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Dalai Lama's award no medal of honour for China

October 19, 2007

Editorial - The Age Newspaper - Melbourne, Australia
October 18, 2007

China's economic progress is a stark contrast to its backward stance on Tibet.

THE more things change the more they stay the same. Over the past decade China has undergone a transformation so dramatic that it has rocketed to become the
world's third largest economy. This week the 17th Communist Party congress has been assessing the impact of that growth and President Hu Jintao has outlined his
vision for addressing some of the pressing issues — social and income inequality and environmental degradation — that have been a byproduct of it. He has also
given notice of a planned shift in focus, which may see more emphasis on high technology and service provision as distinct from manufacturing. Whatever the
outcome, the overall impression is that China is a dynamic place to be, that it is inexorably on the move.

But this is not so when it comes to Tibet, an independent and devoutly Buddhist nation that China invaded in 1950 and has been harshly colonising ever since. Today
the United States' President George Bush will meet the Tibetan leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, the widely venerated Dalai Lama, and award him the
Congressional Gold Medal, an honour previously bestowed on such significant world figures as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. According
to the US, the Dalai Lama was worthy of joining this impressive alumni because of his longstanding efforts to make Tibet an issue of international concern, which as a
result of the Dalai Lama's tireless, peaceful shuttle diplomacy, it has certainly become.

In stark contrast to its forward-thinking approach on the future of its economy, albeit within the framework of a one-party state, China's response to this honour has
been emblematic of its historical failure to move forward on Tibet. Ever since its brutal occupation of Tibet four decades ago, Chinese governments have tried, with
varying success, to stop foreign governments from acknowledging the Dalai Lama as Tibet's spiritual or temporal leader. It did so with his visits to this country in
2002 and earlier this year when Australian political leaders — mindful of China's growing strategic economic importance — dithered about whether to see him. True
to form, China denounced the Washington ceremony, warning that it was tantamount to meddling in China's internal affairs and that it would have an "extremely
serious impact" on relations between Beijing and Washington. But the US is not Australia and China's objections were noted but rightly ignored. The basis for
China's belligerence is a blinkered belief that the Dalai Lama is a dangerous separatist whose real agenda is to gain independence for his homeland. This ignores
repeated statements from the Tibetan leader that he favours a degree of autonomy for Tibet within a unified China, which would include the right of the Tibetans to
administer their own monasteries, preserve their language and have some control over the education of Tibetans in Tibet.

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