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During Talks, China Urged to Halt Repression in Tibet

May 11, 2008

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 8, 2008; 8:45 AM

BEIJING, May 8 -- The Dalai Lama's senior envoy said Thursday that he used a recent resumption of talks with China to urge a halt to repression in Tibet, release of Tibetan prisoners and suspension of "patriotic education" in which Buddhist monks are required to disown the Dalai Lama.

The envoy, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, reported details of the talks that were conducted behind closed doors Sunday in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. He issued a statement at the Dalai Lama's exile headquarters in Dharamsala, India, and held a news conference with reporters in the little Himalayan town where many Tibetan exile groups are based.

His report coincided with widely broadcast television images of a Chinese climbing team carrying an Olympic torch to the summit of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world and a major landmark on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Pro-Tibetan activists have charged the Olympic stunt was designed to dramatize China's rule over the area, and the television footage included a climber displaying a Chinese flag.

But Gyari did not mention the torch feat, focusing instead on what he said was a businesslike atmosphere in the talks and the promise of more discussions on the many issues dividing the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama's exile government.

"Despite major differences on important issues, both sides demonstrated a willingness to seek common approaches in addressing the issues at hand," Gyari said. "In this regard, each side made some concrete proposals, which can be part of the future agenda. As a result, an understanding was reached to continue the formal round of discussions."

The one-day Shenzhen talks, billed by China as preliminary contacts, marked the first time since rioting broke out in Lhasa on March 14 that the Chinese government engaged in dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama's exile government. Beijing was represented by two officials from the Communist Party's United Front Department, which deals with China's many minorities and various religions.

China's agreement to resume even exploratory contacts with the Dalai Lama's exile government was seen as a concession, coming after repeated appeals for dialogue from foreign leaders, including President Bush. Since the riots, Chinese officials and propaganda organs have unremittingly vilified the exiled Tibetan leader, accusing him of seeking to undermine the Beijing Olympics and split Tibet from rule by Beijing.

Chinese officials have not provided their own view of Sunday's talks, but have reported the agreement to meet again. The government, meanwhile, has offered conflicting signals about its attitude. President Hu Jintao expressed hope the renewed contacts would have a positive effect, but at the same time, the official press has continued strong attacks on the Dalai Lama.

The party's newspaper in Lhasa, the Tibet Daily, said in an editorial Wednesday that the Dalai Lama is trying to blacken China's name and prevent it from rising to become a great power. "Trying to internationalize the Tibet problem is a separatist plot of the Dalai Lama and a clumsy way to damage China's international image," it said.

Chinese officials have said the rioting, which killed 22 people and generated unrest across other Tibetan-inhabited regions of China, was an uprising organized by the Dalai Lama and his followers in Dharamsala. Gyari said his Chinese interlocutors forcefully reiterated that view during the discussions in Shenzhen.

"On our part, we rejected categorically the accusation made against his holiness, the Dalai Lama, of instigating the demonstrations and unrest in Tibet," he added. "Instead, we made it clear that the events in Tibet are the inescapable consequences of wrong policies of the authorities toward the Tibetans, which go back several decades."

The Dalai Lama, a spiritual and temporal leader, headed a de facto independent Tibetan government while China was in chaos before and during World War II. But Chinese troops arrived to assert Beijing's rule in 1951. The Dalai Lama fled the country in 1959 after leading a failed insurrection with help from the CIA. From exile, he has urged an agreement with China based on autonomy.

But Chinese officials have long accused him of duplicity, saying his envoys' real position in previous rounds of talks contains unacceptable demands for near-independence, democratic elections and expansion of Tibet to include broad swaths of Tibetan-inhabited areas in nearby provinces.
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