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China welcomes UK Tibet decision

Zhu Weiqun speaks on Tibet

A senior Chinese official has welcomed the UK's decision to recognise Beijing's direct rule over Tibet.

Zhu Weiqun, who is leading talks with Tibetan exiles, told the BBC the move had brought the UK "in line with the universal position in today's world".

But Mr Zhu would not say whether it might be linked with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's efforts to bring China into a new world economic order.

Beijing says Tibet has been part of the Chinese nation since the 13th Century.

Many Tibetans disagree, pointing out that the Himalayan region was an independent kingdom for many centuries, and that Chinese rule over Tibet has not been constant.

After a brief military conflict between China and Tibet in the early part of the 20th Century, Tibet declared itself an independent republic in 1912.

China sent troops to Tibet in 1950 and summoned a Tibetan delegation the following year to sign a treaty ceding sovereignty.

'Criminal acts'

Since then there have been periods of unrest and sporadic uprisings as resentment to Beijing's rule has persisted, most recently in March, when there were riots and demonstrations both in Tibet and surrounding provinces.

Unrest in Lhasa on 14 March
Criminal acts like these have been dealt with according to law
Zhu Weiqun, Vice-Minister
United Front Work Department

The Chinese government says rioters killed at least 19 people, but Tibetan exiles say security forces killed dozens of protesters and were guilty of repression.

"I simply don't agree about repression," Mr Zhu told the BBC. "Tibetans are our brothers and sisters."

"Innocent civilians were hacked or burnt to death last March. In one shop, five girls, one of them an ethnic Tibetan, were set on fire and killed. Criminal acts like these have been dealt with according to law. Do you call this repression?"

On Monday, talks between Chinese officials and Tibetan exiles on the future of the Himalayan region ended after they failed to make any progress.

Mr Zhu is a vice-minister of the United Front Work Department, which conducts negotiations with Tibetan representatives.

He blamed this week's deadlock on the Tibetans, whom Mr Zhu believes still want independence.

The Tibetans have yet to comment officially, but the Dalai Lama, the head of exiled Central Tibetan Administration, has previously said he does not want independence for his homeland, only meaningful autonomy.

'Anachronism'

Despite the stalled discussions, Mr Zhu made it clear that China wanted them to continue.

"China has done everything it can to talk to the Dalai Lama," he said. "The door is still open."

The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, leaves hospital in Delhi on 16 October
The Dalai Lama's "middle way" seeks autonomy but not full independence

In a little publicised parliamentary statement on 29 October, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband gave his strong backing to the talks and also backed the Dalai Lama's call for autonomy as a basis for agreement.

Mr Miliband also referred to a historic agreement dating back to the early 20th Century, which acknowledged China's "special position" in Tibet, but asserted that Tibet had never been fully part of the country.

Describing the policy as an "anachronism", he asserted: "Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China."

Mr Zhu said his government appreciated the British statement.

"I think this is a recognition of an already existing objective fact," he said. "It has also brought the UK in line with the universal position in today's world."

BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson says Mr Zhu diplomatically sidestepped the question whether the British decision might be linked with Mr Brown's efforts to bring China into a new world economic order; though that is certainly what many observers think.

They also think the Dalai Lama's position has been weakened by the UK's decision, our correspondent says.

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