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In Shift, China Offers to Meet With Dalai Lama Envoys

April 27, 2008

By JIM YARDLEY
The New York Times
April 26, 2008

BEIJING — China appeared to bend to international pressure on Friday as
the government announced it would meet with envoys of the Dalai Lama, an
unexpected shift that comes as violent Tibetan demonstrations in western
China have threatened to cast a pall over the Beijing Olympics in August.

China’s announcement, made through the country’s official news agency,
provided few details about the shape or substance of the talks but said
the new discussions would commence “in the coming days.” The
breakthrough comes as Chinese officials have pivoted this week and moved
to tamp down the domestic nationalist anger unleashed by the Tibetan
crisis and by the protests at the international Olympic torch relay.

“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,” said an unidentified Chinese official, according to
Xinhua, the official news agency.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, was returning to
India from the United States on Friday. He has repeatedly called for
renewed talks with Chinese officials and last month sent a letter to
China’s president, Hu Jintao. Earlier this month, he hinted in Seattle
that a back-channel discussion was already under way. On Friday, his
spokesman, Tenzin Taklha, said: “Since His Holiness is committed to
dialogue, we would welcome this.”

The spokesman added that the Dalai Lama had not yet received any
official communication from China. “We also have to look at when the
offer does officially arrive,” he said from Dharamshala, India, the seat
of the Tibetan government-in-exile. “We have to look at conditions they
are talking about.”

For weeks, Chinese officials have castigated the Dalai Lama in harsh
language and blamed him for orchestrating the violent Tibetan protests
that erupted March 14 in Lhasa and then spread across other Tibetan
regions of western China. The Dalai Lama has denied any involvement in
the demonstrations and denounced the violence, if also criticizing China
for its crackdown against protesters.

China’s tough stance came as international leaders, including President
Bush, have described the Dalai Lama as a man of peace and called on
China to resume a dialogue with his envoys that began in 2002 but then
broke off last summer after six rounds of talks. Those talks, focused on
the future status of Tibet and whether the Dalai Lama will be allowed to
return to China, never made significant progress.

The timing of China’s announcement suggests that party leaders hope to
defuse the international criticism that has steadily mounted since the
Tibetan protests began. In Europe, criticism is particularly strong as
several government leaders have announced they will not attend the
opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Anti-China protesters caused
violent disruptions to the Olympic torch relay in London and Paris,
forcing relay organizers to change the route in other cities out of
security concerns. China supporters have responded by flooding to the
relay route.

“I believe the important question is whether China is doing this as a
public relations maneuver to respond to international pressure before
the Olympic Games,” said Wang Lixiong, a scholar in Beijing who has
criticized government policy in Tibet. “They want the Dalai Lama to help
them relieve pressure before the Olympics. But is it a sincere move, or
just a public relations move?”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People’s
University in Beijing, said the Chinese government does not want the
talks to be “interpreted as a concession under duress.” He predicted
that any discussions would be unlikely to bring meaningful breakthroughs.

“I doubt that both sides will change their fundamental positions,” Mr.
Shi said. “If there is dialogue, this is dialogue for the sake of
dialogue. Maybe both sides only want to impress the Western audience.”

China has long condemned the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” who is pursuing
Tibetan independence, even as the Dala Lama long ago disavowed Tibetan
independence and has instead called for “genuine autonomy” within China.
Chinese spokesmen often say the government would be willing to resume
dialogue with the Tibetan spiritual leader but only if he shows
“sincerity” in renouncing separatism and on other issues.

“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,” the
unidentified Chinese official said in Friday’s official announcement.

Tenzin Taklha, the Tibetan spokesman, denounced these conditions as
“basically baseless,” noting that the Dalai Lama has not sought
independence since 1974 and supported holding the Olympics in Beijing,
even after the violence erupted last month. “We have no preconditions,”
he said. “We’re not saying these are conditions to talk. It’s a cause of
concern for us to see repression is still continuing inside Tibet.”

Somini Sengupta contributed reporting from New Delhi and Jake Hooker
contributed reporting from Beijing. Huang Yuanxi contributed research
from Beijing
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