July 1, 2004

Tibet: Australia's ambassador to China visits Tibet

Australia's ambassador to China today begins a rare visit to Tibet in which he will match a big new aid project with some political messages that may make Chinese authorities there less comfortable
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Hamish McDonald reports on the Australian envoy's trip to Lhasa to launch an aid project.

Australia's ambassador to China today begins a rare visit to Tibet in which he will match a big new aid project with some political messages that may make Chinese authorities there less comfortable.

Allan Thomas will inaugurate a $17.3 million five-year program to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among Tibet's highly vulnerable 4 million people, to be implemented by the Australian Red Cross.

But Dr Thomas said yesterday that he would mention a list of jailed monks and other human rights cases causing concern in Australia that his embassy had put to Beijing authorities on several occasions.

"Sometimes we get a response, sometimes we hear that they've been released," he said. "I will take the opportunity to draw their attention to this list."

Dr Thomas said he would encourage the Chinese Government to enter into dialogue with exiled Tibetans, led by the Dalai Lama. He would also ask about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, now 15, identified in 1995 by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest leader of Buddhism in Tibet who traditionally plays the key role in finding the new Dalai Lama.

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As soon as the boy's discovery was announced, Chinese authorities whisked him and his family out of sight, then proclaimed their own candidate as the new Panchen Lama.

"We'll be making our usual suggestion, which is that if some internationally recognised Buddhist figure were allowed to meet this boy and verify the claim that he's safe and well, China's international standing would be enhanced as a result," he said.

Dr Thomas will meet the third-ranking official in Tibet, Cui Yuying, vice-secretary of the regional Communist Party and deputy chairwoman of the government - the two top officials are travelling and not available.

The visit comes a month after Beijing issued a white paper on Tibet that seemed to indicate a hardening line against a proposal by the Dalai Lama, first made in a speech in 1984, that relinquishes the aim of independence and instead in effect proposes internal self-rule within China.

The document rejected the idea that Tibet could enjoy the same "one country, two systems" arrangement as Hong Kong and Macau because these two territories had been foreign colonies and China had in effect exercised jurisdiction over Tibet "since ancient times".

"It is hoped the Dalai Lama will look reality in the face, make a correct judgement of the situation, truly relinquish his stand for 'Tibetan independence' and do something beneficial to the progress of China and for the region of Tibet in his remaining years," the white paper said.

Despite the apparent toughness, the Australia Tibet Council's executive officer, Paul Bourke, said there were rumours that the Dalai Lama's representatives would hold a third informal meeting with Chinese officials around October. Two previous meetings took place in China in September 2002, and over June-July last year.


Source: The Age