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New China-Tibet talks prompt speculation on shift

New China-Tibet talks prompt speculation on shift

Envoys of the Dalai Lama were due in Beijing on Friday ahead of new talks over the status of the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader.
The weekend meetings come amid renewed speculation over possible shifts in Beijing's policies toward Tibet, geared toward boosting the Himalayan region's economy in hopes of reducing the chances of further ethnic unrest.
Tibet saw the worst anti-government violence in decades in the spring of 2008, and remains under a heavy security crackdown.
The talks, the first in 15 months, are the ninth round in a process that began in 2002 and has yet to produce substantive results.
Beijing refuses to discuss the status of China-ruled Tibet and insists that talks only address the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India in 1959.
China has apparently rejected proposals raised at previous talks for greater Tibetan autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution.
Nor has China shown any sign of easing its strict controls over Tibetan political expression and Buddhist worship. Beijing maintains that strife in the Himalayan region is economic in origin rather than based on religious or ethnic differences.
Still, oberservers have been scanning recent official statements for evidence that Beijing is moving ever so slightly to refine its positions. Given China's opaque decision-making process, even a small change in language or shift in emphasis can spur talk of change.
As with past rounds of talks, the discussions with officials from the Dalai Lama's self-proclaimed India-based government-in-exile are taking place under a cone of secrecy. Little is known other than that envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen arrived in China this week and were due to meet with Communist Party officials on Saturday and Sunday.
The meetings are taking place just over a week after a major conference on Tibet policy at which Chinese president and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao announced ambitious targets for raising the incomes of herders and farmers to the level of those in China proper by 2020.
Significantly, the forum also laid out a blueprint to boost funding for ethnic Tibetan regions in adjoining provinces rocked by the aftershocks of violent anti-government riots and protests that broke out in March 2008 in Tibet's capital Lhasa.
Those moves appeared to acknowledge that more needs to be done to establish lasting stability in the Himalayan region, despite Beijing pouring 140 billion yuan ($20 billion) into development projects in Tibet since 2001.
Critics complain much of that money went to projects such as the railway to Lhasa that benefit Chinese companies and migrants, neglecting the needs of poor Tibetans and fueling resentment of Beijing's rule.
Observers have also highlighted comments last month by Chinese negotiator Zhu Weiqun characterizing the Dalai Lama's claims not to be seeking independence for Tibet as "good though not enough."
While Zhu said further clarification was needed, his remarks marked a slight departure from Beijing's usual curt dismissals of the 75-year-old Buddhist leader's calls for substantial autonomy under Chinese rule.
By and large, however, experts remain skeptical about the prospects for substantial change in Beijing's position.
China is under little pressure to change its approach or make concessions, while the recent installation of former army officer as Tibet's new governor signals a hardening of its rule in the territory, said Michael C. Davis, an expert on Tibet at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"I just find the evidence very thin that anything is really changing," Davis said.
The speculation over Tibet policy also has raised questions about Beijing's approach to Xinjiang, the traditionally Muslim far-western region where ethnic rioting last summer last year left almost 200 people dead.
The party's governing Politburo plans to stage a conference later this year on policy toward the region similar to this month's meeting on Tibet, with the goal of formulating a plan to "support the development of Xinjiang and promote the long-term stability and prosperity of Xinjiang," according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Like Tibet, Xinjiang remains under a suffocating security presence. Its Internet, telephone and text messaging services are slowly being restored after being cut after the riots.


Updated : 2021-07-28 22:43 GMT+08:00