The United States on Wednesday urged China to stop vilifying the Dalai Lama and instead talk to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in order to achieve peace and stability in troubled, Chinese-ruled Tibet.
"The Chinese government should seize the opportunity to talk to those Tibetans, represented by the Dalai Lama, who oppose violence and do not seek independence for Tibet," Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a U.S. Senate hearing.
"Public vilification of the Dalai Lama will not help defuse the situation," he said of China's angry tide of statements since protests erupted across Tibet in March.
Negroponte told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China's response to U.S. attempts to persuade Beijing to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and to allow diplomats or other observers into troubled Tibet have been "minimal at best."
Lack of access to tightly controlled Tibetan areas in China were a concern because China had detained some 4,000 people and "reports of mistreatment of detainees are numerous," he said.
Need for discourse
Negroponte said China would not achieve the stability it seeks without resolving grievances built up over decades of Chinese rule, and failure to work with the 72-year-old Buddhist leader would cede ground to extremists in the Himalayan region.
"Through outreach and genuine dialogue, China and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the vast majority of Tibetans, can begin to bridge differences, explore the meaning of genuine autonomy and address long-standing grievances," he said.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of being behind March 14 riots in Lhasa and unrest that followed in other ethnic Tibetan areas, as part of a bid for Tibetan independence and to ruin the coming Olympic Games.
The Dalai Lama has said he wants autonomy for Tibet, not a separate state, and has denied he orchestrated the unrest, which China says killed 19 people. Exiled Tibetans have given a far higher death toll.
Hollywood actor Richard Gere, chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, dismissed China's account. He said the protests had no connection to the Olympics and were "not instigated by the Dalai Lama, no matter what the Chinese authorities have so offensively claimed."
'Greatest moment of need'
President Bush should "throw some weight behind this issue and become publicly engaged," he told the Senate panel.
Bush awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal last October, but "today, when Tibetans are in their greatest moment of need, we have heard only a passing comment from the president," Gere said.
The situation has resulted in demonstrations against and attacks on the Olympic torch as it travels around the world ahead of the Summer Games in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama met Paula Dobriansky, the U.S. special envoy for Tibet, in Michigan on Monday and told her he appreciated U.S. concern with China's handling of the political unrest in Tibet, adding: "At this moment we need your help."