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Page last updated at 00:38 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

China shows willingness to engage

By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

Zhu Weiqun speaks on Tibet

Tibet is one of the subjects that the Chinese government usually refuses to answer questions about in public. But the atmosphere in Beijing is no longer what it was.

The UK government's decision on 29 October to recognise China's sovereignty over Tibet, which was little noticed at the time, has put the Chinese government in a much better mood; even though it does little more than bring Britain into line with other leading Western countries.

Mr Zhu Weiqun, China's minister for Tibet, diplomatically sidestepped the question whether the British decision might be linked with Gordon Brown's efforts to bring China into a new world economic order; though that is certainly what many China-watchers think.

They also think the Dalai Lama's position has been weakened by Britain's decision.

Tibetans 'satisfied'

During our interview, Mr Zhu kept up a range of arguments against the line the Dalai Lama's officials are taking in the talks they are holding with Mr Zhu and the Chinese government.

Tibetans are our brothers and sisters
Zhu Weiqun, Vice-Minister
United Front Work Department

The latest round of talks ended last Monday in some anger.

Mr Zhu claimed that if Tibet gained its independence (something which in fact the Dalai Lama has said he does not want), ethnic cleansing would follow.

The huge numbers of Chinese settlers who have gone to Tibet to live would be attacked, he said.

At the same time Mr Zhu maintained that the great majority of Tibetans were satisfied with the present system.

Publicity effort

Even though the discussions which China has been holding with the team representing the Dalai Lama have been very difficult, Mr Zhu used our interview to signal clearly that China wanted these talks to continue.

Dalai Lama in Japan (3 November 2008)
Mr Zhu said Beijing remained open to Tibetan exiles led by the Dalai Lama

Above all, he was prepared to sit calmly and face a barrage of tough questions about the repression which many Westerners feel China has unleashed against people in Tibet.

In the past, the man in charge of Chinese dealings with Tibet would never have been willing to discuss these things. Nor would other Chinese leaders.

In other ways Beijing is showing greater willingness than ever to engage with the Western world.

As far as Tibet is concerned, the Chinese government understands that the issue has done great damage to its image in the West, and wants to minimise that if it can.

And presumably this effort began in London because Beijing is delighted that the UK should have changed its official line on Tibet's status.

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