HK activists to set up Tibetan association

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am

Several activists from the fringe of Hong Kong's pan-democratic camp are planning to set up a friendship group to promote 'Tibetan culture' following their meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The move has alarmed Beijing, which has called the overseas equivalents of such friendship groups 'political mouthpieces' of the exiled spiritual leader. The central government labels the Dalai Lama a splittist and blames him for deadly riots that broke out last year in western parts of the country.

The Hong Kong activists said they would not promote Tibetan independence through their plans to create a Tibetan-Chinese Friendship Association, although they did back the Dalai Lama's pursuit of more autonomy for Tibetans.

'It is the first time people from Hong Kong have started a relationship with the Dalai Lama. We have to do one thing at a time and first promote the culture of Tibet and tourism,' said James Lung Wai-man, of the Southern Democratic Alliance. Mr Lung was a member of a 30-strong delegation received by the Dalai Lama in March.

'While we support the Dalai Lama's concept of seeking autonomy through a middle way similar to Hong Kong's 'one country, two systems', openly displaying the snow lion flag [of Tibet] from the start like [Christina] Chan Hau-man will only lead to disaster.' Mr Lung was referring to the University of Hong Kong activist who was detained by police for waving the flag, which the government-in-exile uses, in a protest during the Olympic torch relay last year in Hong Kong.

The Tibetan question has always been a sensitive one in the city. Several overseas activists backing the Dalai Lama were refused entry to Hong Kong during the Olympic torch relay, and the Foreign Ministry's office pressured the Foreign Correspondents' Club to postpone a speaking function by Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, when she visited in April.

Mr Lung and his colleagues started working on the plan to set up a friendship association on their return from Dharamsala, the Indian hill town that is the seat of the government in exile. Similar associations have been established overseas since rioting erupted in Tibet in March last year, with the People's Daily calling them 'political mouthpieces of the Dalai clique' earlier this month.

But Mr Lung, who is organising the creation of the friendship group with Wong Yuen-cheung, the Hong Kong representative of the international dissident group the Federation for a Democratic China, said he was not worried about being branded a splittist.

'It is still in a conceptual stage because we have yet to get enough support in Hong Kong,' Mr Lung said, adding that under the plan, Mr Wong would approach Tibetan religious communities while he would focus on ethnic minority workers.

Delegation member Chan King-chung, of the China Labour Party who made a failed bid for a seat in the 2007 district council election, said it would be a challenge to find resources and manpower to set up the group.

Another delegate, Thomas Yan Sun-kwong, who heads the Hong Kong branch of the Federation for a Democratic China, said their Dharamsala trip would not lead to pressure on the government to revive its failed bid to legislate against subversion under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

A mainland official monitoring the situation in Hong Kong said the activities of Mr Lung and his colleagues had already appeared on Beijing's 'radar screen'.

'Although they are not openly campaigning for Tibetan independence, these so-called friendship associations can infiltrate social and religious groups under the guise of cultural activities, and mobilise them to support the Dalai Lama's intentions,' the official said.

A Hong Kong government spokesman refused to comment on individual cases when asked about the groups' plans. 'Activities organised by any individuals or organisations in Hong Kong must comply with the law,' he said. On the group's aim to seek government funding in promoting Tibetan culture, he said each case would be considered on its own merits.

The office of Dalai Lama in Dharamsala was not available for comment.

The delegation was invited there by officials representing the Dalai Lama as part of activities marking the 50th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army entering Tibet.

Ten people from Hong Kong joined the delegation, along with Chinese dissidents living in exile in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Mr Lung said the Dalai Lama greeted his 'new friends' from Hong Kong and spoke about his wish for an autonomous Tibet. After the meeting, Mr Lung and his colleagues discussed plans to promote Tibet.

As well as a one-hour audience with the Dalai Lama, the delegates also met the prime minister of his government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, and leaders of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which has been branded by Beijing as a terrorist group. Gifts were exchanged between the Tibetans and Hong Kong activists during the meetings, and several Tibetan paintings were given to Mr Lung.

He is planning to start an information and book-exchange programme with Dharamsala, with the aim of setting up a Tibet information centre in Hong Kong.

Although apparently distancing themselves from the radical groups, mainstream politicians in the pan-democratic camp warned that the government should refrain from exerting pressure on the groups' plans.

'Talking about Tibetans doesn't mean they are campaigning for Tibetan independence,' said Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, who added that he had ignored earlier e-mails sent by activists organising the friendship association who had asked for his participation.

Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who is a member of the legislature's security panel, said the group's activities relating to the Dalai Lama were inappropriate because Hong Kong people would not accept Tibetan independence.

'Any plan to split the country is illegal, even without Article 23,' Mr Ip said, but added that promoting Tibetan culture should be allowed. 'I am not surprised by their plans because Hong Kong attracts a lot of foreign forces.'