beijing this August if China continues to refuse to engage the region's
exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.

Further stirring Beijing's ire, the parliament's president has invited
the Dalai Lama to address the assembly, although no date has been
announced yet.

Barroso has said he opposes boycotting the Beijing Olympics over Tibet.

In a statement, the European Commission said it had maintained a
dialogue with China on human rights and freedom of expression. "The
recent events in Tibet are a further reason to speak about them," it said.

A commission spokesman in Beijing, William Fingleton, said Tibet would
be raised in meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

China announced Barroso's visit last week but did not say what would be

Beijing has repeatedly refused calls for dialogue with critics on Tibet,
including the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government accuses his supporters
of organizing protests that turned violent on March 14 and have since
spread over a wide swath of western China.

China said 22 people died in rioting in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on
March 14 when hundreds of shops were torched and Chinese civilians
attacked. The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile denies any involvement in
the violence. It says more than 140 people were killed in the government

Outrage in China about what is portrayed as foreign interference in
Tibet has spread on the Internet and in state media, and anti-Western
protests flared in several Chinese cities at the weekend.

Meanwhile, state broadcaster CCTV reported Monday night on a statement
issued by French retailer Carrefour, whose stores were targeted by
protesters in nine Chinese cities. The statement denied rumors online
that Carrefour supports the Dalai Lama, opposed calls for an Olympic
boycott and expressed full support for the Beijing Games.

The French government has also sought to soothe Chinese anger about
protesters attacking the Olympic torch during the relay's Paris leg.

On Monday French Senate President Christian Poncelet delivered a letter
from France's President Nicolas Sarkozy to a young Chinese woman in a
wheelchair who became a national hero for defending the Olympic torch
from a pro-Tibet protester in Paris.

The letter "expressed the French people's sympathy for the young woman"
and invited her back to France for a visit, said Agnes Humuzian, a
spokeswoman for the French consulate in Shanghai.

Despite such moves, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner again
reiterated calls for China to talk to the Dalai Lama during a weekend
meeting with a Chinese special envoy, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
Pascale Andreani said Monday in an online briefing.

Rejecting such calls, China has responded instead with a well-worn
program of repression and political attacks on the Dalai Lama, who fled
into exile in 1959, eight years after Chinese troops occupied Tibet.
Thousands of Tibetans have been detained and political indoctrination
ratcheted-up, especially among politically active monks.

State media announced a two-month "patriotic education" campaign to
cover the capital Lhasa and surrounding rural areas. It said the
campaign was aimed at boosting support for the government and denouncing
the Dalai Lama, who remains deeply revered by Tibetans despite Beijing's
attempts to demonize him.

Such campaigns were common throughout China in the early decades of
communist rule, but have grown increasingly rare in recent years.
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