By Lindsay Beck
Lhasa, Tibet - China welcomes dialogue with the Dalai Lama through private envoys but the exiled Tibetan god-king must recognise Beijing's sovereignty over the region if he is to return, a Chinese official said on Thursday.
China has long said the Nobel Peace Prize winner wants independence for Tibet and has refused to allow him back inside its borders since he fled to India after an abortive anti-Chinese uprising in 1959.
"The channel for us to have dialogue with the Dalai Lama is open. I often have contact with his private representatives, for example his family," Wu Yingjie, a vice governor of Tibet, told a news conference in the provincial capital.
From the time of his flight nine years after Chinese troops marched into Tibet, the Dalai Lama has been the head of a government-in-exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala.
The spiritual leader says he wants a mutually agreeable solution that entails greater autonomy, but not independence, for Tibetan regions.
Last September, private envoys of the Dalai Lama visited China as part of a delicate and slow-moving process to pave the way for dialogue on the future of Tibet and possibly the religious leader's eventual return.
But contact between Beijing and the Tibetan government-in-exile remain out of the question.
"We have never recognised the illegal government of Tibet outside China so there is no such question of dialogue between the central government and the (official) representatives of the Dalai Lama," Wu said.
The Dalai Lama has "taken advantage of religion to realise political goals", Wu said, adding that, to return, the spiritual leader would also have to recognise the self-governed island of Taiwan as a part of China.
With the Dalai Lama having celebrated his 70th birthday last month, questions have come up about whether Beijing will get involved in the selection of his next incarnation.
"I think it is still too early to talk about this question," Wu said.
China's atheist Communist leaders named the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet's second-most important religious figure, and rejected the nominee put forward by the Dalai Lama, who by tradition has the right to make the choice.
The young boy named by the Dalai Lama has not been seen in public since and is believed to be living under house arrest.
"I wish you to believe he is living in his hometown happily," Wu said. "His family and himself do not want interference from the outside world."