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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?"

Tibet festers as China-Dalai Lama talks off the boil

November 27, 2007

Mon Nov 26, 2007 7:54am IST

By Lindsay Beck

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama has been racking up air miles, and 
China isn't happy.

The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, considered a traitor by 
Beijing since leading a failed uprising against Chinese rule, has 
recently been received in capitals from Washington to Canberra, and 
will meet the Pope at the Vatican next month.

The diplomatic push has been met with a stream of vitriol from 
Chinese officials and state media, calling the 72-year-old a 
"splittist" bent on independence for Tibet and accusing him of 
orchestrating anti-Chinese activities in the remote region.

None of which bodes well for two sides which are supposed to be 
engaged in a process of rapprochement.

After six rounds of talks over five years that have nothing to show 
in the way of progress, analysts say both sides are hardening their 
positions, leaving Tibetans frustrated and China with a festering 
source of instability.

"The Chinese feel that the Dalai Lama has used his moral and 
religious authority to destabilise Tibet," said Tsering Shakya, a 
Tibet scholar at the University of British Columbia.

"They have not only abandoned discussions about Tibetan autonomy, 
they have also abandoned offers of accommodation with the Dalai Lama 
as an individual religious figure."

For a Tibetan government-in-exile that has operated for nearly five 
decades from the Indian hill station of Dharamsala, many feel there 
is nothing to lose by intensifying diplomatic engagement -- even if 
it antagonises China.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after the failed uprising against 
nine years of Chinese Communist Party rule.

"It's hard to see for the Tibet government-in-exile what alternatives 
they would have that could serve them better," said a Western 
diplomat in Beijing.

"Foreign governments are part of the advocacy push, but it's a double-
edged sword."

The sharp end of the blade is Beijing's response to the Dalai Lama's 
wave of visits.

PERSONAL ATTACKS

China has stepped up its campaign against him with personal attacks 
featured regularly in state media.

"He is trying to internationalise the issue of Tibet with a two-step 
splittist approach. The first step is autonomy and the second step is 
independence," Xinhua news agency quoted Ciren Jiabu, a local Tibet 
scholar, as saying.

"The Dalai Lama should be fully responsible for the failure of those 
dialogues," the same piece quoted An Caidan, a member of China's 
delegation to the talks, as saying.

An internal Communist Party memo that surfaced last month also showed 
the Party questioning the loyalty of ethnic Tibetan members. And 
analysts say university campuses in Lhasa are strewn with banners 
personally attacking the Dalai Lama.

Pro-Tibet groups say such attacks have little effect on public 
support for the movement.

"This hysteria, this vitriol that comes out of Beijing, people roll 
their eyes at it. Nobody's quaking in their boots," said Mary Beth 
Markey, a vice president of the Washington-based International 
Campaign for Tibet.

BUSY OR BAD YEAR?

Markey also disputes the idea that the Dalai Lama has been on a 
diplomatic offensive, saying that he always has a busy calendar, but 
the difference is that he is being received by more leaders.

This year, he met U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, 
in addition to leaders of Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Australia 
and Canada.

"Western leaders are frustrated in their own outreach to China and 
they see the Dalai Lama as a figurehead for human rights and a signal 
to Beijing that they are concerned about political freedom," Markey 
said.

But for the Chinese side, it's a bad year for compromise.

A five-yearly Communist Party Congress in October brought a wave of 
leadership changes, meaning China's bureaucracy charged with 
spearheading the Tibet dialogue is in transition.

China is also loath to change the status quo and risk instability 
ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.

But as talks stagnate, signs of discontent in Tibet and ethnic 
Tibetan areas of western China are increasing.

Last year, almost 10,000 Tibetans converged on a monastery in China's 
northwest, mistakenly thinking the Dalai Lama was there.

This month, four ethnic Tibetans were jailed for "inciting to split 
the country" and engaging in "splittist activities" after publicly 
calling for the Dalai Lama's return.

"Whatever China thinks about the Dalai Lama, it is quite clear he has 
moral authority and religious authority in Tibet," said Tsering 
Shakya. "Without some sort of accommodation or reconciliation with 
him, the Tibetan issue will fester."
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