March 21, 2008 / 3:27 PM / 10 years ago

Germany urges China to open up on Tibet

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN, March 21 (Reuter) - China should let the world know what is happening in Tibet and the Olympic host is only hurting itself by denying access to foreign observers, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday.

Steinmeier said that China, which seeks political stability, and Tibet, which wants to protect its cultural identity, should find common ground to avert further bloodshed.

Relations between China and Germany chilled after Chancellor Angela Merkel in September became the first German chancellor to meet with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China views as a separatist.

Following months of secret diplomacy led by Steinmeier Beijing and Berlin said in January ties had returned to normal.

"The German government’s unequivocal message to China is: show clarity!" Steinmeier said in an interview for Saturday’s Bild newspaper.

"We want to know exactly what is going on in Tibet," he said, adding he will speak to his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi on the telephone this weekend.

"China is only hurting itself by preventing foreign observers from seeing what is going on."

China’s crackdown on anti-government protests in Tibet — which it says were orchestrated by the Dalai Lama — has drawn sharp international criticism and clouded preparations for the Beijing Olympics in August.

The Tibetan spiritual leader has denied encouraging the violent protests in Tibet, the largest in almost 20 years.

China says 13 "innocent civilians" died in anti-Chinese riots last week in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, after police broke up earlier peaceful protests led by monks. Exiled Tibetans say as many as 100 Tibets have died.

China has barred foreign reporters from Lhasa and from parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces that have also seen unrest, in some cases detaining crews and escorting them out.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959, says he is against the violence and only wants greater autonomy for his homeland.

The unrest has alarmed China, keen to look its best in the run-up to the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing when it hopes to show the world it has arrived as a world power.

"The Tibetans want to protect their cultural identity and China wants political stability — both sides have to move towards each other for that," said Steinmeier.

Steinmeier said it would be up to Beijing to decide what happens next when he was asked whether Western political leaders would be able to travel to the Olympics with a clear conscience. He suggested the 1936 Berlin Olympics was not a good role model.

The Berlin Olympics were used by the Nazis to show off Germany to the world while the suppression of Jews and others was kept away from the spotlight.

"It’s in China’s own best interest that the Olympics are a success. One thing ought to be clear: Olympics Games are a lot different now than 80 years ago. Having glittering events for TV while there is turmoil in your own backyard won’t work any more.

"Any country hosting Olympic Games has to allow thousands of journalists in. Nothing can be swept under the carpet any more." (Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

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