US award opportunity for China - Dalai Lama envoy

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WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) China should view the Dalai Lama's high-profile visit to Washington next week as a chance to listen to the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader who Beijing shuns as a Tibetan separatist, his envoy said today.

Despite fierce Chinese lobbying, the Dalai Lama will receive the US Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow, on Wednesday after being hosted at the White House by President George W Bush the day before.

The award ceremony at the US Capitol will be the first time Bush will have appeared in public with the Dalai Lama, who has visited the White House only for private meetings.

''It is our hope that more than ever before, the leadership in Beijing will have an unfiltered, undiluted opportunity to hear the message of His Holiness,'' said Lodi Gyari, special envoy of the Dalai Lama.

China views the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule, as a separatist. Beijing bitterly denounced Congress' decision to award the medal and Chinese state media have ratcheted up attacks on the Dalai Lama in recent weeks.

Gyari, who has represented the Dalai Lama in six rounds of talks with Chinese authorities, said he only seeks greater autonomy in religion, culture and language policy in the Buddhist Himalayan region.

The Dalai Lama hoped his Washington visit would let him ''reach out to the leadership in China'' at a time of renewed repression of religion in Tibet that resembled the harsh 1950s, when communist rule was imposed on the region, Gyari said.

After failing to stop the congressional medal, China had pressed US authorities to shift the date of the ceremony so it would not coincide with a key Chinese Communist Party Congress next week that was announced months after the Washington date.

''China did its best to stop this from happening,'' said Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet.

Washington-based Gyari -- who like the Dalai Lama is considered a reincarnated living Buddha by Tibetans -- said heavy-handed lobbying by the Chinese embassy actually helped the Tibetan cause among undecided US lawmakers.

''In a way, I just want to say thank you to the ambassador for making this much more interesting,'' he said.

Experts on China said that Beijing, absorbed with the party congress and able to censor news of the Dalai Lama's visit, was unlikely to go beyond verbal protests to the United States.

''The Tibetan issue assumes a much lower profile within Chinese political debate,'' said Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.

''The leadership can pretty much cover this up and the Chinese media will make a small issue of this,'' he said.

Reuters DKS VP0137

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