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Limit to Dalai Lama talks

July 18, 2008

Rowan Callick, China correspondent
The Australian
July 17, 2008

CHINA'S cabinet has stated it will never discuss the future of Tibet
with the Dalai Lama, underscoring that the massive unrest in the region
that threatened to undermine the Beijing Olympic Games produced no
change in Beijing's position.

On potential outcomes of talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama,
the new director-general of the information office of the State Council,
China's cabinet, said yesterday: "The central Government will never
discuss the future of Tibet with the Dalai Lama. What we can discuss
with him is his future and that of some of his supporters."

When Lhasa erupted on March 14, with Tibetans killing Han Chinese and
looting their businesses and homes, the topic of Tibet soared to the top
of many agendas.

The Government cracked down on ethnic Tibetans, who responded with
protests throughout the Tibetan areas of other provinces and regions.

It appeared that, whether planned or not, the cause of greater Tibetan
freedom had succeeded - by becoming so prominent so near the Olympics -
in barging its way on to the priorities of international leaders,
governments and other organisations.

Questions were raised about whether Olympic sponsors would suffer from
the anger of hostile global consumers, and whether political and other
leaders would face fierce opposition if they attended the Games opening.

It had seemed that China would have to make some concessions to the
Tibetans in order to save the Olympics.

But all that has happened is that talks - which had previously been
taking place for years without any apparent progress - recommenced. This
move was applauded, and appeared to satisfy most of China's critics over
Tibet.

A preliminary round took place at Shenzhen in southern China. Then a
formal meeting was held on July 1 and 2 in Beijing between the Chinese
Government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. It now appears that,
from Beijing's perspective, the only topic truly negotiable is the
personal fate of the Dalai Lama himself - not issues relating to its
vast "autonomous region" of Tibet.

Dong Yunhu, the new director-general of the information office of the
State Council, said yesterday: "I don't think (the Dalai Lama) is
qualified to represent Tibet. If he ever did, it was before 1959" - when
he fled to Dharamsala in north India after a failed uprising.

Mr Dong, quoting Deng Xiaoping, said that "as long as he is willing to
contribute towards the development of China as a Chinese citizen", the
Dalai Lama might be able to return.

But "he must come back as a Chinese citizen. Independence,
semi-independence or independence in disguise are totally out of the
question".

Mr Dong said the political position of the Dalai Lama's representatives,
as expressed during the negotiations to date, was "totally contrary" to
that of the Chinese Government.
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