/ 25 April 2008

Dalai Lama welcomes Chinese offer for talks

The Dalai Lama on Friday welcomed China’s offer to meet his envoy for talks after weeks of protests over Tibet and repeated calls from the exiled spiritual leader for dialogue with Beijing.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that talks would take place in the coming days, which the Dalai Lama’s spokesperson immediately described as “a step in the right direction”.

“Only face-to-face meetings can lead to a resolution of the Tibetan issue,” said spokesperson Tenzin Takla.

“His holiness, since March 10 when the [anti-Chinese] protests started, had been making all efforts to reach out to China and the Chinese government and he hopes the Tibetan issue can be resolved only through dialogue,” Takla said by telephone from Dharamshala, where the Tibetan spiritual leader was due to return on Saturday from the United States.

China has come under sustained foreign pressure to hold talks with the Dalai Lama since rioting erupted in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. Six previous rounds of talks since 2002 have yielded little or no progress.

Beijing, which will host the Olympics in August, had previously resisted the pressure and accused the Nobel Peace Price winner of instigating the violence — an allegation he denies.

“It is hoped that through contact and consultation, the Dalai side will take credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks,” an unnamed Chinese official told Xinhua.

Takla warned continued unrest in Tibet was not in China’s interest.

“We hope the Chinese do realise there is a problem in Tibet as the Tibetan people have a deep-rooted resentment against Chinese policies and thereby it will be in their interest to come to a resolution of the Tibetan issue, which will contribute to the stability of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.

Critics accuse Beijing of political and religious oppression in Tibet.

The Tibetan government-in-exile, headquartered in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, also welcomed the development.

“If [the Xinhua report is] accurate then this is something we welcome as there is no alternative to dialogue to resolve the Tibetan issue,” spokesperson Thubten Samphel said by telephone.

The 72-year-old Dalai Lama has lived in Dharamshala since fleeing Tibet in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

Indian officials also greeted the news warmly, but an analyst warned it could be a Chinese ploy to deflect international criticism from the crackdown in Lhasa.

“This is definitely a step forward …,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said, asking not to be named.

“These talks may not lead up to much but they can put China in a more favourable light ahead of the [Beijing] Olympics” in August, he said.

Anand Ojha, a Sino-Indian political analyst at Delhi University, warned the invitation may prove hollow.

“Who says China has blinked? It’s Chinese chequers as this invitation takes out the wind from the Tibetans’ campaign of protests ahead of the Olympics, which was a becoming a matter of huge concern for China,” he said.

An analyst at India’s military-funded think-tank the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis urged both sides to pursue the talks until a resolution was found to the Tibetan demand for greater autonomy and religious freedom.

“The talks since 2002 have not been regular and this is the time for both sides to meet regularly and pursue the main issues for long-term solutions,” said Sujit Dutta, head of the institute’s Asian desk. — AFP