- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China’s premier defended Beijing’s policies in Tibet on Friday and ignored questions about a massive security buildup in the Himalayan region, a day before the anniversary of deadly rioting that sparked the biggest anti-government protests among Tibetans in decades.

Premier Wen Jiabao’s argument that economic investment in the chronically poor region has led to peace and stability seemed to conflict with reports of tightened security measures from Tibet and other ethnically Tibetan parts of far western China.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper said Friday that armed police were searching door-to-door for “suspicious characters,” in Lhasa, targeting out-of-towners and journalists in a pre-emptive bid to prevent any unrest or bad publicity.

“Not a single hotel, guesthouse or local home in the city was spared,” said the newspaper, which has a staff reporter in the city. It cited hotel and restaurant owners as saying that those who did not have ID cards issued by the regional government were taken in by authorities for further interrogation.

Tensions have spiked ahead of two key anniversaries this week _ the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising that sent the Dalai Lama into exile and Saturday’s one-year anniversary of violent anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa that sparked Tibet’s most widespread, sustained revolt in decades.

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers have locked down Tibetan areas in recent weeks, patrolling and manning checkpoints across a region that makes up about a quarter of Chinese territory. Foreigners have been barred to keep information from seeping out, while journalists have been detained by police and escorted out of the region.

Asked whether that massive security presence pointed to failings in Beijing’s policies, Wen responded simply that: “The situation in Tibet is on the whole peaceful and stable. The Tibetan people hope to work in peace and stability.”

“Tibet’s continuous progress (has) proven the policies we have adopted are right,” he said.

Wen said Beijing has hugely increased subsidies to Tibet in recent years to spur growth and raise incomes in a region where people traditionally earned a living through farming and herding. He also repeated stock accusations against the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s supreme Buddhist leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, calling him a political exile who was “quite capable of misleading political figures.”

Earlier this week, the Dalai Lama condemned China’s “brutal crackdown” following last year’s protests and its harsh rule over the decades, which has turned Tibet into a “hell on earth.”

China claims Tibet as part of its territory, but many Tibetans have chafed under China’s rule, which they say deprives them of religious freedom and autonomy. Beijing also blames the Dalai Lama, who is beloved by the Tibetan people, for advancing an agenda for independence and fomenting the anti-government protests in Lhasa.

During a news conference that marked the end of China’s annual legislative session, Wen repeated the Chinese government’s stance that Beijing is willing to hold future talks with the Dalai Lama as long as he gives up his “separatist stance” and shows “sincerity.”

Last year, representatives for both sides held three different rounds of talks but little progress was made.

The Dalai Lama has stated he advocates a “Middle Way,” which calls for significant Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, but not independence.

Last year, an attempt by monks in Lhasa to stage a peaceful march drew swift reprisal from police. It then set off more protests that tapped into Tibetan fears that their identity, deeply rooted in their religion, is being undermined by Chinese rule, its religious restrictions and the influx of large numbers of Chinese migrants.

The ethnic rioting and protests spread to Tibetan communities in three surrounding provinces before sputtering out in the summer.

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