China not to relax grip on Tibet

BEIJING: China stuck to its hard line in its first talks with Tibetan envoys in 15 months, refusing to discuss changes to the Himalayan region’s status and thus dashing hopes of a breakthrough.

Chinese negotiator Du Qinglin said today he told the Dalai Lama’s representatives that Beijing was only willing to address the future of the exiled spiritual leader - not any greater autonomy for Tibet.

Du, head of the United

Front Department of the Communist Party, the government department that handles the talks, said China’s national interest was inviolable, and “there can be no room for discussion, no room for compromise” on territorial issues.

China maintains that

Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for much of its history.

At the last talks in 2008, the Dalai Lama’s envoys proposed a way for Tibetans to achieve more autonomy under the Chinese constitution - a key demand of the minority community. But China apparently rejected the plan, saying it would not allow Tibet the kind of latitude granted to the territories of Hong Kong and Macau. Chinese officials said they were only willing to discuss the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in 1959.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, said last week it hoped the two sides would be able to revisit the proposal for greater autonomy. But Du’s remarks, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency and posted on the United Front Department’s Web site, made clear there was no such progress.

“The only thing there is to discuss, on the premise that you give up separatist words and actions, is the future of the Dalai Lama and the people around him,” Du said. “We hope the Dalai Lama will face reality squarely and return to the patriotic stance.” Beijing demonizes the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and says he seeks to destroy China’s sovereignty by pushing independence for Tibet. The Dalai Lama has maintained for decades he wants some form of autonomy that would allow Tibetans to freely practice their culture, language and religion under China’s rule, not independence. Du said the exiles’ calls for a “greater Tibet” incorporating all Tibetan-inhabited areas, a region occupying about one-quarter of China’s total territory, and a higher level of autonomy violated the Chinese constitution. He said only if the Dalai Lama abandoned such requests could there be a basis for contact.

“We are not wishing to have Tibet as a sovereign state,” Tibetan administration spokesman Thubten Samphel told AFP in Dharamshala. Samphel said the exiled government had never sought any concessions on the issue, arguing instead for a high level of autonomy for the region. “We have made it clear to them that Tibet should enjoy autonomy and this was conveyed to the Chinese side,” he said.

The Dalai Lama’s envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, returned to India early today after meeting officials in Beijing over the weekend, according to Chhime R Chhoekyapa, the Dalai Lama’s secretary.