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Guess who's not invited to the Olympics?

July 21, 2008

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING Sun Jul 20, 2008 (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama may be the guest of
honour of U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and other world leaders, but you won't find Tibet's exiled spiritual
leader on the Beijing Olympics guest list.

Also missing from the list is Ma Ying-jeou, the Harvard-educated,
democratically elected president of self-ruled Taiwan which Beijing has
claimed as its own since their split in 1949 amid civil war, despite a
recent thaw in relations.

The Dalai Lama's appearance could have helped repair China's
international image, which was dented by a government crackdown
following rioting among Tibetans in March -- the worst in the Himalayan
region since 1989. But China fears he would steal Chinese President Hu
Jintao's thunder.

"It's supposed to be Hu Jintao's Olympics, but it'll become the Dalai
Lama's Olympics if he attends," a source familiar with government policy
said requesting anonymity.

The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive
uprising against Chinese rule, had said during a visit to London in May
that he hoped to attend the August 8-24 Games if talks between his
envoys and China produced results.

China has not rejected the Dalai Lama's overtures outright, but hopes
were dampened when the closed-door talks ended with the
government-in-exile accusing China of lacking sincerity.

The Chinese government has blamed the Dalai Lama and his followers for
instigating the March unrest and attempting to sabotage the Olympics,
charges he has repeatedly denied.

For China, the Games are supposed to showcase the prosperity and
modernization of what is now the world's fourth-biggest economy after
three decades of economic reforms and rapid growth.


Ma is a different story. China has mixed feelings for the Taiwan
president, who is opposed to Taiwan formally declaring independence, a
stance Beijing welcomes.

But Ma has repeatedly urged China to politically reassess the 1989
Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests -- anathema to the country's

Beijing has sought to push Taiwan into diplomatic isolation and
considers the island a province that must eventually return to the fold,
by force if necessary.

"(Dignitaries) attending the Olympic opening are all heads of state, but
China does not recognize Taiwan as a state," Taiwan political analyst
Andrew Yang said by telephone.

"How will (Hu Jintao) address Ma Ying-jeou? 'Taiwanese leader' won't be
acceptable to the Taiwan people or Ma."

Hawks in the Chinese government are opposed to the Dalai Lama's visit,
worried that thousands of Tibetans would flock to Beijing by plane,
train, bus or horseback to catch a glimpse of their revered god-king,
who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

There are more than 10 ministerial-level government and Communist Party
bodies with a stake in blocking the Dalai Lama's return, including the
local governments of Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan
provinces, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public
Security, the People's Liberation Army and the paramilitary People's
Armed Police.

For China, domestic stability during the Olympics is far more important
than international applause.

"Even if there are people who want to change things, they would have all
sorts of worries," Wang Lixiong, a Chinese author and expert on Tibet,
said in an interview.

"In China, government officials do not hope for achievements but they
hope to avoid committing mistakes," Wang said, referring to political
risks for the leadership.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
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