China Dismisses Dalai Lama's Call For Further Autonomy in Tibet

A Chinese government official in charge of Tibet has said Tibetans are opposed to further autonomy as sought by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The official says Tibetans have prospered under Chinese rule and are now experiencing their fastest economic growth in history. But, as Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, the Tibetans still lack basic religious and cultural freedoms.

The chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region, Qiangba Puncog, Wednesday slammed the Dalai Lama's calls for more Tibetan autonomy from China. He said in the last six years Tibet's economy has grown more than 12 percent a year under Chinese rule, improving living standards for ordinary Tibetans. He said Tibetans do not want that to change.

"This system has brought today's development and changes to Tibet," he said. Consequently, what the Dalai Lama suggests, the so-called high-degree of autonomy, is not consistent and fundamentally contravenes the wish of the people of Tibet and contravenes the principles enshrined in the constitution and current system of China."

Under China's communist system, predominantly non-Chinese regions of the country are given so-called autonomous status to rule their own affairs. But, in practice, the Chinese Communist Party is the real ruler and cracks down hard on all dissent.

China maintains the Buddhist Tibetans have religious freedom, even though Chinese officials choose not only Tibetan political but also religious leaders, and nuns and monks are forced to pledge allegiance to their communist rulers. Tibetans have to hide their support for the Dalai Lama for fear of persecution and imprisonment.

The Nobel peace prize winner led resistance to Chinese communist rule, but has recently taken a more moderate stance. He now says Tibet needs more autonomy but that its development depends on remaining a part of China.

Qiangba Puncog says that position is just a trick.

"In fact this is a covert form of [seeking] independence, a form of incrementally [seeking] independence," he said. "Some in the Dalai clique have said if they succeed in reaching a high degree of autonomy they won't be far away from achieving real independence."

Qiangba Puncog dismissed calls from a former Tibetan Communist official that the Dalai Lama should be allowed to return to Tibet. He said that opinion is not shared by Tibetans and only represents the view of what he described as "a few people".

Last week the Dalai Lama met with Australia's Prime Minister, drawing condemnations from the Chinese government.