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Tibet will stick to its own path with or without the Dalai Lama, a central government official said yesterday, noting that the Chinese, including Tibetans, will decide the future of the region.
The official also warned that a possible meeting between US President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama would further strain Sino-US relations.
He stressed that the central government wants to "give the Dalai Lama a chance to correct his mistakes" by keeping the door open for talks with his envoys.
"The Chinese people, including Tibetans, will decide the future of Tibet," Zhu Weiqun, executive vice-minister of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said at a press conference in Beijing.
He was responding to questions on what would become of the Tibet autonomous region after the Dalai Lama's death.
Asked if the central government would find a solution to the Tibet issue more difficult after the Dalai Lama's death, Zhu replied: "It is not polite in China to talk about the possibility of a 75-year-old man passing away. We hope he lives a long life."
The central government hopes the Dalai Lama settles his affairs while still alive, and does not pass away abroad, he said.
Central government officials met with the Dalai Lama's private representatives, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, last week in China, more than a year after the Dalai Lama declared an end to contacts and talks following a meeting in November 2008.
The two sides had "sharply divided" views in the latest round of talks "as usual", Zhu said.
But he said the talks - at the request of the Dalai side - "had some upside" as they allowed both sides know the exact differences and how wide the differences were.
The central government wanted to "give the Dalai Lama a chance to correct his mistakes" by holding talks with his envoys, Zhu said.
Asked to comment on the possibility of an upsurge in violence and terrorist activities after the death of the Dalai Lama, Zhu told reporters that he believed most Tibetans living abroad love peace, like to be in touch with their family and friends in Tibet, and be part of the region's development.
Tanzen Lhundrup, deputy director of the Institute of Social and Economic Studies affiliated to the China Tibetology Research Center, warned that it is "quite possible" that some extremist forces abroad may resort to violence or terrorism if the Tibet issue is not resolved when the Dalai Lama still has influence.
"Since he (the Dalai Lama) claims he does not seek 'Tibet independence', the Dalai Lama should put words into practice by, say, curbing such extremist forces as the 'Tibet Youth Congress'," he told China Daily yesterday.
But Tanzen Lhundrup emphasized that the central government is well prepared to deal with the post-Dalai Lama era.
Zhu said the talks between the central government and the Dalai Lama's representatives were not futile as the central government arranged trips for the envoys to visit Hunan province to better understand the country and the regional ethnic autonomy policy.
He said during the previous talks, Lodi Gyari had presented a "Memorandum from All Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy", in which obscure words were intentionally used in an attempt to explain "Greater Tibet" and "high degree of autonomy".
When the memorandum was rejected by the central government, Lodi Gyari was not pleased, saying he did not want new talks, Zhu said.
"This time, Lodi Gyari says he wants talks to continue in the future," he said.
Zhu said the improvement in relations with the Dalai Lama was China's internal affair so "outsiders have no right to voice any opinion."
But since the last round of talks in 2008, the Dalai Lama's followers continued to openly collude with separatist forces to attack the central government and the CPC, he said.
"They tried hard to destroy the stability of society in China, slandering and damaging the image of China, disturbing visits by the head of state to foreign countries and harming the sanctity of our nation's territory and sovereignty," he said. "The Dalai Lama even openly and repeatedly declared, 'No doubt, I am a son of India'."
The Dalai Lama should realize that some foreign forces which support him do not help him, but use him, he said.
"Since the armed rebellion in 1959, what did the Dalai Lama achieve except to be pushed further and further away from the journey home?"
Zhu also warned yesterday that a possible meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama would further hurt Sino-US relations.
There has been widespread speculation that Obama will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits the United States in the coming months. The White House has not publicly confirmed any such meeting.
"If the US leader chooses to meet the Dalai Lama, that will damage trust and cooperation between our two countries, and how will that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?" asked Zhu.