Beijing in talks on Dalai Lama's return
Luke Harding in New Delhi and Bharati Puri
Saturday February 8, 2003
Secret negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama will resume next month, amid growing signs that Tibet's spiritual leader is preparing to cut a historic deal allowing him to return to Tibet after almost half a century in exile.
Several of his senior envoys will travel to Beijing next month, the Guardian has learned. The delegation from Tibet's India-based government is expected to discuss the circumstances under which the Chinese government would allow the Dalai Lama to visit Lhasa, Tibet's capital.
Since he fled Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama has been regularly denounced by Beijing as a "splittist" (separatist) traitor.
But relations between the two sides have recently thawed.
Last September two of the Dalai Lama's envoys went to China for the first direct negotiations with the communist regime in 20 years.
Tibet's exiled leadership is now hopeful that China's new president, Hu Jiantao, who takes over in March, will abandon Beijing's hardline position on Tibet, and usher in a period of constructive change.
"The Dalai Lama wants to go back very much," Thupten Samphel, a spokesman for Tibet's government, said yesterday. "It is every Tibetan's hope that the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet sooner rather than later, under conditions which satisfy the majority will of the Tibetan people."
He added: "The Chinese government has the mistaken conception that the Dalai Lama is the problem rather than the solution to the issue of Tibet. We are trying to persuade them that if they want long-term stability they must allow the Dalai Lama to play a useful role."
At 67, the Dalai Lama has become increasingly keen to return to Lhasa.
Asked when that might happen, Mr Samphel replied: "I really don't know. It depends on the new Chinese leadership."
When Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama was a teenager. He fled to India with his followers when he was 23, and has since lived in the dusty north Indian hill station of Dharamsala.
The Chinese authorities are acutely aware that their human rights record is likely to attract intense scrutiny in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and they are understood to be keen to soften their stand on Tibet.
But the new Chinese president's record offers little grounds for immediate optimism. In 1989, Mr Hu became party secretary in Tibet.
During his four-year tenure, he upheld the rule of Beijing with extreme ruthlessness, starting with the bloody sup pression of a demonstration in Lhasa in March 1989. Under his orders, Chinese security forces opened fire for three days, killing around 70 Tibetans.
Last September Leg Qog, the communist party boss in Tibet, said the Dalai Lama was welcome to visit Lhasa if he wanted. But he had to come "as a patriotic Chinese citizen" and "do nothing to break up the Chinese state".
Last night Prof Sandhong Rimpoche, prime minister of Tibet's exiled parliament, said it was too early to talk of a deal with Beijing. "We need to wait for the visit of the second delegation," he said.
The Dalai Lama gave up his demand for Tibetan independence several decades ago. In recent years he has called for a "middle way", under which Tibet would get "genuine autonomy" to conduct its affairs. More radical Tibetan campaigners have accused him of selling out.
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