Dalai Lama’s US visit roils US-China relations

The Dalai Lama's high-profile visit is stirring pro- and anti-China sentiment in the US as the White House prepares to host the exiled Tibetan leader next week.

Dalai Lama’s US visit roils US-China relations

The Dalai Lama’s high-profile visit is stirring pro- and anti-China sentiment in the US as the White House prepares to host the exiled Tibetan leader next week. The meeting is likely to be sensitive for US-China relations, as China continues to reject Western criticism of its handling of widespread unrest in Tibet amid increasing international calls to boycott the opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly denied any involvement and condemned violence in Tibet. Last week, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate arrived in Seattle to attend a conference on compassion at the University of Washington. While thousands gathered to hear him speak Monday of peace and dialogue, hundreds of people, mostly Chinese-Americans protested outside the venue against the Dalai Lama, reports the Associated Press.

Demonstrators held signs alleging media bias and protesting the violence from rioting by Tibetan monks.

Some echoed Beijing’s stand that the Dalai Lama is behind the recent uprising against five decades of Chinese rule. Signs called the Dalai Lama a liar and a “CIA-funded militant.” Many people waved large Chinese flags.

“I think that people are misinformed. They have media discrimination,” demonstrator Jiange Li said. “Tibet was freed – 50 years ago.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that protesters sang the Chinese national anthem and waved American and Chinese flags. A small plane circled above the university, pulling banner that read DALAI UR SMILES CHARM, UR ACTIONS HARM. One organizer said ethnic Chinese had paid for the flight.

President Bush’s special envoy on Tibet, Paula Dobriansky, is due to meet the Dalai Lama next week. It will be the highest-level meeting with the US administration since the unrest began. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that a Chinese envoy in Washington criticized the US for the planned meeting, as it amounted to interfering in China’s “internal affairs.” A State Department spokesman called for dialogue between Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama said Sunday that some backdoor discussions were being held between the two sides, but said he was not directly involved, says The New York Times. His comments came a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao said that dialogue was possible only if the Dalai Lama stops “scheming and instigating violence” and trying to “sabotage” the Olympics.

Since March, anti-Chinese protests rioting and protests across a large swath of ethnic Tibetan areas in western China have tested security forces there. Paramilitary troops have been at the forefront of the crackdown. Chinese police recently said that pro-independence Tibetans were planning suicide attacks ahead of the Olympics. This claim is hotly disputed by exiled Tibetan activists.

The unrest has focused world attention on Beijing’s rule in Tibet and sparked angry protests during recent legs of the Olympic torch relay. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last week joined other world leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in declining to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing on Aug. 8, a clear snub to Beijing.

Over the weekend, Chinese state media reported that nine Tibetan Buddhist monks were arrested last month for bombing a government building in western China. State television broadcast footage of a damaged building and said the suspects had confessed but made no mention of casualties, reports Agence France-Presse.

The report is the latest in a series by Chinese media that portrays the unrest as a violent separatist campaign orchestrated by the Dalai Lama and his exiled supporters, and, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, “The vast majority of Chinese citizens, relying on state-run media for news and official views, appear to find no fault with their government’s handling of recent Tibetan unrest, presented as an outbreak of murderous mob violence instigated by separatist plotters abroad.”

Last week, Chinese authorities said they had thwarted a plot by a Muslim minority group to carry out suicide attacks and kidnappings during the Olympics. The Associated Press reports that a security official revealed that 35 people had been arrested over the alleged plot in Xinjiang, a vast western province where Muslim Uighurs have long bristled under Chinese rule. But analysts have questioned the veracity of this and other reported terrorist threats involving Uighurs in the run-up to the Olympics.

Nicholas Bequelin, a Xinjiang expert with Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said Beijing has undercut its credibility by consistently labeling criminal acts, anti-government violence and peaceful dissent as terrorism.

“The experience around the world since the launch of the global war on terrorism, has taught the international community how easily threats of terrorism can be manipulated by authoritarian governments for their own purposes,” Bequelin said.

The Washington Post says that China has deliberately minimized its deployment of the People’s Liberation Army in putting down unrest in Tibet, preferring to draw on the People’s Armed Police, a growing paramilitary force of around 700,000. Analysts say this may reflect Beijing’s belief that the current crisis is less serious than the last major outbreak of antigovernment unrest in 1989. The global spotlight ahead of the Olympics may also have played a part in keeping the army in reserve.

The shift in approach by President Hu and his Communist Party lieutenants reflected political sensitivities that still surround memories of 1989, when public esteem for the Army suffered after it moved against its own people.

The party Propaganda Bureau has worked tirelessly since then to restore the military’s image and portray it as devoted to China’s 1.3 billion inhabitants.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reports that relatives living in the Dalai Lama’s childhood home are under virtual house arrest as security forces control their access. The spiritual leader spent several years living in Pingan County before moving to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. On the front gate of the house, a government notice warned against “destructive antigovernmental behavior” and forbade the reproduction of the Dalai Lama’s image.

On Feb. 21, before the uprising took place in Lhasa, there was a clash between monks and police officers in Tongren County in Huangnan, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is about 150 kilometers [100 miles] south of Pingan County.

When we visited the site of the incident, a young monk expressed anxiety.

“Military officers are coming round and searching our rooms every day. If they find even a fragment of a Dalai Lama photograph, they will take us away immediately,” he said.

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