With unrest in Tibet casting a shadow over the Summer Olympics, Chinese officials will hold an emergency meeting today with the Dalai Lama's negotiators, the office of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said Friday.
It will be the first time the Dalai Lama's representatives have been invited to China since last summer. A major topic is expected to be the arrests of hundreds of Tibetans accused of participating in the largest protests against Chinese rule in Tibet since the mid-1980s.
In a statement released by the Dalai Lama's office in Dharamsala, India, the Tibetans said there would be a brief visit devoted to the "current crisis in the Tibetan areas." Special envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen will convey the Dalai Lama's "deep concerns about the Chinese authorities' handling of the situation and also provide suggestions to bring peace to the region," the statement said.
Tibet advocates hailed the planned meeting as a sign that the Chinese were bowing to international pressure. World leaders, including President Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have called on China to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Many have made a dialogue with the exiled Tibetan a precondition for attending the Aug. 8 opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
The relay of the Olympic torch around the globe in recent weeks has been marred by protests against China's Tibet policy.
"The Chinese realized this was a crisis situation and they had to make a significant gesture," said Mary Beth Markey, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet.
But Robert Barnett, a Tibet specialist at Columbia University, was less optimistic about the meeting. "It would take huge political courage on the part of the Chinese to make any concessions at this time," he said.
The Tibetan government-in-exile said that the meeting would be with representatives of the United Front Work Department, part of the Chinese Communist Party. There was no immediate confirmation from Chinese authorities, and the meeting was not mentioned in morning newspapers today in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959 but is still regarded by many Tibetans as their rightful leader. Over the last two decades, there have been intermittent talks between China and his envoys over issues of religious and political autonomy for Tibetans.
The Tibetans made it clear in Friday's statement that today's talks would not be part of the regular dialogue, but would address the immediate issue of Tibetans who have been arrested since mid-March.
Gyari said in an interview last month that it would not be appropriate to conduct "business as usual" in the middle of a crisis.
Chinese news media announced Tuesday that 30 Tibetans had been sentenced for participation in the clashes, some to life in prison.
The Tibetan statement did not indicate where the talks would take place or how long they would last.