- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China’s premier offered an unqualified defense Friday of his government’s policies in Tibet, ignoring questions about a massive security buildup in the Himalayan region.

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers have been patrolling and manning checkpoints across Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited regions in western China in recent weeks, ready to head off any repeat of wide-scale anti-government demonstrations.

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 the largest protests in decades.

Asked whether the massive security presence pointed to failings in Beijing’s policies, Wen said: “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 chronically poor region. He repeated stock accusations against the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s supreme Buddhist leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, calling him a political exile “quite capable of misleading political figures.”

Earlier this week, the two sides traded sharp words with the Dalai Lama condemning China’s “brutal crackdown” following the protests and its harsh rule over the decades, which has turned Tibet into a “hell on earth.”

Wen said the door to talks was “always open,” provided the Dalai Lama sincerely abandons the Tibetan separatist cause. The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for the region, saying he wants a form of autonomy under China that protects the rights of Tibetans and their unique Buddhist culture.

Last year, representatives for both sides held three rounds of talks with little progress.

China furiously objects to meetings between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders, the source of an ongoing rift with France after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Buddhist leader.

While affirming that overall ties with France were positive, Wen appeared to indicate not all was forgiven.

“We hope the French side will make a very clear-cut stand on Tibet-related issues, and help China-France relations to recover as quickly as possible,” Wen said.

China has continually blamed the Tibetan leader for advancing an agenda for independence, and for fomenting last year’s protests in the regional capital of Lhasa. China claims Tibet as part of its territory, but many Tibetans have chafed under China’s rule, claiming it deprives them of religious freedom and autonomy.

Wen’s remarks came at a news conference marking the end of the legislature’s annual session that focused mainly on how to cope with the global economic meltdown. The nearly 3,000 delegates approved a budget that includes a 25 percent spending increase, but passed no legislation and held only cursory debate on moves to shore up social programs.

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