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Congress to bestow its highest award on the Dalai Lama, angering China

by Renee Schoof, McClatchy Newspapers, Oct 12, 2007

WASHINGTON, USA -- The Dalai Lama sees a practical side to receiving America's highest civilian award next week — it's an opportunity to once again tell Chinese leaders his ideas for the future of Tibet, his envoy in talks with China said Friday.

But prestigious awards, such as the Congressional Gold Medal, and the friendship and respect of world leaders and Hollywood stars have yet to warm Beijing to the exiled Dalai Lama.

The Chinese government renewed its attacks on him this week, declaring through the government-run Xinhua News Agency that the Dalai Lama sees the Chinese people as enemies and wants to break up the Chinese nation.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said his government opposed the award and made a formal objection to the United States.

China's charges against the Dalai Lama are false, said Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Washington-based envoy, who has represented him in talks in Beijing.

The medal is important because it gives Tibetans hope and encouragement, said Gyari, whose parents followed the Dalai Lama from Tibet to India after an uprising in 1959.

"The Tibetan people are peaceful because they believe their leader is out there speaking for them and is heard," he said.

The Dalai Lama will meet with President Bush on Tuesday. Bush also will attend the award ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, when conch shell horns will sound and some 30 of the religion's leading teachers from around the world will gather to honor the Dalai Lama.

It will be the first time a sitting American president has met publicly with the Dalai Lama, said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Afterward, the Dalai Lama will walk outside to give a public talk to what organizers expect will be a crowd of thousands on the Capitol's west lawn.

Later in the week he'll visit N Street Village, a social service agency that helps homeless and low-income women in Washington.

The Dalai Lama has been saying for more than 25 years that he doesn't seek independence but rather complete religious and cultural freedom for his homeland. His supporters seek a release of political prisoners, aid directed to improve the lives of Tibetans, protection of the fragile ecosystem of the high plateau where some of Asia's great rivers begin and an end to Chinese interference in Tibet's religion.

The Chinese government has been bringing change to Tibet through development, including a new railway line that has helped boost Chinese migration.

Beijing has been pouring money into Tibet to win hearts and minds. It moved 250,000 farmers closer to roads in the past year and has started to resettle ethnic Tibetan nomads in Qinghai province, though it's not clear that they'll have a new livelihood, said Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University.

"They're trying to encourage people to make money and not be so concerned with the politics of who's running the system, but it's so magnified and obvious in Tibet that it runs the risk of not working too well," he said.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama, who's 72, keeps a busy schedule traveling and giving lectures. He was in Europe last month to see Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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