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Tibet clouds China's Olympic smile

March 19, 2008

EDWARD LANFRANCO
United Press International, Asia, China
March 19, 2008

BEIJING, China,  Unrest in Tibet was one of the main topics raised
during Premier Wen Jiabao's annual press conference Tuesday, ending the
two-week session of China's top legislative body, the National People's
Congress.

Demonstrations in the capital of Lhasa marking the 49th anniversary of
the exile of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, turned violent
over the last week. Protests also spilled over into neighboring
provinces where there are sizable Tibetan populations.

The premier blamed the violence squarely on the Dalai Lama and his
followers. "There is ample evidence proving it was a premeditated event
masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," Wen said.

He described the violence as the handiwork of a "small number of
rioters" using "cruel means" to injure and kill innocent people. This
revealed that "consistent claims made by the Dalai clique they do not
pursue independence and want peaceful dialogue are nothing but lies," he
added.

Reports on the number of casualties and arrests vary widely between
accounts provided by China's state-run media and organizations
representing various Tibetan groups and supporters. The Tibetan
government-in-exile in India has said at least 80 people were killed,
while local authorities have admitted to only 13 deaths, which they
blame on rioters.

These figures have been difficult to confirm. China has expelled
reporters who were on the scene in Lhasa, and rejected numerous requests
to visit the restive region. Wen said the situation was "basically
returning to normal quiet and calm," and that Lhasa would soon be
reopened to the rest of the world.

The Dalai Lama yesterday accused China of committing "cultural genocide"
in Tibet. Asked by a reporter to respond to this, Wen said the claim was
"nothing but lies."

"We are fully capable of maintaining stability and normal public order
in Tibet while continuing to support efforts to develop its economy and
make social progress," the premier insisted.

Wen said the Chinese authorities "exercised extreme restraint and took
prompt measures to quell the situation and protect the interests of the
people in Lhasa and Tibet." He said China was committed to helping Tibet
improve the livelihood of all ethnic groups, as well as to protecting
the region's cultural and natural environments.

He also insisted that the Tibetan issue was a matter of great importance
to China's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. He vowed China
would "never waiver on this position."

The authorities have encouraged a steady influx of Chinese to Tibetan
areas in the name of development, a fact that is widely resented by
ethnic Tibetans, who feel their culture and way of life is being
undermined in the rush to modernize and "Chinize" their homeland.

A foreign reporter asked Wen about Chinese government promises to stop
"blind following of convention" in the context of adopting new tactics
to solve the Tibet problem.

Longstanding internal strife in South Africa and Northern Ireland had
been settled by leaders of vision willing to talk directly to their
enemies or opponents, the reporter pointed out. Would not Chinese
leaders show similar great vision by inviting the Dalai Lama to Beijing
for direct talks?

Wen said the "door for dialogue with the Dalai is wide open" if he
agreed to three preconditions: give up calls for Tibetan independence as
well as recognize that both Tibet and Taiwan were "inalienable parts of
China's territory."

"Given what has happened recently we can see clearly that on two key
issues (independence and Chinese sovereignty) Dalai is very
hypocritical," he stated.

Wen said China's stance toward the Dalai Lama is, "We should not only
listen to what he says, but also watch what he does." Unfortunately for
China, international observers are also taking this attitude toward
China's handling of Tibet.

The Chinese, who invented the concept of "face," now find themselves
with less than five months in which to repair the blemishes that have
appeared on their international image. A growing number of voices are
calling for Olympic boycotts for reasons ranging from air pollution to
Chinese support of Sudan and Myanmar; the Chinese crackdown in Tibet has
added new voices to the din.

Wen, however, appeared not to take such threats seriously. "I am
confident that the smiles of 1.3 billion Chinese people to the world
will be reciprocated by the smiles of people from all over the planet,"
the premier said. "It is inevitable that we may encounter problems of
various types," he said, adding, "I can assure you the Chinese people
are most sincere in their wishes and intentions."
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