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China bends on Taiwan, why not Tibet?

If Beijing can talk with Taiwan about ties, it can talk with the Dalai Lama about Tibet's future.

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By refusing to talk to Tibet's Dalai Lama, China has set itself up for yet another protest of the Olympic torch run, this time in India. But in contrast, China's top leader held talks last Saturday with Taiwan's incoming vice president. Does that receptivity to negotiations give hope to Tibetans?

That depends on whether Beijing follows up on its breakthrough talks and apparent new goodwill with Taiwan, a "breakaway" island it regards as an official region of China as much as landlocked Tibet is in reality.

The Dalai Lama seeks only full autonomy for his people within Chinese rule while the newly elected leaders of Taiwan are happy with the island's ambiguous status as de facto independent but still officially part of "one China" (someday). Taiwan's president-elect, Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party, plans closer economic ties with the mainland and, unlike outgoing President Chen Shui-bian, won't agitate Beijing with moves toward official independence.

The surprise high-level talks between Taiwan and China may be Beijing's way to reward Taiwan's voters for bringing back Nationalist rule and the old policy which leaves "the question" of the island's status to future generations. (Note the irony of a dictatorship rewarding a democracy.) Now, China should be equally generous with the Dalai Lama, who has dropped his demand for Tibetan independence – unlike many younger Tibetans – and reward him by opening talks. Many countries seek such a move, and a few leaders may boycott the opening of the Beijing Olympics if such talks don't take place.

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