What is it about the Dalai Lama that enrages China so much?
Beijing's latest outburst against the Buddhist leader came during his visit to Australia. China did all it could before his visit to prevent the Dalai Lama from meeting Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd.
And it almost succeeded. But this is an election year in Australia and the Dalai Lama is loved and respected by many Australians. More than anything else, the fear of losing votes led Howard and Rudd to meet with the Tibetan leader.
Australia sought to limit Beijing's anger by describing the meetings with the Dalai Lama as religious in nature and without any political implications.
Gently rebuffing the Chinese pressure, Howard said: "As prime minister, I take the view I will decide who I will meet ? he is a figure in my view that I should meet."
But to reassure Beijing, he said: "It doesn't alter our foreign policy; it doesn't alter our relationship with China."
Describing the Dalai Lama "as a major world religious figure," Rudd said: "Our discussions centered on questions of religion and faith."
Canberra is generally mindful of Beijing's reaction in such situations, as trade relations between the nations have grown considerably. China is expected to soon overtake Japan as Australia's largest trading partner.
China has expanded trade relationships with Australia not to curry political favor, but as part of its ravenous search for mineral and energy imports. In short, Australia has what China needs and both sides know it.
Beijing knows that Canberra is not interested in Tibetan separatism, but China must continue ostracizing the Dalai Lama because he is the personification of Tibet.
Beijing seeks to ostracize Taiwan internationally in much the same way.
Moreover, for many years now the Dalai Lama has renounced separatism for Tibet. He reiterated this position while in Australia and said that he favored autonomy for Tibet within China, with Tibetans maintaining their cultural and spiritual identity.
In an interview on Australian television's Dateline program, he maintained that his advocacy of respect for Tibet's culture and spirituality was indeed in tune with Chinese President Hu Jintao's (
However, as things stand today, not only are Tibet's distinct cultural and religious traditions in danger of being obliterated, China also seems to be determined to wipe out Tibetan ethnic identity itself. The influx of the Han Chinese into Tibet and their control of all institutions and economic activity there are increasingly marginalizing Tibetans in their own land.
In the capital, Lhasa, for instance, Tibetans are said to now number only one-third of the population. And with the opening of the new rail line linking Tibet with China, more and more Han Chinese are pouring into Tibet, making life even harder for its original inhabitants.
The region is simply being overwhelmed by outsiders with nothing but contempt for Tibetans and their traditions.
When Tibetans show the least bit resistance to the multi-pronged Chinese onslaught, they risk spending the remainder of their lives in prison -- or worse.
Faced with such a bleak situation, it is not surprising that the Dalai Lama strives to prevent the marginalization of his people. He has come to realize over the years that Tibetan independence is not likely to happen, considering China's might and international clout.