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Olympic torch reaches Hong Kong

May 6, 2008

Randeep Ramesh in Delhi and Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian (UK)
May 3, 2008
Photograph: Philippe Sands/AFP/Getty Images

Envoys of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrive in Beijing today for talks over the current crisis in Tibet, a spokesman for the spiritual leader confirmed.

The talks, which follow the international community's repeated calls for dialogue, are the first official contacts between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government since protests erupted in Tibet in March.

The violent protests have been followed by demonstrations across the world targeting the Olympic torch relay which have angered and embarrassed China ahead of the Beijing games in August.

Yesterday, police removed protesters, including pro-Tibetans, from the streets of Hong Kong on the first day of the Olympic torch's domestic journey after furious pro-Olympic demonstrators waving Chinese flags tried to break through the police line protecting them, and attempted to seize the placards and Tibetan flag carried by pro-Tibetan and human rights protesters.

A week ago Beijing had, without warning, announced that it would meet aides of the spiritual leader. "They will convey deep concerns over how the Chinese authorities are dealing with the current crisis and we will provide suggestions about how peace could be restored in the region," said the Dalai Lama's spokesman, Thubten Samphal.

However, he said that the future of Tibet would not be part of the discussions. Saying that the six rounds of talks over the issue had ended in the summer of 2006 because of "a feeling that the Chinese were taking too hardline, too inflexible a stance".

Samphal said that the "larger issue could perhaps only be resolved in later talks".

To show it is serious about "securing peace", the Tibetan government in exile has sent its two main envoys, both of whom have led past meetings with the Chinese government: Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, based in Washington DC, and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the representative for the Dalai Lama based in Switzerland.

Giving evidence to the US senate last month, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari said the idea of substantive discussions would be premature. He said the "present emergency situation must be resolved before we can really talk about the future" adding that he had conveyed concerns to Chinese officials over the tactics used to stamp out dissent but what he had heard back was the "usual rhetoric".

The Chinese communist leadership has laid down a set of preconditions for negotiations, including that the Dalai Lama unambiguously recognise Tibet as a part of China. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet for India amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet.

China continues to blame the exiled Buddhist leader's "clique" for unrest across Lhasa and other Tibetan areas, which it says was aimed at upstaging the Olympic Games. The protests are the most widespread against Beijing's rule in decades.
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