BEIJING (Reuters) - China poured scorn on the Dalai Lama on Sunday and hailed protesters against Tibetan self-rule as patriotic heroes while some Chinese vented ire at their own government for proposing talks with the exiled Buddhist leader.
China has blamed what it calls the Dalai Lama’s “clique” for recent unrest across Tibetan areas, which it says was aimed at upstaging the Beijing Olympic Games.
Many Chinese, proud to host the Games in August, have denounced the unrest and subsequent pro-Tibet independence protests that have dogged the international Olympic torch relay.
But after a Western diplomatic chorus urged dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Beijing abruptly announced on Friday that it intended to meet his aides in the next few days.
Yet the undimmed criticism of the Dalai Lama in Chinese official media suggests the government will treat any talks as a chance to amplify opposition to his calls for high-level regional autonomy, which Beijing says amounts to outright independence.
“The Dalai clique has always been masters at games with words and the ideas that they have tossed about truly make the head spin,” the People’s Daily, the paper of the ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary. “Questions of sovereignty are beyond debate and splitting China is sure to fail.”
The paper instead praised ethnic Chinese demonstrators who opposed pro-Tibet independence protests that disrupted the global Olympic torch relay, particularly in London and Paris.
“Faced with Tibet independence, the Chinese government and people, and overseas Chinese, have shown unprecedented unity. ...Those who follow national unity are national heroes, and those who split the nation are criminals to history.”
But some on both sides of the political divide have questioned the proposed talks.
A prominent member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, which claims to represent the true aspirations of the region, said on Sunday there had been “no official contact as yet” on the talks, which he called a ruse.
“This announcement is only to deflect pressure and gives false assurance to Western leaders,” parliament member Khedroob Thondup, a nephew of the Dalai Lama, said by phone from India.
There have been six rounds of dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama’s envoys since 2002 with no breakthroughs.
China’s announcement, coming alongside the continued bitter condemnation of the Dalai Lama, has also drawn criticism from its own citizens, some of whom called it a sign of weakness before Western pressure.
“Whoever negotiates with the DL is a traitor selling out the country,” said one comment on the popular Chinese Web site Tianya (www.tianya.cn), referring to the Dalai Lama.
A commentator on a widely read Chinese blog site (www.bokee.com) said the move “poured cold water on patriotic passion.”
“Where is the government’s public credibility if it flip-flops like this?,” said the commentator.
But Chinese President Hu Jintao feels confident enough of his authority not be frightened by nationalist criticism, said Wu Jiaxiang, a former government adviser who now writes on politics.
“The government is more confident that public anger will remain focused on the Tibetan independence protesters,” said Wu.
“The talks may not produce anything substantial, but talking in itself could help heal some of the wounds from the past weeks.”
Chinese officials have been seeking to douse popular boycott calls aimed at French companies accused of funding the Tibetan independence cause, especially the supermarket chain Carrefour.
The companies have denied the claims, and they and visiting French officials have said they support the Beijing Olympics.
But on Sunday at least one Carrefour store was hit by fresh protest. Some 600 people, mostly in their twenties, crowded before a store in Changchun in northeast China, pictures taken at the scene showed.
The clench-fisted protesters waved red flags and held up patriotic signs. “Oppose Carrefour supporting Tibetan independence,” declared one sign.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by David Fox