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by David Cronin

Tibet Crisis Could be Endgame for the Dalai Lama

(IPS) -- The head of the European Union's only directly elected institution has urged China to stop "demonizing" the Dalai Lama.

Hans-Gert Poettering, the European Parliament president, has angrily dismissed allegations by the Beijing authorities that recent violence in Tibet had been fomented by the Buddhist spiritual leader.

"We cannot allow a situation where the Dalai Lama is mentioned in the same breath as terrorists," Poettering said. "We can't allow the demonization of the Dalai Lama. Whenever I have met the Dalai Lama, I have always got the impression he has a deep commitment to peace and human rights."

Poettering was speaking at a Mar. 26 debate in Brussels, which Karma Chophel, speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, attended.

According to Chophel, the violent suppression of a Tibetan uprising that began just over two weeks ago has resulted in 135 confirmed deaths, 400 arrests and over 1,000 injuries.

Although the casualty estimates are based on information from what he described as reliable sources within Tibet, he underscored that they are "very rough" because of the media blackout imposed by China. "We believe the number of people dying and arrested could be ten times more than the confirmed reports," he said.

Chophel predicted that further unrest could occur. "The determination on both sides is very strong: on the Chinese side to suppress, on the Tibetan side to sacrifice."

He also exhorted the EU's governments not to be reticent in the face of human rights abuses by China out of fear that this would hurt the interests of Western firms doing business with this burgeoning economic power. He expressed hope that Europe's "moral power would not be compromised in order to have good trade relations with China."

Nonetheless, he declined to recommend a boycott of the Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Beijing this summer. "The Dalai Lama's stance is very clear," he said. "The Olympics must go on because if China is involved more and more in international activities, they will have to conform to international rules and laws."

Some members of Parliament (MEPs) contended, though, that the EU's presidents and prime ministers should stay away from the opening ceremony in protest against China's human rights record.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the assembly's Green group, said that a sporting event held under a dictatorship could not be divorced from politics, as was illustrated when the 1936 Olympics took place in Nazi Germany. "I do not want athletes to have blood on their feet," he said. "This is what we have to remember."

Edward McMillan-Scott, a British Conservative, drew attention to how the Olympic Charter, the guidelines for the Games' conduct, contains a firm commitment to ethical principles. "The Olympic flame may have been lit last weekend (at a ceremony in Greece)," he said. "But the Olympic spirit died on the streets of Tibet."

Dubbing China the "most repressive regime on earth", he noted that all of the political activists he met during his last visit to the country in 2006 have been subsequently "arrested and in some cases tortured." These include Hu Jia, an environmental and AIDS awareness campaigner. Before his recent arrest, Hu Jia was outspoken against the involvement of senior Chinese security figures in the organisation of the Olympics, alleging that this was tantamount to having a sporting event run by the mafia.

Vittorio Agnoletto, an Italian left-wing MEP, said that the EU's policy towards China is heavily influenced by corporate interests. Trade between the two sides has an annual turnover of 176 billion dollars, he said, while 24 million people in China are employed by Western companies. "Basically, we are in bed with them."

But Italian Socialist Pasqualina Napoletano claimed that the EU had to grapple with more weighty issues than the symbolism of boycotting the Olympics. Western companies, she added, had been complicit in repression by failing to allow Chinese workers to participate in trade unions. "We don't need gestures," she said. "We need a policy that is cogent, coherent and for the long term."

Janez Lenarcic, state secretary for European affairs with Slovenia, which currently presides over the EU's 27 governments, said that the situation in Tibet will be discussed at a meeting of the Union's foreign ministers this weekend.

While foreign journalists have been expelled from Tibet, Lenarcic said that China has indicated that a number of reporters will be soon be granted access there. "We sincerely hope this will be true," he added.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, said she was "encouraged" by news that China is organising a trip for foreign journalists to Tibet later this week. "I hope foreign media will be able to do their work without restriction."

China has occupied Tibet since 1949. In the five decades since then, Tibet's supporters have campaigned for it either to be made fully independent or enjoy far-reaching autonomy. Ferrero-Waldner emphasised that she is in favour of continuing with the EU's so-called 'one China' policy, which favours Tibet remaining under Beijing's control.

"The EU has always supported the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, including Tibet," she said. "But that does not mean the human rights situation in Tibet and China are purely internal affairs. They are legitimate concerns of the international community."

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Albion Monitor   March 26, 2008   (

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