Growing anti-China protests underscore clout of Tibet lobby

 WASHINGTON (AFP) – Spontaneous anti-China protests disrupting the Beijing Olympic torch relay underscore the growing clout of the Tibetan exile lobby, which has strategically galvanized support of civil society groups, experts say.

The lobby has forged links at diverse levels, ranging from colleges, universities and monasteries to human rights and media groups to the real centers of power and the rich and famous in Hollywood, including filmstar Richard Gere.

But gaining the support of powerful civic institutions, in the forefront of efforts to thwart the Beijing Olympic flame relay, is seen as the biggest success in the lobbying efforts against Chinese rule in Tibet.

“It shows the power of international civil society groups, which China failed to take into account when it bid for the Olympics,” said Asian expert Malik Mohan of the Hawaii-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

In March, barely five months before the start of the summer Games, anti-China protests erupted in Lhasa, countered by a fierce crackdown which earned Beijing international condemnation. The flame relay quickly became a mobile rallying point for anti-Beijing protesters.

“The fact that the Olympic flame was extinguished — even though by officials for safety reasons — was a remarkable victory for the protests and a big loss of face for the Chinese leadership,” Mohan said.

The Paris leg of the flame relay was cut short Monday after pro-Tibet activists repeatedly forced officials to douse the torch and take refuge on a bus. In San Francisco, protesters scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to unfurl banners ahead of the next leg.

The incidents came a day after rowdy protests on the relay’s London leg, where its progress was disrupted several times and it also had to be briefly put on a bus for security.

Unlike other groups, the Tibetan exile community is small, estimated at about 200,000, confined mostly in Nepal and India — where Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile is based.

But many of them are involved in global networks pushing for “meaningful” autonomy advocated by the Dalai Lama, or even independence for Tibet.

Among them are Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based international grassroots organization of students and youth with 650 chapters in more than 20 countries as well as the International Tibetan Support Network, an umbrella of 250 groups around the globe.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a human rights advocacy group which also has offices in Brussels, Amsterdam and Berlin, is viewed as the driving force of the Dalai Lama’s diplomatic blitz.

“We have been pretty effective in drawing increasing support from the American public as well as Congress and the administration who are all sympathetic to our cause,” said Bhuchung Tsering, ICT’s vice president.

Lodi Gyari, the ICT board’s executive chairman, is the Dalai Lama’s special envoy and head of the spritual leader’s team which has held six round of negotiations with the Chinese government that did not result in any breakthrough.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, was once shunned by the White House and State Department.

But today he is welcomed with open arms by the president and secretary of state as well as by Congress, which last year conferred the Dalai Lama the highest US civilian award bestowed by lawmakers.

Despite Beijing’s opposition, President George W. Bush attended the award presentation ceremony — the first time a sitting US leader appeared in public with the 72-year-old Buddhist figurehead.

“The pro-Tibet lobby has came a long way. It did not happen overnight,” said T. Kumar, the Asia-Pacific advocacy director for Amnesty International.

“The Dalai Lama’s message preaching non-violence was critical in drawing support from the US administration as well as bipartisan support from the Congress,” he said.

Kumar said the recent Chinese crackdown on protests drew Tibetan exile groups to play a leading role in the global campaign to highlight Beijing’s “dismal” human rights record.

“The crackdown provided the spark,” he said.;_ylt=AtvytLWEFDNtBt4HgInqP2Ng.3QA



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