For China, even a beauty pageant must toe the party line

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China's well-known determination to deny Tibet and Taiwan international legitimacy has impacted millions of people over the past half-century, but for one young woman, Beijing's policy has spoiled a simple, personal dream.

The 22-year-old Tibetan, who lives in India, withdrew from a beauty pageant in Malaysia this week after organizers bowed to Chinese pressure and gave her a choice of acknowledging China's sovereignty over her homeland, or leaving.

Tsering Chungtak chose to leave.

Chungtak holds the title of "Miss Tibet," having won the 2006 title in an annual competition held in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Himalayan territory's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

She entered a beauty competition in Malaysia in which contestants from more than 30 countries — including China — are vying for the "World Miss Tourism 2007" title, to be awarded on Friday.

Chungtak's participation came to Beijing's attention, and late last week the trouble began.

title="go to Lobsang Wangyal website"> Lobsang Wangyal, the director of the Miss Tibet pageant, said from Dharmsala Thursday that an official from the Chinese consulate in the Malaysian city of Kuching called the organizer of the Miss Tourism competition "expressing their disapproval of a Miss Tibet."

The Chinese official had also called the Malaysian state's tourism minister, who serves as advisor to the organizing committee.

The following morning, Alaric Soh, director of the Miss Tourism contest, "came to Tsering and explained the situation and [she] was given the options either to wear a sash labeled Miss Tibet-China or pull out of the pageant," Wangyal said.

"Tsering opted to pull out."

"The Miss Tibet pageant is an event organized to empower young Tibetan women, and to celebrate the evolving contemporary Tibetan culture," the organizers of the Tibetan competition said in a statement. "The pageant is not aimed at promoting any political agenda."

A diplomat at the Chinese consulate in Kuching Thursday referred queries to the Malaysian tourism authorities, saying "they know the reason" for the consulate's intervention. "I have no right to answer your questions regarding the so-called Miss Tibet," he said.

Soh could not be reached for comment.

China has occupied Tibet since 1951, and in 1959 it crushed an armed revolt against communist rule. Some 100,000 Tibetans fled into exile, along with the Dalai Lama.

"In the exile community, where the majority of Tibetan girls attend Tibetan-Indian schools, the opportunities for advancement are limited," the Miss Tibet website says.

"Tibetan girls are like girls everywhere; they need role models of women who have grown into skilled, educated, articulate productive members of society."

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