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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Dalai Lama’s international profile enrages Beijing

March 17, 2008

By Richard McGregor in Beijing
Financial Times
March 16 2008

Beijing has depicted the violent protests in Tibet over the past week as
the product of a dark conspiracy, led by the Dalai Lama, and abetted by
foreign forces which want to “split” China and sabotage the 2008 Olympics.

In truth, the demonstrations reflect a convergence of factors, some
fundamental, longstanding grievances, and other more temporal issues,
ranging from the proximity of the Olympics to recent tensions over
Tibetan cultural practices.

A dispatch from Xinhua, the state news agency, over the weekend, called
the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a “master terror maker” who had
willed his supporters in Lhasa to stage violent demonstrations.

“Now the blaze and blood in Lhasa has unclad the nature of the Dalai
Lama, it’s time for the international community to recheck their stance
towards the group’s camouflage of non-violence, if they do not want to
be willingly misled,” the Xinhua report said.

Such hectoring missives typify the Chinese response, which has been to
place the protests firmly in the context of the wider sovereignty
dispute, the most sensitive issue for the ruling communist party.

On top of that, the party’s insistence on controlling all religious
practice has always been at odds with the Tibetan peoples’ and monks’
primary allegiance to the Dalia Lama and their spiritual practice.

This underlying, and in all likelihood irreconcilable difference, has
been magnified by a number of issues over the last year.

The Dalai Lama’s higher international profile has enraged Beijing and
been a significant factor in damaging relations with countries like
Germany and Austria, and disrupting ties elsewhere.

China has sought to counter the Dalai Lama’s enduring influence on
multiple fronts, right down to micro-managing cultural practices, such
as the wearing of fur during festivals.

Tibetans had refused to wear the traditional fur-trimmed robes at an
annual horse-riding event last year after the Dalai Lama said they
should not. The Chinese, however, insisted they wear the robes in
defiance of their spiritual leader, to the bitterness of participants.

The underlying sovereignty issue aside, China’s expanding economy, and
the demand for raw materials, has also substantially increased the
Chinese presence in Lhasa in particular in recent years, and resentment
among locals.

The growth of the Chinese population has been supported by the opening
up of the new railway line, the highest in the world, from the next door
province of Qinghai.

“In the last couple of years, we have seen an accelerated drive to push
through Beijing’s economic policies, which is basically to develop the
city along the lines of an urban industrial model,” said Kate Saunders,
of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The 2008 Beijing games, and the planned passage of the Olympic torch
through Lhasa in coming weeks, have been another factor in lifting
tensions in recent weeks. The Dalai Lama himself has not supported an
Olympic boycott.

“The Tibet nation is facing serious danger. Whether China's government
admits or not, there is a problem,” he said at a press conference at
Dharamsala, India, on Sunday. “(But) the Olympics should not be called
off.”

Tibet’s own profile in China has been changing in positive ways in
recent years, with the region becoming fashionable along some young
people seeking spiritual sustenance in an increasingly material society.

But there is little discernable support for an independent Tibet even
among those Chinese who support political reform in China, including
western-style elections.

Although the Dalai Lama has not pushed publicly for Tibet’s independence
for many years, supporting instead more autonomy and religious freedom,
Beijing continues to label him a “splittist.”

The government has attempted to manage the news flow out of Tibet,
releasing extensive footage of the violent protests on official
television, but none of the authorities’ brutal response.

Otherwise, the news has been played down. Sina.com, China’s most popular
news portal, carried just one news item about the region on Sunday on
its home page – an announcement of the 117 birthday of Tibet’s oldest
resident.
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