China warns Europe to steer clear of Tibet unrest issue

Bush talks to Hu • India cancels minister’s visit • HRW calls for probe

Beijing, March 27:

China today warned Europe not to send the “wrong signals” to Dalai Lama supporters as European foreign ministers prepared for a meeting during which they will discuss the Tibetan unrest.

“I hope people will not adopt double standards and will not send any erroneous message to the Dalai clique,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said when asked about the European ministers’ stated plan to discuss Tibet.

The “Dalai clique” is China’s phrase for what it says is a separatist force headed by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and which it blames for recent unrest in Tibet and adjacent regions.

It has provided no evidence for the accusations and the Dalai Lama denies such charges.

“We will say something,” on Tibet, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told reporters yesterday ahead of the two-day EU foreign ministers’ meeting. The meeting starts in Slovenia on Friday.

“I believe a draft is being prepared by those that have proposed that discussion,” he added, without mentioning whether the foreign ministers would mull the pros and cons of any possible Olympics boycott.

Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, in an interview with a Belgian newspaper published yesterday, did not rule out a boycott if the situation in Tibet worsened.

Qin reiterated China’s position that rioting in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and elsewhere was an outburst by “criminals” rather than an expression of popular anger at Chinese control of the Himalayan region. “The Tibet issue is totally an internal affair of China and we do not accept any foreign interference,” Qin said. “I hope that the EU will distinguish right from wrong and condemn the criminals.”

Meanwhile, Associated Press reported that US President George W Bush has called President Hu Jintao of China and has raised concerns about the crackdown in Tibet. The White House says Bush encouraged Hu to engage in “substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives and to allow access for journalists and diplomats.”

Bush also told Hu that last weekend’s elections in Taiwan provided “a fresh opportunity for both sides to reach out and engage one another in peacefully resolving their differences.” They also discussed the situation in North Korea and Myanmar.

An AFP report from New Delhi said New Delhi cancelled a proposed visit to Beijing by Trade Minister Kamal Nath after China summoned the Indian envoy over Tibetan protests in India. Nath was due to travel to Beijing on April 1 to take part in discussions on a trade agreement between the two Asian giants, The Times of India reported.

But the Indian government called off Nath’s trip to protest the Chinese foreign ministry’s summoning of India’s ambassador to Beijing early Saturday over Tibetan protests in India, the newspaper reported.

A foreign ministry official in New Delhi declined to confirm the report.

Meanwhile, US-based Human Rights Watch today called for an independent investigation of the unrest in Tibet and said China must allow more access to the Himalayan region.

“It’s very difficult to get accurate information about what’s going on there. We are calling for an independent investigation into Tibet to be able to ascertain what’s happening,” said Elaine Pearson, the group’s deputy director for Asia, who was on a visit to the Philippines.