China lashes out at Dalai Lama, other Olympic critics


In a blast of harsh rhetoric, China lashed out Thursday at the Dalai Lama and critics of Beijing's support for Sudan, saying attempts to link political issues to the Beijing Summer Olympics betrayed the spirit of the games.

"We can definitely not accept them," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in reference to rights groups which say China's support for Sudan's government is prolonging the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region.

"To link the Darfur issue to the Olympics is a move to politicize the Olympics and this is inconsistent with the Olympics spirit and will bear no fruit," Jiang told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.

Jiang also attacked the Dalai Lama as a religious phony seeking to split China, a response to the exiled Tibetan leader's reported support for peaceful protests during the Olympics.

Beijing's tough approach illustrates its extreme sensitivity toward anything that might tarnish its staging of the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games. Beijing has invested billions of dollars (euros) and massive national prestige in what it hopes will be a glorious showcase of China's rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to rising industrial power.

A rising tide of criticism from rights groups, celebrities and international media threatens to dampen the mood surrounding the games.

On Sunday, American actress Mia Farrow received widespread publicity with an attempt to stage a protest at a former Khmer Rouge prison in Cambodia over Chinese support for Sudan. Farrow has been working with the U.S.-based advocacy group Dream for Darfur, which has been staging mock Olympic-style torch-lighting ceremonies in places around the globe that have suffered mass killings to call attention to the Darfur violence.

China has sold weapons to the Sudanese government and defended Khartoum in the U.N. Security Council. Resource-hungry China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and observers say Sudan's military receives up to 70 percent of oil royalties.

China counters the accusations by saying it plays a constructive role in seeking to resolve the Darfur conflict, where more than 200,000 people have died since a government-backed militia stepped up attacks in 2003.

China last year began deploying 315 non-combat troops to Darfur to prepare for the arrival of a proposed 26,000-strong hybrid African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force that has been delayed in part by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's refusal to allow non-Africans to participate.

"The international community knows very well that the Chinese government has played a positive and constructive role," Jiang said. "Some organizations are trying to make some sensations. This is to undermine the preparation work of the Olympics and we are firmly against that."

While China routinely vilifies the Dalai Lama, a recent interview with British broadcaster ITV News in which he reportedly gave his blessing for protests at the Olympics put him in the focus again.

According to a transcript circulated by pro-Tibetan groups, the 72-year-old winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize said protests could remind the Chinese public of government policies he says are eroding the region's traditional Buddhist culture.

The Dalai Lama said Chinese repression in Tibet had gotten "certainly worse" since China was awarded the Olympics in 2001.

"The goal of all of his schemes is to split the motherland, sabotage ethnic unity, sabotage China's relations with other nations and interfere with the Olympic Games," Jiang said.

"So he is in no way a religious or spiritual leader. He is purely a general leader bent on pursuing separatism and sabotaging national unity," she said.

China has also been angered by a series of overseas visits by the Dalai Lama, who leads an India-based exile government. Beijing's relations with Germany were strained for months after Chancellor Angela Merkel received the Dalai Lama in September.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press