BEIJING – Chinese media railed against the Dalai Lama and his supporters Saturday and pledged to crush any campaign seeking independence for Tibet, ahead of a meeting between Beijing and envoys of the exiled spiritual leader.
The meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen would be the first between the two sides since violent anti-government protests erupted in Tibet in March.
Envoys were expected to arrive in Hong Kong on Saturday and travel to the neighboring city of Shenzhen for meetings that will begin Sunday, said Prime Minister Samdhong Rimpoche of the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile.
The representatives, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, would convey "deep concerns" over China's handling of the situation in Tibet and would put forward "suggestions to bring peace to the region," the Tibetan government-in-exile said in a statement Friday.
It called the meetings "informal talks with representatives of the Chinese leadership."
China has faced mounting international calls to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, and some experts believe Beijing agreed to meet to ease pressure ahead of the Olympics, which begin in August.
The Tibet talks were not mentioned Saturday in China's entirely state-run media, but two articles continued to accuse the Dalai Lama and his supporters of organizing riots with an aim of breaking the far western Himalayan region of Tibet away from Chinese rule.
"The hope of realizing Tibetan independence by the Dalai clique has become more and more dim. When their hopes shattered, the Dalai clique launched bloody violence, this was their last act of madness," the Tibet Daily said.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed uprising in 1959, says he is seeking meaningful autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from Chinese rule. He has decried "cultural genocide" in his homeland, which has a unique Buddhist tradition distinct from the rest of China.
The Dalai Lama is deeply revered by Tibetans. Men in that position have traditionally been regarded as both the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists.
A front-page story in the overseas edition of People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, denied the Tibetan issue was related to religion, saying "the religious issue is a card played by the Dalai clique for gaining the sympathy from some people."
Thubten Samphal, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the Dalai Lama's envoys will meet with the head of China's United Front Work Department during their three-day visit.
The department is designed to deal with influential people in groups outside of China's Communist Party and sway them into joining the party's side. It is directly under the Communist Party's central committee and often deals with issues related to Tibet and Taiwan.
The United Front Work Department hosted earlier talks between the two sides. China and representatives of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in 2006.
The department, directly under the Communist Party's central committee and responsible for overseeing work to "contain separatist forces," hosted envoys attending earlier talks. China and representatives of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile held six rounds of inconclusive talks that foundered in 2006.
Since the last talks, the department has gained a new boss, Du Qinglin, a former minister of agriculture who more recently ran Sichuan province, where there is a large Tibetan population.
The department has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment Saturday. No other Chinese officials were available for comment on Saturday, a national holiday in China.
The talks were being held on an informal level only "because we cannot do business as usual when the situation in Tibet is so grave," Thubten Samphal said Friday.
"The crisis in Tibet should end before formal discussions should be held," he said.
China says 22 people died in violence in Tibet's capital of Lhasa, while overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number have been killed in protests and the security crackdown across Tibetan regions of western China.