March 8, 2007 / 11:02 AM / in 12 years

China says chances of Dalai Lama return are slim

BEIJING (Reuters) - The chances of Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama returning to the Chinese-ruled territory are slim, the chairman of the Himalayan region said on Thursday, accusing him of still promoting Tibetan independence.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures during a public meeting in Mumbai in this January 31, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Adeel Halim

The Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Communist rule. The People’s Liberation Army had marched into Tibet in 1951.

“If the Dalai Lama doesn’t give up completely his pursuit of Tibet independence in word and in deed, the hope is slim for him to return,” Qiangba Puncog, who holds a rank equivalent to a provincial governor, told a news conference on the sidelines of China’s annual session of parliament.

The Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, says he wants greater autonomy, not independence, for his predominantly Buddhist homeland, but China considers him a separatist.

“It’s already been 48 years since he fled the country, and in the last 48 years he has certainly never done anything beneficial for the Tibetan people nor the motherland,” said Qiangba Puncog, whose name is also spelt Xiangba Pingcuo.

He said that the Chinese government had never closed the door on talks with the Dalai Lama.

“The Chinese government’s position is very clear, which is that he must totally abandon support for Tibetan independence and that he must recognize that Tibet has been an inseparable part of China since antiquity,” the chairman added.

Qiangba Puncog, speaking in the ornate surroundings of the Great Hall of the People’s Tibet room, said it was ridiculous for the Dalai Lama to claim he only wanted “a high level of autonomy” when that was what Tibet already had.

“Tibet has had more than 40 years of putting into practice the autonomous government system. Practice proves that this system is extremely wise,” he said. “It has been endorsed by the masses, and it will be developed ever more in the future.”

The Dalai Lama hopes to visit Buddhist landmarks in China and witness the country’s economic progress.

Nonetheless, China and envoys of the Dalai Lama have been engaged in a slow-motion dialogue on the Tibet issue since 2002, which analysts say is partly driven by the fear that if the 71-year-old dies in exile, it could trigger unrest in the region.

After the news conference ended, reporters swarmed around Tibet’s Communist Party boss Zhang Qingli. Asked if China’s policy was to drag its feet until after the Dalai Lama’s death, Zhang, who outranks Qiangba Puncog, said: “I haven’t heard.”

Phuntso Wangye, an 84-year-old Tibetan Communist who led Chinese advance troops into Tibet in 1951, has written to President Hu Jintao and condemned hawks who “make a living, are promoted and become rich by opposing splittism” and for blocking the Dalai Lama’s return.

Asked to comment on Phuntso’s letter, Zhang said: “Too many people. It’s inconvenient to talk.” He turned around and hurriedly walked away.

Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck and Benjamin Kang Lim

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