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Associated Press – May 5, 2008
SHENZHEN, China – After a day of meetings, the Dalai Lama’s representatives left China on Monday with a solid offer from Beijing for more talks in an apparent sign of a gradual rapprochement after tensions flared following violent anti-government riots in Tibet.
Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche of the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile said the two sides had agreed to meet again following discussions “conducted in good atmosphere” Sunday in the southern city of Shenzhen.
Both China’s state broadcaster and the official Xinhua News Agency confirmed a second round of talks had been agreed on. Xinhua said, however, that Chinese officials told the Dalai Lama’s envoys that recent protests had created new obstacles to communication between the two sides.
The anti-government demonstrations in Lhasa in mid-March that spilled over into Tibetan areas of neighboring western Chinese provinces were the biggest challenge to China’s rule in the Himalayan region in nearly two decades. The ensuing crackdown has thrown an unwelcome international spotlight on China’s heavy-handed tactics and its poor human rights record just ahead of this summer’s Olympics.
Pro-Tibetan independence protesters and heavy security have dogged the Olympic torch relay at stops throughout its worldwide tour. The torch finally returned to the peace of the mainland on Sunday.
China has faced mounting calls to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, and some experts believe Beijing agreed to meet his envoys to ease pressure before the Beijing Olympics in August.
Speaking Monday from Brussels, Kesang Yangkyi Takla, foreign minister for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the weekend meeting primarily focused on ways to improve conditions in Tibet.
“We feel that until and unless the current crisis … in Tibet improves, it is difficult to start negotiations,” she said. “We hope that the government in China will consider this and give a concrete reply so that things improve in Tibet.”
Xinhua reported that questions raised by the Dalai Lama’s envoys were “answered patiently” by Chinese officials. However, the Chinese side told them that the March 14 riots “had given rise to new obstacles for resuming contacts and consultations with the Dalai side,” Xinhua said.
But even as the closed-door talks took place, China showed little inclination to tone down its verbal assault on the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing has blamed for fomenting the latest unrest. The Tibetan leader has repeatedly denied the accusation.
“The central government hoped that to create conditions for the next round of contact and consultation, the Dalai side would take credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games,” Xinhua said Monday.
China meanwhile trotted out its choice for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-highest figure, on state television to praise the ruling Communist Party.
“I deeply pray for the successful holding of the Olympics. Under the leadership of the great Chinese Communist Party, Tibet will definitely get more prosperous, and lives of Tibetan people will become nicer and happier,” Gyaltsen Norbu said.
Gyaltsen Norbu is not widely accepted by Tibetans as the Panchen Lama. In May 1995, the Dalai Lama chose 6-year-old Gendun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama. The boy and his family disappeared soon after and have not been heard from since. Human rights groups say the boy has been under house arrest since, a claim China denies although officials refuse to say where he is.
China says 22 people died in violence in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa in March, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number died in protests and a subsequent crackdown.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet during a failed uprising in 1959, says he is seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from Chinese rule.
Associated Press writer Ashwini Bhatia in Dharmsala, India, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium contributed to this story.
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