Envoys of the Dalai Lama are in China to resume suspended talks. While China argues that its rule has brought Tibet economic progress, Tibetans say the influx of Hans has threatened Tibetan culture, and has also restricted employment opportunities for locals.

The envoys of the Dalai Lama arrive here on Tuesday for a resumption of talks with Beijing, which have been suspended since November 2008 over disagreements on the question of Tibet’s autonomy.

Talks between the Tibetan religious leaders’ representatives and the Chinese Government have reached a stalemate over differing interpretations over the limits of religious and cultural autonomy guaranteed to minorities by the Chinese Constitution.

Following the last round of negotiations, Beijing rejected the memorandum of demands submitted by the Dalai Lama’s representatives on the grounds that they were “unconstitutional”.

The demands include greater autonomy for religious and cultural affairs for ethnic Tibetans in Tibet, and also in four other provinces in China with Tibetan populations — Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan. It also called for a separate administrative body to administer Tibetans’ religious, cultural and educational rights in the five areas.

While Beijing described the proposal as “disguised independence”, the Dalai Lama has maintained his proposal was within the framework of the Chinese constitution. He has also called on China to do more to protect the religious freedom and cultural identity of Tibetans, which he says have been eroded under the Communist Party’s rule.

Recent weeks have seen mixed signals from Beijing on the prospects for this week’s talks.

Zhu Weiqun, a Vice-Minister of the United Front Work Department of the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee, which represents Beijing, said there was scope for progress if the Dalai Lama withdrew two specific demands: the withdrawal of the Chinese military and of non-Tibetans from Tibetan-inhabited areas.

“Those ideas all appose the Chinese constitution and the Law on Regional National Autonomy,” he said, calling on the Tibetan leader to “rethink” his proposal.

Thubten Samphel, a spokesperson for the Dalai Lama, told The Hindu in a recent interview that the Tibetan leader was prepared to let the Central government in Beijing handle all military issues, and had also not called for the expulsion of Han Chinese — China’s majority ethnic group.

He said, however, the Dalai Lama had significant concerns over the migration of Han Chinese to Tibet, and sought some limits.

Beijing argues that the economic progress its rule has brought Tibet — including a 170-per cent increase in its GDP since 2000, to $ 6.4 billion last year — has resulted in more Han Chinese moving to the historically-backward region as part of its development.

But many Tibetans say the influx of Hans has threatened Tibetan culture, and has also restricted employment opportunities for locals.

Many Tibetans also oppose government control over monasteries, including restrictions on the worship of the Dalai Lama.

Last week, China’s top leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, met in Beijing to chalk out a “leap-frog” development strategy for Tibet to raise incomes to national levels by 2020.

Mr. Hu called for continued economic growth to address social unrest, which surfaced most prominently in mass riots in March 2008. His government’s policy, he said, was premised on bringing in continued economic development which was “vital to ethnic unity, social stability and national security”.

Keywords: Dalai LamaTibetChinaHaneconomyGDP

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