Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Buddhist Chinese Official Lectures US Senators on Tibet

As reported by the Associated Press

WASHINGTON, 16 Aug (AP) - During a trip to China last week, Minnesota Sens. Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman got a lecture from a Buddhist Chinese government official who criticized the Dalai Lama and insisted there is religious freedom in Tibet.

"He definitely did not, in my eyes, demonstrate the kind of compassion or enlightenment that I would associate with living Buddhists or even aspirants," Dayton, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The official, Jia Muyang, vice president of the China Buddhist Association and a member of the National People's Congress, referred to the Dalai Lama as the "Dalai Clique," according to Dayton.

"He was very hostile," Dayton said.

Coleman, a Republican, said he didn't find the official to be hostile, but confirmed that Jia Muyang criticized the Dalai Lama.

"He said that the quality of life is improving in Tibet, and that the Dali Lama's interests were self-centered," Coleman said in a separate interview. "And he then represented that there was religious freedom in Tibet. I disagree with that assessment. It wasn't a debating point. We had a lot of other issues to discuss."

Since fleeing into exile in India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, the Tibetan spiritual leader has personified his Himalayan nation's struggle for self-determination.

Coleman and Dayton visited China as part of an inter-parliamentary exchange program between the two countries. Along with several other senators, they met with Chinese government officials, including President Hu Jintao, and discussed issues ranging from North Korea to energy policy.

But it was the Buddhist official who really got under Dayton's skin.

"I sat at a dinner table with him one evening and tried to engage in just the simplest polite conversation, and he sort of glowered at me, and buried his face in his rice and noodles," Dayton recalled. "He just kind of glowered at everybody."

"The Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is to try find common humanity, and this gentleman underscored how the Chinese government has really taken over that region, that people, and brutally repressed that religion," he added.

An official at the Chinese embassy in Washington said he could not comment on the meeting.

Coleman said he was able to "loosen up" Jia Muyang a bit.

"Listen, he's speaking a different language, he's dressed in the orange robes, but I actually got a smile out of him," Coleman said. "I said we had some disagreement, and he smiled about that - so it wasn't like he was going to punch me or anything."

Tendar, the first secretary of the Tibet exile government office in New York, said he wasn't surprised by Jia Muyang's comments.

"The Chinese government has been criticizing the Dalai Lama since 1959 when he escaped to India," said Tendar, who has just one name. "If the Dalai Lama is really self-centered, why is he so revered in Tibet?"

He called Jia Muyang's assertion that Tibet has religious freedom "propaganda."

Last year, the U.S. State Department issued a report on religious freedom that cites China as a country of concern, saying Beijing seeks to control all religious activity, especially when it could be linked to political goals such as in the independence-minded regions of Tibet.