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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Olympic torch reaches China as Dalai Lama talks begin

May 5, 2008

Jane Macartney, Beijing
Asia Online
May 4, 2008

The Journey of Harmony planned by China for the Olympic torch began at
last with its return home today to a rapturous welcome after an
international odyssey disrupted repeatedly by pro-Tibet demonstrators.

However, the unrest in Tibet continued to cast a shadow over the Beijing
Games. Representatives of the exiled Dalai Lama sat down with Chinese
officials in southern China for their first talks since Tibetans chafing
under Beijing rule rioted in the streets of the region’s capital, Lhasa,
on March 14.

In rare public remarks on the Dalai Lama, Chinese President Hu Jintao
said he hoped the meeting would lead to positive results. But his
comments made clear that China wants Tibet’s traditional spiritual and
temporal leader to give more ground in recognising that the Himalayan
region is an integral part of China and not an independent entity.

President Hu said: “When determining a person’s position, we must not
only listen to what he says but also watch his deeds. The door to
dialogue has always been open. We sincerely hope the Dalai side can show
through action that they have genuinely stopped separatist activities,
stopped plots to incite violence and stopped sabotaging the Beijing
Olympics.” Only such actions, said China’s president, who was once
Communist Party boss of the restive region, would create the conditions
for a next round of talks.

The talks, which began amid great secrecy in the southern boomtown of
Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong and are expected to last one or
two days, are the first in about a year between the two sides. China
announced this week that it was ready for the meeting, apparently bowing
to growing international pressure to reach an accommodation with the
Dalai Lama and halt popular anger in the West over its heavy-handed
policies in Tibet.

The anti-Chinese protests that have rippled through swathes of Tibetan
areas mark the most serious challenge to Beijing rule in the mountainous
region for nearly two decades. The unrest triggered anti-China protests
along the route of the Olympic torch around the world and brought calls
for Western leaders to boycott August’s Beijing Games.

China’s Communist Party leaders appeared to feel the heat and offered
the talks. But little progress is expected. The demand by President Hu
for action fits with expectations that China wants the Dalai Lama to
exert his influence to cool passions among the Tibetans, who remain
deeply loyal to their God-king. That would ensure calm on the Roof of
the World until after the Olympics.

After that, Beijing will expect to have regained control over the
restive region and will feel scant pressure to make concessions that
could lead to the return of the 14th reincarnation of the Ocean of
Peace. The monk fled his homeland in 1959 after an abortive uprising
against Chinese rule and has since lived in exile in northern India.

China continued to hurl invective at the Dalai Lama even as Lodi Gyari,
the Dalai Lama’s representative in Washington and the main negotiator in
previous rounds, sat down with vice ministers from the Communist Party’s
United Front Work Department that is responsible for contacts with
religious leaders and ethnic minorities. A commentary in the Tibet
Daily, mouthpiece of the Tibet regional government, accused the Dalai
Lama of being a “loyal tool of international anti-Chinese forces” and
attempting to split Tibet from China.

The Dalai Lama insists he wants a high level of autonomy, not
independence, for the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan region. He says
he opposes violence and supports the Beijing Olympics. China says he is
insincere.

Tenzin Taklha, a senior aide to the Dalai Lama, said: “We hope the
Chinese are serious about the talks and we are hopeful that the Chinese
are willing to look into the problems in Tibet.” Analysts say China is
likely to be playing for time. Six rounds of talks between the two sides
since 2002 have brought no progress in narrowing differences or any sign
that China is ready to give ground in its rule over Tibet. The eruption
of violence in Lhasa and demonstrations in dozens of other Tibetan
cities that have embarrassed Beijing as it prepares to host the Olympics
will harden China’s determination to win greater concessions from the
monk it publicly reviles.

All the controversy was forgotten on the southern tropical island of
Hainan, where the torch began its two-month journey through all of
China’s provinces and regions including Tibet.

Chinese Olympic speed skating gold medallist Yang Yang was the first
person to carry the torch. “I don’t believe this is real!” she enthused.
“I have no way of describing how excited I am.” Thousands flocked to
welcome the torch for a Games that most Chinese see as testimony to
China’s arrival as a major player on the world stage. Games organisers
said: “The sacred Olympic flame relay will have a ’Journey of Harmony’
through the land of China.” Protests are unthinkable.
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