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China vows to crush stability threats in Tibet

Many Tibetans believe Beijing is going through the motions as it waits for the Dalai Lama to die (© 2009 AFP)

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping vowed to crush any threats to stability in Tibet, taking a swipe at the Dalai Lama in a speech Tuesday marking 60 years since China cemented control over the region.

Xi spoke a day after the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, concluded a visit to the United States during which he was welcomed warmly by President Barack Obama, angering China, which labels the monk a “separatist”.

“We should fight against separatist activities by the Dalai group… and take measures to address root causes, and smash any attempt to undermine stability in Tibet and the national unity of the motherland,” Xi said.

Xi, widely expected to take over as Chinese president by 2013, addressed an audience of thousands assembled on the central square of the Tibetan capital Lhasa in a speech broadcast live on national television.

Speaking beneath the iconic Potala palace, home of the Himalayan region’s past theocratic rulers, Xi praised the Communist Party’s Tibet policies and promised to continue the rapid development that has angered many Tibetans who fear their unique Buddhist culture is being swamped.

Fresh from victory in the Chinese civil war, the People’s Liberation Army of Communist leader Mao Zedong marched into Tibet in 1950 and annexed the region, an arrangement formalised the following year.

But many Tibetans bridle at Chinese control and the resentment burst out in March 2008 with deadly rioting in Lhasa that spread across the region and spilled over into neighbouring provinces with Tibetan populations.

Brushing off warnings from China, Obama met with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Saturday, urging respect for human rights in Tibet and its cultural traditions.

China has lodged a protest and accused Obama of undermining relations between the world’s two largest economies.

Overseas Tibetan rights groups have said China, in the run-up to the 60th anniversary celebrations, has cranked up security measures in Tibet even beyond a tight military crackdown imposed after the 2008 unrest and which remains in place.

Lhasa residents reached by phone on Tuesday said traffic was shut down and reported a heavy security presence.

“There are no buses or taxis on the streets, if you want to go out you have to walk,” said one hotel worker, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

“There are many, many police outside, and we have been told not to receive foreigners.”

Chinese travel agencies told AFP authorities had closed the region off to foreign visitors from June to the end of July and were even restricting travel there by Chinese citizens, apparently to ensure no incidents during the celebrations.

The Dalai Lama has spent more than a half-century in exile since fleeing abroad in 1959 after relations with Beijing turned sour.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, whose exile base is in northern India and who is revered as a god-king in Tibet, says he accepts that Tibet is a part of China and seeks only limited Tibetan autonomy and Chinese respect for its culture.

But Beijing accuses him of seeking independence and tries to block the popular monk’s visits to other countries.

China has held nine rounds of talks with Dalai Lama envoys on bridging their differences, the last in January 2010, but there has been no tangible progress.

Many Tibetans believe Beijing is just going through the motions as it waits for the 76-year-old spiritual leader to die, hoping that his calls for greater rights will wither away without him.

Signature : Dan Martin

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