China's foreign ministry denounced the prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile on Friday as a separatist who had never done a good thing in his life, in a sign that Beijing is unlikely to resume talks anytime soon. Lobsang Sangay told Reuters on Thursday he was hopeful Chinese President Xi Jinping would resume formal talks and soften China's handling of Tibet. But the unusually harsh comments by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei suggested the chances of that happening were remote.
"The relevant person is 100 percent a splittist. He is the ringleader of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile. He has never done anything good on the Tibet issue," Hong told a daily news briefing. The body he leads is illegal under Chinese law as it seeks to separate Tibet from China for the purposes of its independence, and is not recognised by any country, Hong added.
"People can only laugh at the slander he makes about Tibet's situation." Sangay made his comments before the launch of a global publicity campaign to persuade world governments to put pressure on China to restart the dialogue and change its policy on Tibet.
China has ruled Tibet since 1950, when Communist troops marched in and announced its "peaceful liberation". Thousands of its people, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule a few years later. The Tibetans say they are not seeking independence, but greater autonomy under the Chinese constitution. China says it does not believe them.
"Tibet's independence is not acceptable, nor is half-independence, nor covert independence," Hong said. The door to talks is always open, but China will only talk to the Dalai Lama's personal representatives and only about his personal future, not anything to do with Tibet, Hong added, repeating Beijing's standard line.
Many Tibetans feel their intensely Buddhist culture is at risk of annihilation by Beijing's political and economic domination and the influx of majority Han Chinese into the Himalayan region. China denies these charges. At least 131 Tibetans have died since 2009 by setting themselves on fire in protest at Chinese rule, mostly in Tibetan areas outside what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Representatives of the Dalai Lama held rounds of talks with China until 2010, but formal dialogue has stalled amid leadership changes in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ron Popeski)