US relations and Tibetan politics top agenda at annual Chinese parliament

 

DELEGATES AT China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), focused on issues of foreign relations, especially with the US, and the need to keep a tight grip on Tibet, as the week-long gathering continued yesterday.

The Great Hall of the People is draped in red flags for the event and many delegates wear the traditional dress of ethnic minorities, or military uniforms, as well as the sober blue suits that have become the Communist Party uniform.

Security is tight for the NPC, which largely has the role of rubber-stamping bills decided by the leadership, but it can provide a forum for debate on some of the more contentious issues affecting China.

The parliament’s advisory body, the CPPCC, has already made various recommendations and the leadership is stressing the need for greater equality and an end to China’s yawning wealth gap, all points to be addressed in the five-year plan to be released at the end of the congress.

Overseas relations were high on the agenda yesterday, especially those between the world’s two biggest economies, the US and China.

Foreign minister Yang Jiechi said there was a “good atmosphere” in Sino-US relations. However, he followed this by demanding the US stop selling weapons to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China considers a renegade province but which the US has pledged to defend if Beijing should try to invade.

“We have a full agenda in developing China-US relations in the coming months,” Mr Yang said. However, it was “an objective reality that China and the United States have some differences or even frictions over some issues. What is important is to properly handle these differences on the basis of mutual respect,” he said.

Washington is at loggerheads with Beijing over China’s massive trade surplus with the US and the belief that China keeps its currency artificially low to boost exports.

China, for its part, is angered at Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan, and a decision last year to allow Tibet’s exiled leader the Dalai Lama visit the White House.

Tibetan politics are also featuring at the NPC. The Chinese government sees the Buddhist Dalai Lama as a separatist, intent on overthrowing Chinese rule over the Himalayan region. Zhang Qingli, the top party official in Tibet, told the congress that even three years after the suppression of major anti-government protests, Tibet continued to face serious challenges from separatism.

Rioting in March 2008 in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, left at least 22 people dead and set off a wave of protests across parts of western China traditionally inhabited by Tibetans. There were reports yesterday that visits to Lhasa by foreigners have been stopped this month.

Tibet’s former governor, Qiangba Puncog, admitted there would be small shockwaves in Tibet when the Dalai Lama died, but that the Communist leadership would not allow serious instability.

The 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1958, remains deeply revered among Tibetans.

He has indicated the succession process could break with tradition – either by being hand-picked by him or through democratic elections.

Padma Choling, the Chinese- appointed governor of Tibet, insisted the Dalai Lama had no right to choose his successor any way he wants and must follow the historical and religious tradition of reincarnation.

The Dalai Lama is due to visit Ireland next month.