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China, Dalai Lama envoys to meet after stalemate

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[January 26, 2010]  BEIJING (AP) -- Beijing told the Dalai Lama on Tuesday to make the best of the first meeting between Chinese officials and the Tibetan spiritual leader's envoys in 15 months but publicly showed no sign of easing its hardline stance on their disagreements.

HardwareTwo envoys of the Dalai Lama were to arrive in China on Tuesday to resume talks on Tibet after the lengthy deadlock. The end to the stalemate came as a surprise after the acrimony and uncertainty that followed the last meeting in November 2008.

Chinese officials then refused to discuss the status of China-ruled Tibet and insisted that they would only address the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India in 1959.

"We hope the Dalai Lama will cherish the opportunity and make a positive response to the central government's requests," the United Front Department of the Communist Party, the office that handled past talks, said in a statement that did not go into specifics about China's requests.

At the last talks, the Dalai Lama's envoys proposed a way for Tibetans to meet achieve more autonomy within the framework of 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.

The Dalai Lama's office said Monday the decision to send envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen was made at the end of last week, when China made moves to bind Tibet closer to the rest of the country and extend hardline policies there, including appointing a former soldier as Tibet's new governor.

China promised at the same time to increase investment for Tibet and Tibetan communities at a rare high-level policy conclave on the Himalayan region. Tibetans complain such policies have diluted or repressed their religion, language and culture in favor of the majority Han Chinese.

The spiritual leader's office did not give details about the new talks' agenda and said the envoys are expected back in India early next month.

A Tibetan exile leader, however, said Monday he doubted they would be fruitful.

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"The holding of the talks does not mean that there will be tangible results, and we do not hold any hope," Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan self-proclaimed government-in-exile, told the Voice of Tibet radio service based in Norway on Monday. Officials at the spiritual leader's office and the Tibetan self-proclaimed government in exile could not be reached in India on Tuesday, a national holiday.

Tibetan areas have been tense in recent years, with the minority community complaining about restrictions on Buddhism, government propaganda campaigns against their revered Dalai Lama and an influx of Chinese migrants that leave the Tibetans feeling marginalized in what they see as their homeland. Those feelings boiled over in an anti-Chinese uprising in 2008 that shocked Beijing leaders.

The new talks were welcomed by the United States, Britain and Canada.

"The administration hopes this meeting will produce positive results and provide a foundation for future discussions to resolve outstanding issues," U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Britain's Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis, who visited Tibet and Beijing last year, urged both sides to "enter these talks in good faith and to make progress towards meaningful autonomy for Tibet."

[Associated Press; By GILLIAN WONG]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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