China is to hold talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism whom it blames for a wave of unrest, state media reported today, as the Olympic flame arrived in Japan.
The move comes after concerted pressure from the West on China to talk to the Dalai Lama.
It also marks a sharp change in tack for Beijing, which has stepped up its vilification of the Dalai Lama since anti-government protests hit Tibet and rippled across ethnic Tibetan parts of China in the past weeks.
"In view of the requests repeatedly made by the Dalai side for resuming talks, the relevant department of the central government will have contact and consultation with the Dalai's private representative in the coming days," the official Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying.
A spokesman for the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, said he had not received any communication from China about a meeting and China's Foreign Ministry said it had no details.
China denounces the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Communist rule, as a traitor and has accused him of orchestrating the unrest, a charge the 72-year-old Nobel laureate denies.
But Tibet has become a flashpoint for anti-China protests that have disrupted the Olympic torch relay around the world and has led to calls for state leaders to boycott the Beijing Games, which open on Aug. 8.
"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," the official was quoted as saying.
Recent official denunciations of the Dalai Lama had usually referred to the Dalai "clique", rather than Dalai "side".
The United States and France have urged Beijing to hold talks with the Dalai Lama, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he would meet the Tibetan leader when he visits Britain in May.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte urged the Chinese government on Wednesday to meet the Dalai Lama.
"Public vilification of the Dalai Lama will not help defuse the the situation," he told a U.S. Senate hearing.
Reporters were allowed into Tibet on Friday and there was a heavy troop presence lining the road between the capital Lhasa and Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet.
Japan called for calm but braced for trouble with tight security on Friday, as low-key protests began ahead of its leg of the torch relay, following emotional scenes at other venues.
The flame is meant to transmit a message of peace and friendship, but its journey has been largely turned into a political event and the torch has been granted the sort of security usually reserved for state leaders.
The flame's arrival in Nagano was greeted by right-wing activists in trucks roaming the streets, displaying huge Japanese flags and blaring "go away".
In Hanoi, Vietnam state-run radio reported that a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin had been expelled on accusations of planning anti-Chinese protests at next week's Olympics torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City.
Reclusive North Korea, for its part, vowed to "astonish the world" with pomp, ceremony and safety during its stage of the relay on Monday, Chinese state media reported.
The Olympic torch is supposed to enter Tibet in early May to ascend Mt Everest and is to travel to its capital Lhasa on June 19, legs China has vowed to see through, despite the tensions.
But Beijing has also been under pressure from abroad to resume dialogue with envoys of the Dalai Lama as a way of achieving stability in Tibet, a remote, mountain region which Communist troops entered in 1950.
The Dalai Lama says he is seeking meaningful autonomy for the strategic border region, but China denounces that as a sham and says he is bent on splitting the country.
The United States welcomed the announcement of talks.
"If the Chinese are now planning to resume such dialogue, we would see this as a very positive development," the U.S. embassy in Beijing said in a statement.
The Communist Party boss in Tibet has called the Dalai Lama "a jackal in Buddhist monk's robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast".
But before the protests soured relations, China and envoys of the Dalai Lama had been engaged in a tentative dialogue process, though several rounds since 2002 had yielded little progress.Reuse content