China rebuffs US over Tibet policy criticism

 

CHINA HAS flexed its growing political muscle with Beijing responding to Washington’s criticism of its Tibet policy.

Beijing said yesterday it was an internal matter and President Hu Jintao urged the military to “staunchly defend” national sovereignty, just days after a confrontation with a US navy ship.

Tibet is in lockdown as China tries to quell unrest one year after violent demonstrations across the plateau. The White House and the State Department has formally raised concerns over China’s handling of the issue, but the Chinese responded angrily.

“Tibet is purely [a matter for] China’s internal affairs, thus we protest if any country uses it as an excuse to interfere with our internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said.

China is keen to match its growing global economic influence with political strength and the tough stance reflects this ambition. The country’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress, is meeting in the Great Hall of the People this week and is being closely watched for signs that China will introduce programmes that could boost its economy and ultimately help bail the world out of the economic mire.

US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton met Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi at the state department this week and raised with him the issue of Tibet and resuming US-China human rights dialogue.

A commentator in the China Daily newspaper wrote that the US position on Tibet “disregards the history and reality of the Chinese autonomous region by trying to justify Tibet’s dark ages, glorify the treacherous Dalai Lama and baselessly criticise China’s religious policy.”

Mr Yang played down the tensions between Washington and Beijing, saying relations were “at a new starting point and have important opportunities to develop”.

Their meeting was overshadowed by tensions between Washington and Beijing after the US Navy surveillance ship Impeccable, which was towing a sonar sensing device for hunting submarines, was harassed by a group of Chinese naval vessels in waters off Hainan claimed by China.

In a speech to PLA officers at the National People’s Congress, reprinted in the People’s Daily, Mr Hu made it clear that China was not prepared to bow to external pressures.

“Vigorously advance modernisation of national defence and the military,” said Mr Hu, who also serves as Communist Party chief and supreme leader of the military.

“Staunchly defend national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and provide a powerful support and assurance for protecting national development interests and broad social stability,” he said. His remarks did not specifically mention the PLA’s run-in with the US navy vessel.

Mr Hu is due to have his first meeting with President Barack Obama when both leaders attend the G20 summit on the global financial crisis in London next month.

Separately, a military surgeon who exposed China’s Sars cover- up in 2003 and asked the Communist Party to reassess its 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen protesters released a letter asking the government to apologise for detaining him.

Jiang Yanyong wrote to Mr Hu demanding an apology for time he spent confined in an army “guesthouse” and months under house arrest. He also asked the president to lift a ban on him travelling overseas.