Chinese agree to Tibet talks with Dalai Lama's envoys

International pressure ahead of the Olympic Games has forced a reluctant Beijing back to the negotiating table
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The Independent Online

China has launched a scathing attack on the Dalai Lama, even as two of his envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, prepare to meet Beijing's representatives in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen today for the first contact between the two sides since 2006.

The world is watching the landmark talks to see if they will defuse growing tensions over China's handling of the Tibet issue, which threatens to sour Beijing's hosting of the Olympic Games in August. The two Tibetans want to secure concessions from the ruling Chinese Communist Party on greater autonomy for their remote Himalayan homeland.

Mindful of the need to regain some goodwill for its hosting of the Olympics, China grudgingly bowed to international pressure to talk to the Dalai Lama. But this doesn't mean Beijing is abandoning its firm line on attempts to divide Tibet from the motherland.

As the envoys landed in Hong Kong before crossing the border into Shenzhen for today's talks – the two sides have so far held six rounds of inconclusive talks – the Chinese media returned to the attack on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The Tibet Daily, which blames him for the recent unrest in the territory, said: "The hope of realising Tibetan independence by the Dalai clique has become more and more dim. When their hopes shattered, the Dalai clique launched bloody violence. This was their last act of madness."

Most coverage, however, focused on upbeat issues for domestic consumption, such as the Olympic torch's festive relay through the gambling paradise of Macau, and when weather conditions would be right for the "sacred flame" to begin its ascent of Mount Everest, or Mount Qomolangma as the Chinese call the world's tallest peak. "The trail might get slippery with snow. If it keeps snowing, the thick cover of snow will make the climb difficult," Zhang Zhigang, an official with the Mount Everest weather service, told the Xinhua news agency. Officials in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, are getting ready for the torch to arrive there on 20 June.

Weeks of demonstrations over China's crackdown in Tibet and its human rights record have turned the relay into a public relations disaster for Beijing. But yesterday it passed peacefully through Macau, its last stage before arriving in mainland China. Supporters wearing pro-China T-shirts welcomed its passage through the former Portuguese colony.

But the fiery anti-Dalai Lama rhetoric suggests the Chinese are in no mood for bending during the talks. They want assurances that there will be no repetition of the March protests in Lhasa and other areas, during which Tibetans turned on Han Chinese, killing 22 and destroying many of the settlers' businesses. Overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the security crackdown across Tibetan regions of western China.

Most analysts are expecting initial meetings between the Dalai's envoy and the Chinese to agree to hold more talks."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," one unnamed Chinese official told Xinhua.

The Dalai Lama says he is no "splittist" and favours peaceful dialogue to reach his goal of more autonomy for his homeland. He condemns what he sees as "cultural genocide" in Tibet.

During their three-day visit, the envoys will meet Du Qinglin, head of China's United Front Work Department, a special government unit that tries to win over groups not aligned to the Chinese Communist Party and convince them to come over to the party's view on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan.

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