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Spotlight on China, darkness in Tibet

Tibet is shouting. But China isn't listening.

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Washington - China's media covered the country's earthquake tragedy more openly than any past disaster. But the Chinese government still maintains a blackout over news from Tibet, which experienced its biggest uprising in decades this spring.

The blackout explains why you probably haven't heard about continuing sporadic protests by Buddhist monks and nuns in eastern Tibet, along with further arrests by the Chinese police. As China consolidates control of territory it considers its own, many Tibetans are placing their hopes on a Chinese offer of talks, now postponed, with representatives of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader-in-exile.

Previous talks have failed – and not just because of calcified mistrust. Rather, China appears to see its "Tibet problem" as a question of economic development, and seems unable to grasp the centrality of Buddhism to the Tibetan people's national and cultural identity.

One high-ranking Communist Party official this spring called the Dalai Lama "a wolf in a monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast." Such language deeply offends many Tibetans.

Still, optimists are watching for signs that Beijing is serious this time about discussing the Dalai Lama's proposal for "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet. At the heart of this hope is a belief that a newly confident China, bolstered by its relatively open and rapid response to the earthquake and then by the Beijing Olympics, will agree to loosen its hold over the region.


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