Envoys for Dalai Lama, China to Meet Again

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 5, 2008

BEIJING, May 5 -- Chinese officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama resumed talks Sunday for the first time in nearly a year and agreed to hold another round of discussions at a later date, sources told the New China News Agency.

Both sides "expressed their views on relevant matters," the state-run news service said, and agreed to meet again "at an appropriate time."

Earlier Sunday, President Hu Jintao said in Beijing that he hoped the talks, at a state guesthouse in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, would have a "positive outcome."

The discussions are not formal negotiations but an attempt to ease tensions after a Chinese crackdown following deadly riots in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, in March and widespread unrest in other Tibetan-populated areas of China. China's response to the unrest has drawn protests, criticism from world leaders and threats to boycott the opening ceremony of the Aug. 8-24 Olympic Games in Beijing.

"The door of dialogue remains open," Hu told Japanese reporters before a trip to Japan, according to the Kyodo and New China news agencies, adding in an allusion to the Tibetan spiritual leader that a person should be judged by deeds as well as words.

A spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, had no update on the talks, which earlier reports said were expected to last two or three days. They are the first face-to-face meetings between the two sides since ongoing talks ended last summer.

"We welcome the opportunity to go there," said Tenzin Takhla, secretary to the Dalai Lama. "What comes out of this will depend a lot on what the Chinese have to say. We'll have to see whether they are serious about wanting to address the grievances of the Tibetan people."

China has come under intense pressure from world leaders to resume talks with the Dalai Lama, whom it considers a separatist. But Beijing officials are loath to be seen as weak or caving in to foreign demands.

State media reports, including Sunday's issues of the People's Daily and the Tibet Daily, continued to describe the exiled spiritual leader as pushing for independence for Tibet, even though he has said he wants only meaningful autonomy.

The Dalai Lama's representatives in Washington, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, and in Switzerland, Kelsang Gyaltsen, arrived in China on Saturday, according to the New China News Agency. On the Chinese side are Zhu Weiqun and Sitar, vice ministers of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, which seeks to keep religious leaders and ethnic minorities in line with official rules.

During Sunday's meeting, Zhu and Sitar, who goes by a single name, said the Lhasa riots "had given rise to new obstacles for resuming contacts and consultations" with the Dalai Lama, the agency said. "However, the central government still arranged this meeting with great patience and sincerity," it said.

"It's important to mention that this is not necessarily the opening of formal negotiations," said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. "It's really an attempt to see if there's a basis for meaningful dialogue that could resolve some of the key and very urgent issues, such as the crisis in Tibet now."

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