For Beijing, Tibet threat is 'life and death'
Officials say exiled leaders seek independence to break up China.
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The saffron-clad monk, widely admired in the West as an icon of nonviolent struggle against the occupation of his homeland, was described Wednesday by a top Chinese official as "a wolf wrapped in monk's robes, a devil with a human face and a beast's heart."
"What other serious threat have Chinese governments faced ... that could be identified with a coherent movement and a single leader – and a charismatic one at that?" asks Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University.
"We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life-and-death struggle with the Dalai clique," Mr. Zhang warned his colleagues. "Leaders of the whole country must deeply understand the arduousness, complexity, and long-term nature of the struggle."
Chinese officials have offered just one explanation for the unrest in Lhasa: a plot by the Dalai Lama and his government in exile to further their alleged goal of breaking up China by winning Tibet's independence.
The Dalai Lama, who has repeatedly said that he seeks only autonomy under Chinese sovereignty, not independence, for his homeland, Tuesday condemned the violence in Lhasa and denied that he had played any role in it.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, however, would have none of it. "We have plenty of evidence proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded, and inflicted by the Dalai clique," he told reporters Tuesday. "This has all the more revealed the consistent claims by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue are nothing but lies."
A problem of politics, not religion
Though Chinese President Hu Jintao has often praised the role of traditional Chinese religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism in contributing to a "harmonious society," Tibetan Buddhism poses a particular difficulty because its religious leader, the Dalai Lama, also plays a political role. "If this were only a matter of religion, it would be just a big headache," says Liu Junning, a political analyst in Beijing. "But the Dalai Lama has a very special role. This is political."
The Dalai Lama's moral status abroad "has made him an incredibly effective irritant in international affairs," says Professor Barnett. As a symbol for Tibetan protesters, "he could be shifting from an international irritant to a domestic threat."