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Dalai Lama Answers Chinese Critics on Tibet

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

China is defending its handling of last week's violent protests in Tibet. Despite eyewitness accounts of gunfire, China says security forces never fired a shot. With Tibet under tight security, the conflict is turning into a war or words between China's government and the Tibetan government in exile.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN: Champa Phuntsok is an ethnic Tibetan and the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet. He told reporters today that Chinese security forces had neither carried nor used any lethal weapons. He said that 13 civilians had been killed and 61 paramilitary police injured in Friday's violence. He reiterated a warning that rioters who didn't surrender to police by midnight on Monday faced harsh punishment. Phuntsok said that what really made him angry was that some Western critics described the violent riots as peaceful protests, and Beijing's restoring law and order as suppression.

Governor CHAMPA PHUNTSOK (Tibet): (Through translator) This time, a tiny handful of lawless elements engage in extreme acts with the goal of generating even more publicity to wreck the stability during this crucial period of the Olympic Games.

KUHN: For the first time today, peaceful protests spread to China's capital. Around 40 students staged a candlelight vigil tonight at the Central University for Nationalities where the Chinese government grooms Tibetans and other minority students for leadership roles. Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry complained today that Tibetan independence activists had stormed Chinese embassies and consulates in 16 countries, smashing windows and cars and threatening Chinese diplomats. Spokesman Liu Jianchao restated Beijing's claim that the Dalai Lama was behind the violence in Tibet.

Mr. LIU JIANCHAO (Spokesman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People's Republic of China): (Speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: We have plenty of evidence, he said, to show that the Dalai cleet(ph) was involved in, planned, and organized these violent incidents. If necessary in future, we may make this evidence public.

At a press conference in Dharamsala, India yesterday, the Dalai Lama encouraged reporters to investigate for themselves whether or not he was behind the protests. But he also expressed frustration with the divisions between protestors demanding independence and his own calls simply for autonomy.

Mr. TENZIN GYATSO (Dalai Lama): So therefore, some Tibetans and also some - there are supporters - some Europeans, some Indians - very critical about our approach because they are not seeking independence.

KUHN: The Dalai Lama insisted that his views were known to almost all.

Mr. GYATSO: And you know, we are not seeking separation that everybody knows, except Beijing do not know that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GYATSO: Otherwise, the rest of the world knows that.

KUHN: But Elliot Sperling, a Tibet expert at Indiana University in Bloomington, says that Beijing knows full well that the Dalai Lama does not advocate independence - they simply pretend not to believe him.

Professor ELLIOT SPERLING (Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington): They found the best spokesperson against Tibetan independence, and that was the Dalai Lama.

KUHN: Since Friday's riots, foreign governments have amplified their calls for dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Sperling says that Beijing has no intention of cutting any deals with the 72-year-old cleric. They're just waiting for him to die so that they can name a new Dalai Lama whom they can control.

Prof. SPERLING: What the thinking has been is, you know, wait until he dies. But in the interim, constantly get him to say that Tibet should not be independent.

KUHN: And the more he says Tibet should not be independent, the more the pro-independence activists are marginalized and Beijing's claim of legitimate rule over Tibet is bolstered.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anthony Kuhn
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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