China agrees to meet Dalai Lama envoy

Follows rising calls for talks in the wake of Tibetans' protests, which threaten to tarnish this summer's Olympics.

China has agreed to meet an envoy of the Dalai Lama following rising calls for talks in the wake of Tibetans' anti-government protests, which threaten to tarnish this summer's Beijing Olympic Games. Yet the government's announcement Friday of its agreement stopped well short of promising to restart actual negotiations on what the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate has characterized as Chinese cultural and religious repression in the Himalayan region. The statement repeated long-established preconditions for negotiations, including that the Dalai Lama unambiguously recognize Tibet as a part of China a situation that could forestall any immediate breakthroughs. "The Dalai Lama is always open to have a dialogue," Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile, said at its headquarters in the Indian hill town of Dharmsala. "But," he told The Associated Press, "the present circumstances in Tibet do not appear to be an appropriate platform for a meaningful dialogue." Tibetan protests that sparked deadly rioting in the capital, Lhasa, have galvanized critics of Beijing's communist regime and threatened to overshadow the Olympics, an object of massive national pride for China. Impassioned demonstrations have followed the Olympic torch as it has traveled the world this month. French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested he might skip the Olympics' opening ceremony unless Beijing engages the Dalai Lama. Such pressure suggests China's agreement to meet an envoy might be an attempt to placate foreign critics ahead of the games through a form of "damage control," said Michael C. Davis, a law professor and China expert at Hong Kong's City University. Similar offers from Beijing have yielded little in the past, leaving the Tibetan exile community exhausted and skeptical, Davis said. "One has to wonder if anyone would buy this argument again, especially if it means squandering the opportunity to draw attention to the problem offered by the Olympics," Davis said. China's announcement gave few details, saying only that the "relevant department of the central government will have contact and consultation with Dalai's private representative in the coming days." The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, says he seeks meaningful autonomy for Tibet - not independence.