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Report: Chinese Officials to Hold New Talks With Dalai Lama's Envoys

July 2, 2008

By Jill Drew
The Washington Post, Foreign Service
June 29, 2008

BEIJING, June 29 -- Chinese officials will hold a second round of
meetings early next month with envoys of the Tibetan spiritual
leader, the Dalai Lama, state media reported Sunday.

The talks follow China's decision last week to reopen Tibet to
foreign tour groups for the first time since deadly rioting in March
and the passage of the Olympic torch through the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa without protest on June 21.

Chinese officials "hope that the Dalai Lama would treasure this
opportunity and give positive response to the requirements of the
central authorities," said an unnamed government spokesman quoted by
the New China News Agency.

China has come under harsh international criticism for its crackdown
following the March 14 Lhasa riot, when it arrested thousands and
sealed off a large swath of the Tibetan plateau from outsiders while
it carried out an aggressive program of "patriotic re-education." The
program often includes forced denunciations of the Dalai Lama, whom
the Chinese accuse of trying to split the country. The Dalai Lama has
repeatedly said he seeks autonomy for Tibetans but not independence
from China. At least 125 protests have broken out since March against
Chinese rule in Tibetan areas of western China, exile groups say.

There was no immediate comment on the talks from the Dalai Lama's
government in exile in Dharmsala, India. Instead, the organization's
Web site carried news that four monks were arrested last week by the
Chinese at a monastery in a Tibetan area for refusing to sign a
patriotic re-education document and writing pro-independence slogans
on monastery walls. The total number of monks arrested is unclear,
but monasteries have been a main focus of Chinese security forces;
several remain closed to the public and witnesses say dozens of monks
have been led away by police officials.

Chinese media have published several stories reporting that Lhasa and
other Tibetan areas have returned to normal, and Chinese officials
told foreign journalists last week they can apply for a permit to
report in the region. An official at the foreign affairs bureau in
Lhasa said applications for reporting could take up to 20 days to
process, and it remains unclear what restrictions will be placed on
reporters, who must detail on their application everywhere they wish
to visit and everyone they will interview.

Chinese representatives met with the Dalai Lama's envoys on May 4,
and the conversation was said to be frank and candid. Officials on
both sides stressed that the meeting was not the opening of formal
negotiations over long-standing disputes including whether the Dalai
Lama could return to Tibet, but rather discussions on whether
conditions could be created to allow such negotiations to go forward.

It is unclear if the new round of talks would mark the opening of
formal negotiations.

As the Summer Olympic Games approach, China is eager to take the
international focus off Tibet. Foreign governments continue to press
China to open a meaningful dialogue with the exiled leader.

Just last week, the U.S. Senate approved legislation to build a
consulate in Lhasa, setting aside $5 million for its construction.
Part of the emergency supplemental spending bill passed by the House
earlier this month, it instructs the State Department to approve new
Chinese consulates in the United States only after the Chinese
approve a U.S. consulate in Lhasa.
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