As was chronicled on these pages yesterday under the headline 'Thaw shifts focus to SAR model for Tibet', hopes are rising among members of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile for a deal with Beijing. It seems that the model for an agreement on the realm of autonomy that could be granted to Tibet is none other than Hong Kong. Might it be said that in this case, one man's burden is potentially another man's fortune? Before cynics begin to whoop, however, it should be noted that Dharamsala is going where few, if any, supposedly 'splittist' movements have gone in China's history; and Beijing appears to be, at the very least, not discouraging it. If talks were to somehow take place between the Tibetan spiritual leader and China's president on the subject of Tibet's autonomy, it would be a startling breakthrough. In fact, were talks to be held under so much as a hint that Tibet is in line for Special Administrative Region status, they would herald a new era in China's political evolution. For while the rest of the world frets over the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy, especially with the recent introduction of a consultation paper on proposed revisions to internal security laws, granting increased autonomy to the most contentious region within China's borders could not be seen as anything but an amazingly liberal move by the Chinese government. Which is probably why the cynics will still have the run of play on this issue for some time. Despite the recent visits to China of the Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Thondup, and his special envoy to the United States, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, Beijing has not openly suggested that any real change is in the offing. Simply put, Dharamsala has said it is prepared to recognise that Tibet is a part of China, as long as it gains 'real' autonomy. Beijing's response, when and if it comes, has the potential to mark a major shift in China's national priorities. If even the slightest movement towards genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people could be gained, the current Chinese leadership would surely go down in history as the most open-minded and magnanimous of a century or more.