Guardian (England), via The Age (Australia), Feb. 9, 2003
By Luke Harding
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 London-based Guardian newspaper 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” traitor. But relations 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. “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.”
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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.
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 are believed to be keen to soften their stand on Tibet. But the new President’s record offers little grounds for optimism.