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Dalai Lama envoy upbeat on China talks

May 8, 2008

By James Pomfret
The International Herald Tribune/Reuters
May 6, 2008

HONG KONG: An envoy of the Dalai Lama said on Tuesday that one-day talks with China on the unrest in Tibet had been "a good first step" and that the two sides would meet again after he reports back to the exiled spiritual leader.

The unrest, the most serious challenge to Chinese rule in the mountainous region for nearly two decades, prompted anti-China protests around the world that disrupted the international leg of the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics and led to calls for Western leaders to boycott the August Games.

Despite some scepticism among analysts over whether the recent diplomatic overture would yield any substantive breakthrough given the failure of previous talks, the two Tibetan envoys struck a positive note following the meeting with Chinese negotiators they've known for years.

"We had very candid discussions ... we have a good rapport, so that is always very helpful," Lodi Gyari told Reuters at Hong Kong airport as he prepared to board a flight for India, home of the Tibet government-in-exile.

But Lodi Gyari and his fellow envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, who were dressed casually at the airport, gave few details of the talks, saying they needed to brief the Dalai Lama first.

"We have agreed to meet once again so I think it is a good sign, but we will make a formal statement after I have reported to his Holiness when I get back to India."


Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen held the meeting with Chinese officials, the first since an eruption of Tibetan protests and deadly riots two months ago, in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference in Beijing the talks were just a beginning.

"The central government is sincere in having contacts with the Dalai Lama," he said. "Only if the Dalai Lama is sincere and puts this into action can we go on."

China proposed the latest talks last month after Western governments urged it to open new dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who says he wants a high level of autonomy, not independence, for the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan homeland he fled in 1959.

But state-run Xinhua news agency said on Sunday that the meeting was arranged at the government-in-exile's repeated request for contacts and consultations with Beijing.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said what was needed was "continuing dialogue in good faith".

"China needs to be open and transparent about Tibet so far as the international community is concerned, but it also needs to engage in a positive and constructive good faith dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives," he told reporters in Hong Kong on his way to Japan and South Korea.

"...Let's just see the outcomes of the conversations. I welcome the conversation in the last couple of days and I welcome the fact that dialogue will continue."

Lodi Gyari, speaking to the media for the first time since the closed-door Shenzhen meeting, said a date for a further round of talks would only be announced after reporting back to the Dalai Lama and consulting with Chinese authorities.

There have been six rounds of dialogue between China and the Dalai Lam's envoys since 2002, with no breakthrough.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and John Ruwitch in Hong Kong; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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