- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - Beijing is willing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama if Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader abandons his separatist cause, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday, as he defended his government’s hard-line policies toward the region.

“For such contacts and consultations to make progress, what’s important is for the Dalai Lama to have sincerity. Otherwise, no substantive results can be made,” Wen told reporters during a news conference after the closing of China’s annual legislative session.

China has repeatedly accused the Tibetan leader of advocating independence and fomenting last year’s anti-government protests in the regional capital of Lhasa. The Dalai Lama has stated he advocates a “Middle Way,” which calls for significant Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, but not independence.

Last year, representatives of the Dalai Lama and China’s government held three different rounds of talks but little progress was made.

In answering questions from foreign and Chinese reporters, Wen offered an unqualified defense of his government’s policies in Tibet, ignoring questions about a massive security buildup in the Himalayan region.

He defended Chinese rule, saying Tibet’s economic development in recent years proves “the policies we have adopted are right.”

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 last year’s wide-scale anti-government demonstrations.

Asked whether the 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.”

China claims Tibet is part of its territory, but many Tibetans have chafed under China’s rule, which they say deprives them of religious freedom and autonomy.

China has been on high alert with 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 the violent anti-Chinese riots in Lhasa.

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.”

China lashed back, saying his accusations were “sheer lies,” and lodged a complaint with the U.S. Embassy after a spokesman for the Obama administration voiced concern over religious repression in Tibet and appealed for renewed talks between the two sides.

The nine-day session of the National People’s Congress was dominated by the economic crisis battering Asia’s manufacturing powerhouse, with the nearly 3,000 delegates voting to approve a national budget for the coming year that boosts government spending by 25 percent.

Wen expressed confidence that China could emerge from its slump “at an early date” and said the government is ready to expand its 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan to boost growth in the world’s third-largest economy.

No new measures were announced and the congress, which serves mainly to rubber-stamp decisions already made by the Communist Party leadership, passed no new legislation.

Amid rising unemployment and fears over social unrest, this year’s legislative session saw the leadership more intent than ever on projecting an image of unity and control. Renewed calls for political reform from inside and outside the country and the sensitive political anniversaries also raised the party’s guard against dissent.

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