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China-Tibet talks resume amid bitter climate

January 28, 2010

By Dan Martin
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
January 27, 2010

BEIJING -- Talks on Tibet's future resume this
week after a 14-month hiatus that has seen China
tighten its grip on the Himalayan region, leaving
few signs Tibetan autonomy hopes will be realised soon, observers say.

Representatives of the Chinese government and the
Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan government were to
meet at an undisclosed location in China for the
intermittent and secretive talks for the first time since November 2008.

Since the last round, China has maintained a
tough crackdown in Tibet launched following the
violent unrest that erupted in March 2008, and
last week reaffirmed it would pursue economic
development while keeping a tight grip.

China's growing world clout has meanwhile made it
increasingly "aggressive" towards other nations
that criticise its Tibet policy, said Kate
Saunders, spokeswoman for the pressure group International Campaign for Tibet.

"The context for these talks could not be more challenging," Saunders told AFP.

During the previous round, the Dalai Lama's
envoys argued the Tibetan spiritual leader's
calls for "meaningful autonomy" did not violate China's constitution.

Beijing however dismisses such calls as
"separatist" and has recently indicated it
intends to follow a hardline approach.

"Over the past year we have seen state repression
and a hardening of the Chinese position on the
Dalai Lama that has created deepening tension in Tibet," Saunders said.

"This is the opposite of the stability that
President Hu Jintao claims he seeks there.

Several people have been reported executed for
their roles in the 2008 unrest, and earlier this
month China named military veteran Padma Choling as Tibet's governor.

He promptly vowed to crush attempts at
"secession" and "safeguard national unity" --
rhetoric typically aimed at the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama fled his homeland following a
failed uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule,
nine years after Chinese troops invaded the region.

The Communist Party leadership, including Hu, met
last week to reaffirm its policy of crushing
Tibetan dissent while accelerating economic
development, which exiles criticise as a resource
grab harmful to their culture.

"The (policy) meeting signalled basically more of
the same. The proof is in the pudding, as they
say," said Andrew Fischer, a Tibet expert at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Aside from the naming of a new governor, no top
officials have been publicly replaced, suggesting
Beijing sees no need to address "policy failures"
in Tibet, said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at
Columbia University in New York.

In this climate, Barnett said it remains unclear
why China would agree to hold talks now, but
suggested it may be aimed at deflecting foreign
and domestic criticism of its hard line.

"It's hard to tell for sure but they may be
feeling they need to be seen, especially to
Tibetans in Tibet, to be open to some sort of talks," he said.

Barnett noted, however, it was significant that
last week's party gathering called for a joint
policy to be adopted for "greater Tibet".

Traditional Tibetan regions are now split up
among several provinces, and exiles have
repeatedly demanded a comprehensive policy approach to all such regions.

Fischer added there could indeed be a desire
among Communist leaders to address anger in
minority regions, saying the party was jolted by
savage unrest last year in the restive western region of Xinjiang.

The unrest saw violent attacks by the Muslim
Uighur minority on members of the ethnic Han
majority, followed by Han calls for retribution. Nearly 200 people were killed.

"Things have been particularly intense since the
events in Xinjiang and the surge in quite
explicit, almost racist, belligerence from some Chinese," Fischer said.

"There might be some genuine wish -- behind a
hardline posture -- to change the deadlock in Tibet."
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