By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama holds a book on Mahatma Gandhi after unveiling it at Gujarat Vidhyapith during his lecture on 'world peace' in this Jan. 19, 2008 file photo, in Ahmadabad, India. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
BEIJING, January 25: In a blast of harsh rhetoric, China lashed out Thursday at the Dalai Lama and critics of Beijing's support for Sudan, saying attempts to link political issues to the Beijing Summer Olympics betrayed the spirit of the games.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China could "definitely not accept" rights groups that say China's support for Sudan's government is prolonging the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
"To link the Darfur issue to the Olympics is a move to politicize the Olympics and this is inconsistent with the Olympics spirit and will bear no fruit," Jiang told reporters at a news conference.
She also attacked the Dalai Lama as a religious phony seeking to split China, a response to the exiled Tibetan leader's reported support for peaceful protests during the Olympics.
Beijing's tough approach illustrates its extreme sensitivity toward anything that might tarnish its staging of the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games. Beijing has invested billions of dollars and national prestige in what it hopes will be a glorious showcase of China's rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to rising industrial power.
A tide of criticism from rights groups, celebrities and international media threatens to dampen the mood surrounding the games.
On Sunday, actress Mia Farrow received widespread publicity with an attempt to stage a protest at a former Khmer Rouge prison in Cambodia over Chinese support for Sudan. Farrow has been working with the U.S.-based advocacy group Dream for Darfur, which has held mock Olympic-style torch-lighting ceremonies in places around the globe that have suffered mass killings to call attention to the Darfur violence.
China has sold weapons to the Sudanese government and defended Khartoum in the U.N. Security Council. Resource-hungry China buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and observers say Sudan's military receives up to 70 percent of oil royalties.
China says it plays a constructive role in seeking to resolve the Darfur conflict, where more than 200,000 people have died since 2003, when local rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government.
China last year began deploying 315 non-combat troops to Darfur to prepare for a proposed 26,000-member African Union-U.N. peacekeeping force that has been delayed in part by the Sudanese president's insistence that participating troops be predominantly African.
Members of Reporters Without Borders, from right Vincent Brossel and Robert Menard unfurl posters depicting the Olympic rings made from handcuffs on a pedestrian bridge outside the headquarters of the Beijing Olympics planning committee seen at right in Beijing, China in this Aug. 6, 2007 file photo. In a blast of harsh rhetoric, China on Thursday lashed out at the Dalai Lama and critics of Beijing's support for Sudan, saying attempts to link political issues to the Summer Olympics betrayed the spirit of the Games. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
"The international community knows very well that the Chinese government has played a positive and constructive role," Jiang said. "Some organizations are trying to make some sensations. This is to undermine the preparation work of the Olympics and we are firmly against that."
While China routinely vilifies the Dalai Lama, a recent interview with British broadcaster ITV News in which he reportedly gave his blessing for protests at the Olympics put him in the focus again.
According to a transcript circulated by pro-Tibetan groups, the 72-year-old Nobel Peace laureate said protests could remind the Chinese public of government policies he says are eroding the region's traditional Buddhist culture.
The Dalai Lama said Chinese repression in Tibet had gotten "certainly worse" since China was awarded the Olympics in 2001.
"The goal of all of his schemes is to split the motherland, sabotage ethnic unity, sabotage China's relations with other nations and interfere with the Olympic Games," Jiang said.
"So he is in no way a religious or spiritual leader. He is purely a general leader bent on pursuing separatism and sabotaging national unity," she said.
China has also been angered by a series of overseas visits by the Dalai Lama, who leads an India-based exile government. Beijing's relations with Germany were strained for months after Chancellor Angela Merkel received the Dalai Lama in September.