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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Balancing Act of Dalai Lama's Visit

May 21, 2008

By Jill McGivering, World affairs correspondent
BBC News
May 20, 2008

The Dalai Lama is starting a 10-day visit to the UK. His tour comes
against the backdrop of a tense relationship between Tibet and China.

The timing of the Dalai Lama's visit is critical. The violent
protests which erupted just over two months ago thrust Tibet back
into the international spotlight.

China is now also in mourning for the earthquake victims as well as
preparing to host the Olympic Games, a matter of intense domestic pride.

As it takes its place on the world stage, Beijing is eager to avoid
diplomatic embarrassment.

So those who argue that international leverage can play an important
role in encouraging fruitful dialogue on Tibet see this as an
important opportunity to apply pressure.

The UK, with its long historic connections to Tibet, may have a role
to play. But the government knows too that political endorsement of
the Dalai Lama always sparks angry complaint from Beijing.

RELIGIOUS ROLE

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major each received the
Dalai Lama at Number 10 when they were in office.

Gordon Brown is meeting him instead at Lambeth Palace, the London
residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The move puts the emphasis more on the Dalai Lama's religious than
political role.

It may have been an attempt to find a compromise - but critics say
the decision will merely cause distress in all quarters.

The Chinese, they argue, will still be angry. Supporters of the Dalai
Lama will be offended at this apparent downgrading of his political status.

INCREASED TENSIONS

All this takes place as inside Tibet the situation is tense and
security heightened.

Access and information are limited and there is increasing concern
about an apparent crackdown by the Chinese security forces on Tibet's
monasteries and general population.

The protests increased tensions between the Dalai Lama and Beijing.
The Chinese authorities accuse the Dalai Lama of hypocrisy and accuse
him and his supporters of instigating the violence, something the
Dalai Lama denies.

A similar debate rages about what the Dalai Lama advocates for Tibet.
The Chinese authorities see him as a dangerous subversive who is
trying to damage China's territorial integrity by demanding Tibetan
independence.

In fact the Dalai Lama advocates the so-called Middle Way, a more
moderate solution which would give Tibet increased autonomy -
including greater religious and political freedom - within a Chinese framework.

MAN OF PEACE

The situation is complicated by the vast perception gap between the
public in the West and in China.

Many in the West are sympathetic toward the Dalai Lama, respecting
him as a Nobel Laureate and a man of peace. There is concern too
about the plight of China's Tibetan minority.

Just a few days ago, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet
released a report which called for an independent UN investigation
into the protests and the crackdown which followed.

It called on the Chinese government to provide more information about
detainees, account for those killed and release those who protested peacefully.

Significant difference

But many Chinese people see things differently. They are frustrated
with the Tibetan minority, accusing them of being ungrateful and of
harming China's national interest.

Many accept their government's argument that the country has spent
substantial amounts in recent years developing Tibet's
infrastructure, economy and social facilities.

Many Tibetans admit there has been development -- but complain that
Han Chinese settlers have benefited most.

So what can the Dalai Lama's visit to the UK actually achieve? In the
aftermath of the protests, envoys from the Dalai Lama and the Chinese
government met and fresh talks are now planned for next month.

It is a fresh momentum dogged by suspicion on both sides. Sceptics
say the talks are cosmetic, an attempt by Beijing to appease
international criticism until the Olympics are over.

But others hail this as an opportunity to be seized - and say
increased pressure from foreign governments, including the UK, could
make a significant difference.
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