China lays out ground rules for dialogue

By Marianne Barriaux, AFP

BEIJING — China on Tuesday laid out ground rules for further talks with the Dalai Lama, saying he must first stop pushing for Tibetan independence and provoking deadly unrest in his Himalayan homeland.

The Chinese government has made similar demands many times and appeared to throw up a hurdle to continuing dialogue between the two sides, as the Tibetan spiritual leader has repeatedly denied such actions.

“I want to stress that this current contact is only a beginning,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in the government’s first direct comments on Sunday’s talks between Chinese officials and two of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.

“The central government’s contact with the Dalai is sincere. So long as the Dalai’s side exerts sincerity, especially in its actions, then the contact will continue.”

The talks, held in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, were the first meeting between the two sides in more than a year.

The Chinese government offered to hold the talks following sustained pressure from international leaders to reopen negotiations amid seven weeks of deadly unrest in Tibet and other parts of China with Tibetan populations.

Tibetans have risen up in protest against what they say has been nearly six decades of repression living under Chinese rule.

One of the Dalai Lama’s envoys gave a positive assessment of the talks on Tuesday, as he stopped in Hong Kong on his way back to the Tibetan government-in-exile’s base in India.

“All very candid. We had very candid discussions,” Lodi Gyari said. “It was a good first step.”

The Tibetan government-in-exile previously said it was pleased to reopen dialogue. Talks between the two sides on the future of Tibet began in 2002 but were suspended by China last year.

“The fact we are once again in contact is very vital for a solution to the Tibetan issue,” Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, told AFP by phone on Monday.

However, Qin said further talks were dependent on the Dalai Lama stopping his quest for Tibetan independence and orchestrating the unrest that has deeply angered China as it prepares for the Beijing Olympics in August.

“We hope the Dalai Lama will mean his words and really stop separatist activities, stop provoking violent activities, and stop disrupting the Beijing Olympics… so as to create conditions for further contact,” Qin said.

The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner has repeatedly denied any involvement in the recent unrest and insisted he does not want independence for Tibet, which was annexed by China in 1951.

But he has accused China of widespread human rights violations against his people and said he wants greater autonomy for Tibetans under Chinese rule.

China in turn has repeatedly said the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland following a failed uprising in 1959, secretly harbors independence ambitions.

And despite the Shenzhen talks, China’s state press has maintained a barrage of abusive rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, with the Tibet Daily on Monday accusing him of “monstrous crimes.”

The unrest began with monks leading peaceful protests on March 10 in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising.

The protests erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa on March 14, then spread to other areas of western China with Tibetan populations.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans have been killed and about 1,000 hurt in the Chinese military and police crackdown on the unrest.

China denies these accusations, saying its forces have acted with restraint, and in turn charges Tibetan “rioters” and “insurgents” with killing 21 people.

Qin said the Shenzhen talks focused mainly on the March 14 incidents, but did not elaborate.