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With the Olympics out of the way and the west preoccupied by recession, China is again reinforcing its military occupation

April 11, 2009

Simon Tisdall
Guardian (UK)
April 8, 2009

International outrage over its brutal suppression
of Tibetan pro-independence protests just over a
year ago forced China to resume talks with the
Dalai Lama's government-in-exile. But now, with
the Olympics safely out of the way and western
attention focused on recession, Beijing has again
turned its back on dialogue and is entrenching
its military occupation, Tibetan officials say.

China's harsh response to the protests led by
Buddhist monks in Lhasa and elsewhere in March
2008 resulted in about 220 Tibetan deaths, the
officials said. About 1,300 people were seriously
injured and about 5,600 arrested, of whom more
than 1,000 have disappeared. China says these
figures are exaggerated. But the reckoning
continues: a further two alleged Tibetan rioters
were recently sentenced to death, the official
Xinhua news agency reported today.

As the world united last year to condemn the
crackdown, Beijing agreed to reactivate the Tibet
dialogue. At a meeting in July, weeks before the
Olympics began, it invited the Dalai Lama's
representatives to set out his "middle way" plan
for Tibetan autonomy (rather than outright
independence or incorporation). This they did in
a policy paper, entitled Memorandum on Genuine
Autonomy for the Tibetan People, presented at a subsequent meeting in November.

In a Commons statement on 29 October, prior to
the meeting, Britain's foreign secretary, David
Miliband, stressed the "huge importance" of the
talks: "These talks provide the only forum in
which there is any realistic possibility of
progress... The Chinese government has said it is
serious about dialogue. It has set conditions for
dialogue that we believe the Dalai Lama has met."

Miliband noted the Dalai Lama was not seeking
independence or separation, despite repeated
Chinese claims, but was proposing a settlement
within China's constitutional framework. While
neither the UK, the EU nor the US supported
Tibetan independence, he said, "no government
which is committed to promoting international
respect for human rights can remain silent on the issue of Tibet".

In the event, the November meeting was a
disaster. In a stark display of contempt for his
Tibetan interlocutors and the international
community, China's lead negotiator, vice-minister
Zhu Weiqun, flatly rejected the Dalai Lama's
autonomy memorandum in its entirety, saying even
its title was "unacceptable". Asked why he had
invited the Tibetan leadership to put forward its
views if he was not prepared to consider them, Wu
replied: "This was a test to see how far you have
come to understand the position and policy of the
central government. And you have failed the examination miserably."

Speaking in London today, Kelsang Gyaltsen, the
Dalai Lama's envoy and chief negotiator, said the
Tibetan leader remained committed to dialogue but
he admitted the talks process was at a halt and
that no new meetings were planned. The Dalai Lama
was waiting for a sign from Beijing that it was
serious about resolving Tibet's myriad problems,
he said. Meanwhile Tibetans wanted a "strong and
clear" position by the international community to step up pressure on China.

Gyaltsen said China had imposed "undeclared
martial law" in Tibet in recent months and had
greatly increased its military presence to
coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first
Tibetan uprising. Chinese forces had penetrated
even the remotest areas and were building
barracks in preparation for a long occupation, he
said. Officials said repressive measures,
including torture, remain in widespread use. A
massive Chinese propaganda effort to "whitewash
their subjugation of the Tibetan people" was
underway at home and abroad in parallel with the
continued banning of independent foreign media.

China has consistently rejected these and other
allegations, from whatever quarter. In November
it said a critical UN report on Tibet was
"slanderous" and "prejudiced". The Dalai Lama's
recent statement that Tibet had become a "hell on
Earth" was similarly dismissed out of hand. And
despite Miliband's vow that no government could
keep quiet on Tibet, the west's silence since the
autonomy talks collapsed in November has been
deafening. The sad fact is that right now,
China's co-operation in rescuing western debtors
matters more than dead Tibetans.

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