Dalai Lama's Envoy Details China Talks

Chinese climbers pose at the summit of Mount Everest as part of the Olympic torch relay. The mountaineers carried an Olympic flame lantern, Olympic flags and the Chinese national flag.
Chinese climbers pose at the summit of Mount Everest as part of the Olympic torch relay. The mountaineers carried an Olympic flame lantern, Olympic flags and the Chinese national flag. (Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee Via Getty Images)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 9, 2008

BEIJING, May 8 -- The Dalai Lama's senior envoy said Thursday that he used a recent resumption of talks with China to urge an end to repression in Tibet, the release of Tibetan prisoners and suspension of "patriotic education," in which Buddhist monks are required to disown the Dalai Lama.

The report by Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari on Sunday's talks coincided with widely broadcast images of a Chinese climbing team taking an Olympic torch to the summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak and a landmark on the Tibet-Nepal border. Pro-Tibetan activists say the event was designed to dramatize China's rule over the area. Television footage included a climber displaying a Chinese flag.

Gyari did not mention the torch feat in detailing Sunday's closed-door meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Rather, in a statement and at a news conference in Dharmsala, India, he focused on what he said was a businesslike atmosphere in the talks and the promise of more discussions on the deep divisions between Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile, based in Dharmsala.

"Despite major differences on important issues, both sides demonstrated a willingness to seek common approaches in addressing the issues at hand," Gyari said. "In this regard, each side made some concrete proposals, which can be part of the future agenda. As a result, an understanding was reached to continue the formal round of discussions."

The one-day Shenzhen talks, billed by China as preliminary contacts, marked the first time since rioting broke out March 14 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, that the Chinese government engaged in dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile. Beijing was represented by two officials from the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, which deals with China's many minorities and various religions.

The agreement to resume even exploratory contacts was seen as a concession by China after repeated appeals from foreign leaders, including President Bush. Beijing had drawn heavy international criticism for its harsh response to the unrest in Tibetan areas that followed the Lhasa rioting.

Chinese officials have not provided their account of Sunday's talks, other than reporting the agreement to meet again. The government, meanwhile, has offered conflicting signals. President Hu Jintao expressed hope that the renewed contacts would have a positive effect, even as the official media maintained strong attacks on the Dalai Lama, accusing the exiled spiritual leader of seeking to undermine the Beijing Olympics and to split Tibet from Beijing's rule.

The party's newspaper in Lhasa, the Tibet Daily, said in an editorial Wednesday that the Dalai Lama was trying to damage China's name and prevent the country from becoming a great power. "Trying to internationalize the Tibet problem is a separatist plot of the Dalai Lama and a clumsy way to damage China's international image," it said.

Chinese officials have said that the rioting -- which by official count killed 22 people, mostly Han Chinese -- was an uprising organized by the Dalai Lama and his followers in Dharmsala. Gyari said his Chinese interlocutors forcefully reiterated that view during the discussions in Shenzhen.

"On our part, we rejected categorically the accusation made against his holiness the Dalai Lama of instigating the demonstrations and unrest in Tibet," he said. "Instead, we made it clear that the events in Tibet are the inescapable consequences of wrong policies of the authorities toward the Tibetans, which go back several decades."

The Dalai Lama headed a de facto independent Tibetan government while China was in chaos before and during World War II. Beijing asserted its rule in 1951, following the arrival of Chinese troops. The Dalai Lama fled the country in 1959 after leading a failed insurrection with help from the CIA. From exile, he has urged an agreement with China based on autonomy.

But Chinese officials have long accused him of duplicity, saying that his envoys, in previous rounds of talks, made unacceptable demands for near-independence, democratic elections and expansion of Tibet to include broad swaths of Tibetan-inhabited areas in nearby provinces.

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