March 8, 2006
The governor of Tibet said on Monday five rounds of talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government had not yet resulted in substantive negotiations, but added the door was open for more dialogue.
The comments by Xiangba Pingcuo, who is also deputy Communist Party secretary of the remote, mountainous region Chinese troops marched into in 1950, were unusually frank.
The Chinese government is normally reluctant to even acknowledge it is talking to envoys of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader and Nobel laureate whom Beijing considers a separatist and traitor.
"We cannot call the talks negotiations now. They are just dialogue, or contact, but the channels for communication have always been smooth," Xiangba Pingcuo told reporters on the sidelines of China's annual parliament session.
Regional delegations typically meet during parliament to discuss the leadership's addresses, but this was the first year the Tibet meeting was open to reporters.
The Dalai Lama has led a government-in-exile in northern India since fleeing Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
But many in Tibet still consider him their spiritual leader, and analysts say China has committed to the talks in part out of fear that his death in exile could leave a destabilising leadership vacuum.
After the last round of dialogue in February on allowing more autonomy for the Buddhist region, envoys of the Dalai Lama said differences remained.
"There is a fundamental difference even in the approach in addressing the issue," envoy Lodi Gyari said in a statement.
The Dalai Lama has long said he is only seeking greater autonomy for Tibet -- a position that has been controversial within the community in exile -- but Xiangba Pingcuo called on him to show sincerity.
"Improving relations is a process and requires conditions," he said. "If it (giving up independence) is just a strategy or a sham, then it will not do."
But despite acknowledging the lack of progress so far, the governor said the process was continuing.
"We will have further discussions in future. But we haven't yet reached the stage of substantive negotiations," he said.
Some analysts have warned a protracted dialogue that yielded no results could strengthen support among Tibetans for full independence, especially among youth frustrated with the Dalai Lama's softer approach.