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Dalai Lama looking forward to talks with China, with reservations

May 14, 2008

By Somini Sengupta
The International Herald Tribune
May 12, 2008

DHARAMSALA, India -- The Dalai Lama said Monday that formal talks between his envoys and their Chinese counterparts were expected to take place next month, even as Chinese officials kept up their public denunciations of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

"These are helpful to maintain trust, clear misunderstanding," the Dalai Lama said in an interview.

Asked whether he expected China to negotiate in good faith, or engage in talks simply in an effort to deflect international criticism of its handling of unrest in Tibet in advance of the Beijing Olympics, he demurred. "Too early to say," he said.

The talks, for which exact dates have not yet been fixed, would represent the seventh round of talks since 2002 between the two sides. They follow what the Dalai Lama's aides described as emergency consultations in the Chinese city of Shenzhen this month.

At that time, officials in the Tibetan government in exile had said that for the talks to be "meaningful," China would have to ease the crackdown on protests that began inside Tibet two months ago and stop maligning the Dalai Lama as their instigator.

In fact, Beijing has stopped neither, but the Dalai Lama and other officials here said Monday that they were encouraged by the tone of the consultations in Shenzhen and by signals from President Hu Jintao of China that he took the dialogue seriously. "My feeling is, in this tense situation, critical situation, such a meeting took place, it's good," the Dalai Lama said.

His conciliatory words seemed to underscore the difficult balancing act that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile leadership face: to sustain international pressure on China, while remaining open to dialogue.

Similarly, that China agreed to meet with his envoys at all underscores its own concerns about world opinion.

The Dalai Lama, for his part, has kept up his international itinerary. This week, he is scheduled to fly to Germany, where in addition to public lectures on Buddhism, he is expected to speak to the German Parliament. He is then scheduled to go to Britain and meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On Monday, the Dalai Lama said dialogue with Beijing at least afforded a "possibility" of breakthrough, even if it had yielded nothing concrete so far.

"If you remain distant and just slogan, what happens, what use?" he argued, and then he took a gentle swipe at the more radical exile groups who demand secession from China rather than his own push for greater autonomy.

"Some Tibetan groups - they just shouting 'independence, independence' and 'Chinese go away, get out of Tibet,' " he said. "Just repeat that kind of slogan, what happens?"

Samdhong Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, the elected head of the government in exile, said later Monday that the delegation this time would have five or six Tibetan representatives and that they would try to propose an agenda for substantial negotiations on a solution for Tibet. He said that while the Chinese had yet to ease up pressure inside Tibet or against the Dalai Lama, he hoped they would take such steps in the coming weeks.

"Before the resumption of next dialogue we hope there might be some improvements inside Tibet," he said. "They might not stop demonizing His Holiness. But there should be some notable relaxation inside Tibet."

"We are still hoping," he added.

The Dalai Lama, for his part, said he had offered, in a letter to Hu last March, to help pacify the protests inside Tibet, but had not received a response.

"My letter to Hu Jintao mentioned that," he said. "We are ready to send some people there and cool down the situation."

As for a visit to China, he said it was too early to discuss it. "Under these circumstances it is difficult," he said, adding that without progress inside Tibet, a visit would create "a lot of expectations."
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