New Zealand leader told Beijing to talk to Dalai Lama

Other News Materials 8 April 2008 04:11 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Tuesday that she urged Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to meet exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama when they held talks Monday in Beijing as the two countries signed a free-trade pact.

But the two sides were far apart, and she was not optimistic of a breakthrough in the standoff, Clark told Radio New Zealand from Beijing.

Clark said she had raised the issue of Tibet with Wen Jiabao after the free-trade agreement - the first China has negotiated with a developed country - was signed Monday.

"We don't question the status of Tibet, but we have been deeply concerned at the violence and the riots," she said. "We have wanted China to show restraint in the way it reacts, and we do think the time is very ripe for dialogue with the Dalai Lama."

Clark said that the Chinese believed the Dalai Lama was playing an active role in the unrest, sparked by riots last month in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and that the Buddhist leader was demanding independence.

The Dalai Lama denies the allegation, saying that he wants only autonomy for Tibet, but Clark said, "I'm not sure that the Chinese are taking the Dalai Lama at his word.

"They are blaming the violence on him. They believe he is undermining the Olympic Games, and they don't think he's clear enough about the independence issue. So until the Chinese and the Dalai Lama are of a greater meeting of minds on those issues, it's going to be hard to get them together."

Clark said that Wen indicated that there were "back channels" between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, but she added, "I think that to advance issues in Tibet now, it's going to be very important that they can overcome the obstacles to talking."

New Zealand journalists travelling with Clark reported that Wen cancelled a scheduled press conference after the trade pact signing to avoid being questioned on Tibet.

Exiled Tibetans accuse China of systematic oppression of the Himalayan region and of killing, torturing and unjustly imprisoning those who oppose Beijing's rule.

China says that 19 people died in the Lhasa unrest, mostly at the hands of Tibetan rioters. Representatives of the Dalai Lama say that about 140 people died in broader unrest across Tibet and nearby areas, and that most of the dead were Tibetans killed by Chinese security forces.