China plans ethnic tour for Dalai Lama envoys
Reuters[Friday, October 31, 2008 16:37]
By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING - China plans to take the Dalai Lama's envoys to visit a non-Tibetan minority, a source said on Friday, as they try to persuade their wary visitors Beijing is sincere about talks on the Himalayan region's future.

The envoys arrived in Beijing on Thursday for fence-mending talks days after the Dalai Lama, currently visiting neighboring Japan, expressed dismay at China's attitude.

The rare trip out of the capital would be a chance for officials to showcase ethnic relations less fraught than those of Tibet, which erupted into deadly anti-Chinese riots in March.

But it is also a risky gamble because there are few areas of the country where minorities are entirely content, and most major ethnic groups have vocal advocates abroad who would be keen to undermine any picture of harmony presented by the government.

The latest round of talks is the first since Beijing hosted the Olympics in August, and comes amid growing concern about the Dalai Lama's health and the diminishing possibility of a meaningful settlement.

Tibetan exiles are frustrated with the lack of progress in talks with China and the Dalai Lama said by email last week that Beijing seemed to be making little effort to engage.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, revered by Buddhists in Tibet and elsewhere, has said he wants a high level of autonomy for Tibet, but not outright independence, while China considers him a trouble-making separatist. The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.

But a source familiar with the negotiations said the Chinese government has insisted it is sincere and there is room for progress in these meetings.

The trip out of the capital could be an effort to break an apparent deadlock and build trust.

"The delegation will be taken to a province populated by a non-Tibetan ethnic minority," said a source with knowledge of the talks, who declined to say which area or discuss the reason for the visit.

Inner Mongolia would be a likely destination because it shares a common religious heritage with Tibetans, which is linked to Chinese claims Lhasa has been under its rule for centuries.

However Tibetans worried about becoming a minority in their own land as waves of Han Chinese migrants flood in on a recently built railway may find cause for concern in Inner Mongolia's population data -- only around a fifth are Mongolian.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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