Analysis: China gets restive taste of post-Dalai Lama era

Fri Feb 3, 2012 2:54am EST
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By Michael Martina and Brian Rhoads

BEIJING (Reuters) - China over the years has derided the Dalai Lama as a jackal in Buddhist robes, choreographer of a separatist Peking opera and, lately, instigator of a plot that led some Tibetans to set themselves on fire and other forms of protest.

Even so, China's hardline rulers may have reason to miss him when he's gone. The aging spiritual leader's presence and message of non-violence have kept a damper on unrest but, once he dies, things could worsen rapidly.

The protests in Tibetan plateau communities in Sichuan province in January follow a year in which at least 16 Tibetans -- most Buddhist monks and nuns -- have self-immolated in protests seeking a return of the exiled Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet.

China has branded the immolators as terrorists and, in a familiar refrain, Beijing Wednesday blamed Tibetan separatist forces for fomenting hatred among the people and sparking the protests that were put down by armed police using deadly force.

With unrest in once-quiet areas of the Tibetan plateau and little prospect for direct talks between China and the Tibetan government-in-exile, concern is growing that violence will boil over upon the death of the Dalai Lama.

If nothing changes, Beijing will likely respond with the same tough measures it has used for decades.

"Positions have hardened," Khedroob Thondup, nephew of the Dalai Lama, told Reuters from his part-time home in Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama has generally managed to restrain Tibet's youth with his message of non-violence, said Thondup, a former member of the exiled government who traveled to China 15 times for official talks before negotiations went sour.   Continued...

<p>A Tibetan resident holds a map of Tibet during a Free Tibet demonstration denouncing the Chinese government in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>