China ready to meet Dalai Lama's aide

April 25, 2008 6:05:27 AM PDT
China's government agreed Friday to a meeting with an envoy of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, a step that follows weeks of calls from world leaders for dialogue in the wake of anti-government protests in Tibet. The demonstrations have galvanized critics of the communist regime and thrown a shadow over the Beijing Olympics. Protests have disrupted the Olympic torch relay, and world leaders - including President Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - have urged Beijing to open talks with the Dalai Lama.

"In view of the requests repeatedly made by the Dalai side for resuming talks, the relevant department of the central government will have contact and consultation with Dalai's private representative in the coming days," the official Xinhua News Agency said, quoting an unidentified official.

Xinhua, which releases major government announcements, gave no details on a time or place for the talks, or who they would involve.

The Xinhua report said China had committed only to a meeting and appeared to attach routine conditions for opening a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, including a demand that he stop plotting for Tibet's independence "so as to create conditions for talks."

The prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile said he had not received any official Chinese confirmation of the report. He sounded a cautious note on any potential talks.

"The Dalai Lama is always open to have a dialogue but the present circumstances in Tibet do not appear to be an appropriate platform for a meaningful dialogue," Samdhong Rimpoche told The Associated Press in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

"But let the official confirmation come from the Chinese. We will give our response," he said.

After a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the Xinhua announcement encouraging and said China appeared prepared to discuss all issues except sovereignty.

"So if the concern of the Dalai Lama is, as he has always stated, respect of cultural identity, religious identity and autonomy inside China. I believe, I believe, there's real room for a dialogue," Barroso told reporters.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said diplomats were encouraged by the report.

"The U.S. has long encouraged the Chinese to renew dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives. So if the reports are true ... we see this as a positive development," Stevenson said.

China and representatives of the Dalai Lama's government in exile held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in late 2006. The Dalai Lama's emissaries were allowed to visit Tibetan areas in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, but not Tibet itself.

Both sides have kept open back channels for dialogue, though they do not often talk about them and China does not acknowledge the existence of formal negotiations. One occasional intermediary is the Dalai Lama's older brother, Gyalo Thondup, who helped reopen a dialogue in the late 1970s that had been closed by Mao Zedong's isolationist, radical policies.

More recent discussions have been led by the Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, who on Wednesday described the situation in Tibet as "very explosive."

China has always said it was willing to talk with the Dalai Lama as long as he met preconditions, including unambiguously recognizing Tibet as a part of China. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet, not independence from Chinese rule.

"The policy of the central government towards Dalai has been consistent and the door of dialogue has remained open," Xinhua quoted the unidentified official as saying.

"It is hoped that through contact and consultation, the Dalai side will take credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks," it quoted the official as saying.

Officials with the Foreign Ministry and communist leadership's international affairs office said they had no information about the Xinhua report.

China has accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the recent violence in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, although it has provided little or no direct evidence.

Last month's protests were the most widespread and sustained action against Beijing's rule in decades, focusing attention on accusations that China's policies in the Himalayan region are eroding its Buddhist culture and mainly benefit Chinese who moved there since its 1951 occupation by communist troops.

International criticism and protests surrounding the Olympic torch have prompted an angry nationalist backlash among many Chinese, further raising tensions ahead of the August games.

China says 22 people died in violence in Lhasa, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the security crackdown across Tibetan regions of western China.


Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India contributed to this report.