Chinese leaders unite against foreign criticism on Tibet. But internal debate on policy may yet heat up

Chinese leaders have condemned overseas support for Tibetan independence rather than aim their rancor at sponsors of the troubled Tibetan policy at home. According to Asian and Western diplomats, officials here have shelved their differences over policy and united against foreign opposition in a show of unanimity before the Communist Party Congress begins Oct. 25.

``There's more of a `circling of the wagons' effect from the Lhasa unrest,'' said a Western diplomat. ``The top party leadership is more concerned with quelling the demonstrations and discouraging overseas interference than they are at exploiting it for any sort of rivalries,'' he added.

Although conservative party leaders could exploit the Tibetan strife in an attack on economic reforms championed by top leader Deng Xiaoping, such a move would not be strong enough to alter the pro-reform leadership roster that will emerge from the congress, they said.

Peking has strongly denounced what it calls interference in its domestic affairs as US legislators, Taiwan, and Tibet's exiled leader attack China's repressive rule of the former Buddhist kingdom.

The response of Peking to foreign support for the pro-independence movement in Lhasa has been thorough and harsh.

Chinese officials last week expelled foreign correspondents from Tibet, stifling unofficial accounts of a crackdown by more than 1,000 Chinese militia on the struggle for autonomy in Lhasa.

When a US State Department official expressed regret over the order, Peking quickly issued a statement through the state-run New China News Agency saying, ``This is by no means restriction on the free communication of information. No foreign country has the right to make irresponsible remarks.''

Peking lashed out at an Oct. 6 US Senate resolution calling on President Reagan to meet with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader, and make arms sales to China contingent on just treatment of Tibetans. But Peking has fired the strongest words at the Dalai Lama, denouncing him for peaceful civil disobedience as a way to combat Chinese domination.

The foreign pressure, and China's vitriolic response, is likely to continue this week as congressional hearings begin on US policy toward Tibet. Adding a sting to China's diplomatic discomfort, Taiwan on Oct. 9 offered to aid the Tibetan struggle.

Communist party leaders in January ousted the chief initiator of economic and social reforms in Tibet, former party secretary-general Hu Yaobang, after he hesitated to snuff out widespread student demonstrations for political freedom in China.

The unrest in Tibet could offer party members against liberalization ammunition to assail associates of Mr. Hu and other reformers, according to the diplomats. One target of such an attack could be Wu Jinghua, the communist party secretary for Tibet and a native of Sichuan Province, the home of many progressive party members, they noted.

However, the Tibetan strife would not justify a struggle against reformers as intense as the ``antibourgeois liberalism'' campaign that followed extensive student demonstrations last winter, according to the diplomats.

While Tibetans pose a small challenge to Peking's centralized control, the liberal-minded Chinese students piqued the party leadership on a far more sensitive issue - the legitimacy of one-party rule.

``The students were demonstrating at the expense of those in power, they were getting out of hand, and their idea of democracy was crystalizing into a threat that could be carried by future generations,'' another Western diplomat said.

``Despite the recent riot, Peking's policy toward Tibet is far and away more effective than the old policy of repression - there really is no alternative,'' he said.

After noting the comparative impoverishment of Tibetans during a 1980 visit, former party chief Hu sponsored an easing of economic controls and measures granting greater religious freedom in the region. Under a new policy, Peking has subsequently invested heavily in small factories and schools in Tibet, begun restoring 13 Tibetan monasteries - out of the 20,000 that existed before China's 1950 invasion - and allowed a slight revival of Tibetan Buddhism.

In Peking, the government recently opened China's first advanced Tibetan institute to train ``patriotic, better educated, and well-disciplined Buddhists for the country,'' according to the founder of the school.

The institute symbolizes the tone of Peking's policy toward Tibet before the recent crackdown, according to an Asian diplomat. ``Officials in Peking believe repression will only postpone the day when Peking has successfully co-opted the Tibetans,'' according to the diplomat. ``Chinese leaders know that over the long term conciliation would ensure stable control of the region.''

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