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China, Dalai aides agree to further contact

Envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials have agreed to further contact after a day of talks aimed at mending fences.

world Updated: May 05, 2008 09:27 IST
John Ruwitch

Envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials have agreed to further contact after a day of talks aimed at mending fences amid a wave of unrest pushed Tibet to centre stage ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

The closed-door meeting on Sunday in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, was the first since an anti-Beijing riot in Lhasa and a wave of unrest rocked Tibet and nearby areas in March.

The Tibetan riots and protests, which China blames on the Dalai Lama, were the most serious challenge to Chinese rule in the mountainous region for nearly two decades.

They prompted anti-China protests that disrupted the international leg of the Olympic torch relay and led to calls to boycott August's Beijing Games, which in turn triggered counter-protests by Chinese fiercely proud of holding the Games.

"Chinese central government officials and the private representatives of the 14th Dalai Lama agreed to hold another round of contact at an appropriate time," Xinhua news agency said late on Sunday.

State media quoted the Chinese officials attending the talks as saying the unrest added new "obstacles", a sign that contact between the two sides, already fraught with mistrust, was likely to get even more difficult.

There was no clear word that the talks had ended, but security was loosened on Monday at the guest house where they were believed to have taken place, and the hotel which had said it was booked full was taking reservations.

Tenzin Taklha, a senior aide to the Dalai Lama, had said the talks were expected to continue on Monday and possibly Tuesday.

China proposed the talks last month after Western governments urged it to open new dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who says he wants a high level of autonomy, not independence, for the predominantly Buddhist Himalayan homeland he fled in 1959.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying Sunday's meeting was arranged at the government-in-exile's repeated request for contacts and consultations with the central government.

A. Tom Grunfeld, a China and Tibet expert at State University of New York, said years of mistrust between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's people made it difficult to expect much from the talks.

"The best-case scenario is that both sides commit themselves to small, doable, reasonable actions from now until the end of August," he said by email. "Then, if they have both fulfilled their commitments, serious talks can commence."

The torch on Monday was being paraded through the southern island of Hainan for the second day where it was greeted by joyous crowds as a second torch awaits clear weather to climb the world's highest mountain, Everest.