Prospect improves of talks on Tibet

Click to follow
THE DALAI LAMA is preparing a "friendly and conciliatory" statement on Tibet's status within China, in a finely tuned attempt to restart negotiations with Peking.

Aides to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader say he will publicly reaffirm his acceptance that Tibet is part of China and that he is seeking autonomy, not independence, for his Hima-layan homeland.

The Dalai Lama, who has not set foot on the Chinese mainland for four decades, is also saying he would like to make a religious pilgrimage to the central Chinese holy mountain of Wutai Shan. In theory, the trip could result in a meeting with China's President Jiang Zemin.

T C Tethong, Foreign Minister for the Tibetan government-in-exile, told The Independent: "His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] is prepared to give the statement, but the time and the place has not been settled."

The Dalai Lama is currently on a 10-day trip to the United States, and is expected to arrive in Washington tomorrow. He is due to meet President Bill Clinton early next week and will discuss the statement and China's likely response to it.

Peking yesterday called on the US not to meet the Dalai Lama, whom it accused of "using contacts and negotiations with the [Chinese] central government as a pretext to launch propaganda and sway public opinion". The Chinese authorities also attacked him for "lack of sincerity".

It was during Mr Clinton's press conference in June in Peking with President Jiang Zemin that the Chinese leader said the door to dialogue and negotiation on Tibet was open, "as long as the Dalai Lama can publicly make a statement that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, and he must also recognise that Taiwan is [a] province of China".

Mr Tethong said the Dalai Lama would not offer any new concessions. The planned statement was "going to be a very positive response to the Chinese President's gesture" and the Tibetan leader would reiterate his existing position "in a more friendly, conciliatory tone".

The Dalai Lama dropped the demand for Tibetan independence in a speech in Strasbourg in 1988. Samdhong Rinpoche, the speaker of the Tibetan exiled parliament, said yesterday: "As far as today is concerned, Tibet is in reality an inalienable part of China. That is a fact. The Dalai Lama's position is very clear, that he is not demanding independence, and he is not demanding separation from China. He is only demanding genuine and practical autonomy, while accepting China's sovereignty over Tibet."

Mr Rinpoche said the one country, two systems model used with Hong Kong could be suitable for Tibet. Under such a system Peking would retain control of foreign affairs, defence and "larger industry and economic questions".

The Tibetan side does not, however, accept China's view of Tibet's history, which is that Tibet was always part of China. Mr Rinpoche said: "We cannot rewrite history."

Taiwan may prove another sticking point. Mr Tethong said: "His Holiness has stated very clearly ... this is a question to be decided by China and Taiwan, and His Holiness has no right or anything to say about their political status". But he added: "The Dalai Lama has never questioned or challenged the principle of One China theory."

Whether Peking is really weighing up the propaganda merits of a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, an important site for Buddhists, at some point by the Dalai Lama is unclear. Mr Rinpoche said: "His Holiness has expressed his desire to visit China's holy mountain, notwithstanding the political situation, if China allows. I got some indication from our friends that China thinks it should not be impossible."

The Tibetan side considers the present climate the best for years for making an initiative. Tsering Tashi, the joint secretary in the Office of the Dalai Lama, said: "The Tibetan side is confident that President Jiang Zemin seems to be taking a very reasonable approach." Mr Rinpoche said: "We definitely noticed that ... since Mr Clinton's visit, China's attitude is more favourable than before."

The Dalai Lama is unlikely to proceed with a statement, however, without firm indications from Peking about the likely response.