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China to Hold Talks With Dalai Lama Aide

World leaders — including President Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd — have urged Beijing to open talks with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

“In view of the requests repeatedly made by the Dalai side for resuming talks, the relevant department of the central government will have contact and consultation with Dalai’s private representative in the coming days,” the official Xinhua News Agency said, quoting an unidentified official, according to the Associated Press.

China has held meetings with Dalai Lama aides in the past, most recently in 2006, but the talks have rarely produced any substantial progress, the BBC reported.

The prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile said he had not received any official Chinese confirmation of the report.

“The Dalai Lama is always open to have a dialogue but the present circumstances in Tibet do not appear to be an appropriate platform for a meaningful dialogue,” Samdhong Rimpoche told the AP in Dharmsala, India.

“But let the official confirmation come from the Chinese. We will give our response,” he said.

The dispute over Chinese-Tibetan relations stretches back to the 13th century. Most recently, China sent troops to Tibet in 1950 and has employed strict rule there ever since, controlling religious institutions and limiting expression of Tibetan culture. The region is also rich in natural resources such as timber and minerals — materials that are used to feed China’s growing economy.

China has always said it was willing to talk with the Dalai Lama as long as he met preconditions, including unambiguously recognizing Tibet as a part of China, the AP reported. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, has said he seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet, not independence from Chinese rule.

Recent protests in Tibet were the most widespread against Beijing’s rule in decades, focusing attention on China’s policies in the Himalayan region and questioning whether they largely benefit Chinese who moved there since the 1951 occupation by Chinese troops.

International criticism and protests surrounding the Olympic torch have prompted an outcry over Chinese rule of Tibet, further raising tensions as Beijing prepares to host the August games.

EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso, who has brought up the issue of Tibet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, said he was “very happy” about the proposed talks, the BBC reported.

“If the concern of the Dalai Lama is … respect of cultural identity, religious identity and autonomy inside China, I believe there’s real room for a dialogue,” he told reporters.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said diplomats were encouraged by the report.

“The U.S. has long encouraged the Chinese to renew dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives. So if the reports are true … we see this as a positive development,” Stevenson said.

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