China Shuts Mongolia Border as Dalai Lama Visits
(Reuters | Beijing | November 7, 2002)

China briefly closed parts of its border with Mongolia as Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, visited its northern neighbor, Mongolian officials said Thursday.

Road and rail links across the entire border were closed partially early Tuesday morning but reopened Wednesday afternoon, said Amarsaikhan Sainbuyan, a diplomat at the Mongolian embassy in Beijing.

"We don't have any information from the Chinese side," he said. "Right now it's open."

During the closure, Chinese officials prevented goods from moving across the border although international passenger and freight trains were allowed to cross after delays of several hours, the Mongolian diplomat said. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference Thursday several trains had stopped on the border, but denied there had been any closure.

"The border has not been closed. There is no such case. I don't know where you get this report," he said. Chinese border officials told their Mongolian counterparts the closure was due to "maintenance," Sainbuyan said.

One Mongolian Foreign Ministry official, who declined to give his name, said the closure was related to the visit by the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against China.

The Dalai Lama's politically sensitive visit comes on the eve of a landmark Communist Party congress, which opens Friday. Beijing, which has opposed Mongolia welcoming the Dalai Lama, has ordered security authorities to take extra precautions to ensure there are no disruptions to the congress.

Mum On Congress: China, which imposed communist rule on Tibet after its troops entered in 1950, has shown signs of increasing tolerance toward the region this year, freeing a string of Tibetan activists and allowing a rare visit by two of the Dalai Lama's envoys.

That September visit, the first by a delegation from the exiled Buddhist leader since 1985, signaled progress in Sino-Tibetan ties, the Dalai Lama said Thursday.

"This is just the beginning," he told a gathering of scholars at Mongolian National University in Ulan Bator. "I think this is a good start. We will see how much concrete. We will see."

China has demanded the Dalai Lama abandon what it says is an independence movement and recognize Tibet and Taiwan as parts of China before talks on his future can begin. The Dalai Lama says he wants real autonomy, not independence, for Tibet but has not met China's other demands. Analysts say he would anger Tibetans by renouncing historical claims to statehood. "I am not seeking independence. I am seeking self-rule," he said. "But Tibet needs preservation of its cultural heritage, religion and environment."

Some analysts say both sides are looking for a compromise as they fear Tibetans in exile could become more radical, even violent, after the Dalai Lama dies.

"The present policy of the Chinese government is harmful for stability and unity," said the Dalai Lama. He declined to predict how ties would be affected the congress, which is expected to usher in a new generation of leaders, saying only, "Too early to say."

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