After all of the heated rhetoric in the last few weeks between China and the West, after all of the torch relay protests and the pro-China protests, after Carrefour got picketed by Chinese consumers because of the perception that France was anti-China for what happened during the torch relay in Paris, after all the strong-arming and name-calling - I woke up this morning to the news that China has reached out to the Dalai Lama's representatives to set a time to hold face-to-face talks.
This is huge news. I don't care if they just sit at a Starbucks in central Beijing and talk - I don't care if all they do is swap favorite Han and Tibetan recipes - the fact that China is finally, finally willing to publicly meet with Tibetan representatives signals that the Chinese leadership gets it. The angry rhetoric about the Dalai Lama being a "splittist" wasn't going anywhere, and it was turning world opinion against China at the very time when China should want the support of the world so that the Games of the 29th Olympiad have a fighting chance of going off without a hitch. Not to mention that the future of the world hinges pretty seriously on China becoming a full-fledged member of the world community. Hopefully this is the first step in an improved relationship - whether it results in any long-term improvement in Tibet is of course something that won't be known for a long, long time.
I have to wonder whether Beijing would have taken such a significant step if they had not realized how much world opinion was turning against them hosting the Olympics. This is such a huge moment that I have to believe that China hosting the Games was a major factor in China being able to justify softening their stance vis-a-vis Tibet. Just a thought - one that I'll revisit in more depth later.
In shift, China offers to meet with Dalai Lama envoys (New York Times, 04-25-2008)
China to meet Dalai Lama aides among Tibet tension (Reuters via Yahoo Sports, 04-25-2008)
For more on this issue, including news of the previous meetings that have been held between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government since 2002, check out this piece in the Financial Times.