WASHINGTON – A senior Chinese negotiator in talks with the Dalai Lama said Tuesday that his country wants strong ties with the United States but warned that Tibet's future is for China, not foreign governments, to settle.
Si Ta, vice minister of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, said he and his delegation are visiting the United States to meet government officials and lawmakers and to "oppose the internationalization of the so-called Tibet question."
"Some people try to interfere in the internal affairs of China," Si Ta, a Tibetan, told reporters at the Chinese Embassy in Washington. "We'd like to make it clear to them that the Tibet question is not about religion and human rights. It is about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country."
"We need to tell the truth to the world," he said.
The Chinese government wants to stop international adulation of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism who last year received the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal from U.S. lawmakers and who regularly meets with world leaders. The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but Beijing demonizes the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.
Ties between China and France have frayed after a weekend meeting between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama. Si Ta said China opposes the Dalai Lama meeting with any foreign leader, and "foreign interference" would only "push the Dalai Lama further from the Chinese central government."
Beijing and Washington "have differences on some issues," he said through an interpreter, when asked about the Congressional Gold Medal. "At the same time, we all believe that the relationship between China and the United States is very important, and, therefore, the two sides should strengthen communications."
The Dalai Lama says he wants "real autonomy" for Tibet, not independence. He is immensely popular in the Himalayan region, which China has ruled with a heavy hand since its communist-led forces invaded in 1951. He has lived with followers in exile in India since fleeing Chinese soldiers in Tibet in 1959.
Tibetan exiles met in November in India and complained that patience with China's domination over Tibet was thinning. In response, Si Ta said China is willing to be patient in the talks, but he added that "Tibetan independence is out of the question, and so is semi-independence for Tibet and Tibetan independence in disguise."
He also criticized proposals made by the Dalai Lama's representatives during the last round of talks, which he said would keep China from exercising jurisdiction in the region.