On the eve of his first official visit to Washington, D.C., Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has made a statement on Tibet that calls into question China’s sincerity in moving forward with the process of dialogue and negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

In an interview with the Washington Post, published on November 23, 2003, Wen said: “We have taken note of the recent remarks by the Dalai Lama but we still need to watch very carefully what he really does. So long as he genuinely abandons his position on seeking Tibetan independence and publicly recognizes Tibet and Taiwan as inalienable parts of Chinese territory, then contacts and discussions between him and the central government can resume. The door to communication between the central government and the Dalai Lama is wide open.”

“The Dalai Lama has clearly and repeatedly stated that he is not seeking Tibetan independence,” said Mary Beth Markey, U.S. Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet. “He reiterated this during his September 2003 meeting with President Bush,” Markey added.

“Wen’s remarks, therefore, cast doubt on China’s sincerity in moving forward with the dialogue process. This is why world leaders continue to question whether China is genuinely willing to talk to the Dalai Lama,” said Markey.

Renewed contact began with meetings between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese leaders in September 2002 and again in May-June 2003. However, there has been scant evidence since then about Chinese interest in moving the process forward.

“The Chinese leadership is either insincere or ignorant of the Dalai Lama’s position, and only continue face-to-face meetings can clarify this,” said Markey.

In a May 2003 “Report on Tibet Negotiations” to Congress, President Bush commended the re-establishment of contact between the Tibetan and Chinese leaders and said, “We urge that such contacts continue, and that substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives lead to a negotiated settlement on questions related to Tibet.”

Bush also noted in the report that “the lack of resolution of these problems leads to greater tensions inside China and will be a stumbling block to fuller political and economic engagement with the United States and other nations.”

Wen is expected to focus mainly on trade and economic issues and his visit is seen as heralding the possibility that he will take charge of relations with Washington.