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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Showing willing -- the Dalai Lama sends envoys to China once again, as our correspondent returns to Tibet

January 26, 2010
January 25, 2010

LHASA -- CHINESE officials appear ready to resume
talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama
after a 15 month lapse, but in the Tibetan
capital, Lhasa, the authorities remain on guard.
Few expect the talks to make much progress, nor tensions in Tibet to subside.

As the Dalai Lama’s envoys headed to China for
what are expected to be the first discussions
between the two sides since November 2008, small
groups of helmeted riot police, some of them
carrying rifles, remained deployed near important
temples in the centre of Lhasa. Your
correspondent, who is on a rare authorised trip
to Tibet by a foreign journalist, saw hundreds of
worshipers walking and prostrating themselves in
ritual circuits around the Jokhang Temple,
Tibet’s holiest shrine, as the police watched
impassively. Security was conspicuous but
appeared far less intense than in the aftermath
of the Tibetan rioting that erupted in Lhasa in March 2008.

The Dalai Lama’s representatives are highly
unlikely to witness such scenes. Their talks in
the next few days are expected to take place far
from volatile Tibet. It is not clear why China
has agreed to further discussions. After the 2008
riots, which triggered anti-Chinese protests
across the Tibetan plateau, China—under
considerable foreign pressure–agreed to resume
dialogue which had been sputtering on and off
with no apparent progress since 2002. Three more
rounds were held, but at the last one in November
2008 the Chinese side was infuriated by a
detailed proposal submitted by the Dalai Lama’s
officials for achieving “genuine autonomy” for
Tibet and neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited areas.

Chinese officials denounced the proposal as a
disguised bid for the region’s independence. In
it the Dalai Lama called for all of China’s
Tibetan-inhabited regions to be unified under one
administration. This would involve taking large
chunks from neighbouring provinces. The Dalai
Lama denies that he wants independence and
insists his aim is merely to achieve greater
cultural and religious freedom for Tibetans.

America may be a factor. China is worried about
the possibility that Barack Obama will soon meet
the Dalai Lama in Washington, DC, for the first
time since he became president. Mr Obama avoided
such a meeting when the Dalai Lama visited the
American capital last October, apparently to
avoid angering the Chinese as he prepared for a
summit in Beijing the following month. By
resuming talks now, China might hope that an
appearance of progress will help persuade Mr
Obama to keep any meeting with the Dalai Lama low key.

American presidents in the past have been careful
to do so. But George Bush broke from tradition in
October 2007 when he presented the Dalai Lama
with a congressional gold medal in a high profile
ceremony. That event was greeted with glee by
some Tibetans. China does not want a conspicuous
display of American solidarity with the Dalai
Lama that could encourage anti-Beijing sentiment
in Tibet. The authorities’ nervousness is evident
in tighter controls over visits by foreign
tourists since the 2008 rioting. A Western
tourist in Lhasa says he has been closely
chaperoned by an (unwanted) official guide
throughout his nearly week-long stay.

Twice this month senior Chinese leaders met to
discuss Tibet policy. At the last conclave, which
finished on January 20th, President Hu Jintao
called for more efforts to improve the living
standards of Tibetans. The per capita incomes of
Tibet’s rural population should be raised to the
national average by 2020, he said. But he also
said that Tibet faced “special contradictions”
with what the state run news agency Xinhua called
"separatist forces led by the Dalai clique." The
chances of compromise are remote.
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