Will Dalai Lama Follow Brother's Tibet Visit

| September 16, 2002 Issue

G yalo Thondup, the older brother of the Dalai Lama, recently visited Tibet for the first time since his family left 52 years ago, and now China-watchers are wondering what it all means.

Thondup is respected by Tibetans and Chinese alike, reports Sandip Roy of the Pacific News Service. Though he has long opposed the Chinese occupation of his country, he studied in China and speaks fluent Chinese. "When China decided to allow Thondup to visit Tibet, the Dalai Lama's spokesman called it a 'helpful measure,'" writes Roy.

But many Tibetans are skeptical, saying that China is using Thondup's visit as a "publicity campaign" to reassure the rest of the world that Tibet is faring well. Nawang Rabgyal, the Dalai Lama's representative in North and South America, hastens to clarify that Thondup's visit is not official, and that "the issue of Tibet is not about the return of Thondup or even His Holiness," but about "the millions of Tibetans."

Roy also analyzes the timing of the trip in relation to Chinese president Jiang Zemin's upcoming meeting with George W. Bush in October. "China watchers think Beijing is anxious to show some movement on the Tibetan front," notes Roy. "Thondup's visit as well as the recent release of some political prisoners -- including the longest-serving Tibetan dissident -- are for some, part of a public relations spring cleaning before the presidential visit and the Beijing Olympics."
--Julie Madsen
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