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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Bush Silent, but Others Speak Out on Tibet Crackdown

March 23, 2008

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and SOMINI SENGUPTA
The New York Times
March 22, 2008

WASHINGTON — China’s violent crackdown on protesters in Tibet is having
powerful political reverberations in Washington, where the White House
is weighing how far to go in condemning the Chinese government, even as
it defends President Bush’s decision to attend the Summer Olympics in
Beijing.

Mr. Bush has long said the United States and China have “a complex
relationship,” and that complexity was on full display this week. While
his administration has called for an end to the violence, and his
secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, phoned her Chinese counterpart to
urge restraint, Mr. Bush himself has remained silent.

In the meantime, the presidential candidates are speaking out, as is the
speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. On Friday, Ms. Pelosi visited the
exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at his headquarters in
Dharamsala, India — and poked a finger in the eye of Beijing.

Describing the clashes in the past week between Chinese security forces
and Tibetan demonstrators as “a challenge to conscience of the world,”
Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, said, “If freedom-loving people
throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in
China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of
human rights anywhere in the world.”

If it seemed like a direct challenge to Mr. Bush, he did not take the bait.

“At this point, there is no doubt that the Chinese government knows
where President Bush stands,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House
spokesman. He said the White House had no comment on Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959, when China
crushed an uprising in Tibet, his homeland. He has been pressing,
without success, to return to China to advocate for greater cultural and
religious freedom for his followers. China, though, has branded him a
“splittist” and has accused him of masterminding the current wave of
protests — a charge Ms. Pelosi dismissed as nonsense on Friday.

It was unclear what Ms. Pelosi’s visit would yield for Tibetans. But for
Ms. Pelosi, the timing was propitious. In front of a horde of television
news cameras that had decamped all week to cover the Dalai Lama, she and
her husband, Paul, descended the stairs of the main temple to huge
applause, the 72-year-old Buddhist monk between them, holding their hands.

Nuns and schoolchildren waved American flags. The Dalai Lama ordered his
followers to rise and offer Ms. Pelosi a standing ovation. One man held
up a homemade placard that read, “Thank you for recognizing nonviolent
struggle.”

The visit provoked a tart response from the Chinese ambassador to India,
who depicted it as American interference. “We don’t allow anybody to
meddle in China’s internal affairs,” the ambassador, Zhang Yan, told
reporters in New Delhi, according to The Press Trust of India. “Any
attempt to cause trouble to China is doomed to fail.”

Ms. Pelosi is hardly the only American politician taking China to task.
On Friday, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential
nominee, traveling in France, warned that China’s behavior was “not
acceptable” for a world power. Earlier in the week, Senators Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, the two Democratic presidential
contenders, issued strong criticisms of China.

Mr. Bush, too, has made a strong show of solidarity with the Dalai Lama.
In October, he met privately with the Tibetan leader at the White House
and then attended a ceremony at the Capitol, where the Dalai Lama was
awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It was the first time the two had
appeared in public together, and the White House was well aware of the
symbolism.

China analysts say the violence in Tibet demands that the president
chart a careful course. “I think to the extent that he can work the
issue privately, it’s better, frankly,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, an Asia
specialist who worked at the National Security Council under President
Clinton. “The public statements just make the Chinese dig in their heels
all the more, make them more resolute in their repression.”

American presidents have historically found relations with China to be a
delicate dance. But none more so than Mr. Bush, especially since
September, when he met with China’s president, Hu Jintao, in Sydney,
Australia, and accepted Mr. Hu’s invitation to attend the Beijing Olympics.

Mr. Bush has said that he wants to support American athletes and views
the Games as a sporting event, but that he will use his attendance to
put pressure on China to improve its human rights record. But human
rights advocates have linked the Olympics with violence in the Darfur
region of Sudan and have accused Mr. Bush of giving his imprimatur to a
country that, in their view, is not exerting enough influence as a major
buyer of Sudanese oil to stop what the White House has termed a genocide.

On Capitol Hill, two representatives, Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of
California, and Neil Abercrombie, Democrat of Hawaii, are leading a push
for a boycott of the Beijing Games. China analysts, though, say Mr. Bush
has little choice but to attend, even if it means a political backlash
at home.

“This is China’s coming out party,” said Michael Green, an Asia expert
and former Bush administration official. “If he were to cancel, it would
be such a loss of face for China that it would make working with them on
issues from North Korea to human rights much more difficult.”

So far, Mr. Bush has stood firm.

“I’m going to the Olympics,” the president said last month, when Steven
Spielberg, the filmmaker, announced that he was dropping out as an
artistic adviser for the Games. “I view the Olympics as a sporting
event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven
Spielberg, so I get to talk to President Hu Jintao.”

If the violence in Tibet grows, however, the pressure could increase for
Mr. Bush to take some kind of symbolic stand. The French foreign
minister said this week that he would entertain the idea of skipping the
Olympics opening ceremony — a symbolic gesture that would be less than a
full boycott. Mr. Johndroe said such a step was not under discussion at
the White House.

“We’re focused on ending the violence now,” he said, “not an event six
months from now.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington, and Somini Sengupta from
Dharamsala, India.
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