SEOUL, May 18 - The South Korean government confirmed Thursday that the Dalai Lama applied for a visa to enter the country, but refused to clarify its position on the much sought-after visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader.
"We will have to consider both the big framework of South Korea-China relations and the aspirations of cultural and religious circles here," Foreign Ministry official Lee Gwang-shik said.
He said the Dalai Lama applied for the visa recently through the country's embassy in India at the invitation of local religious groups.
The 70-year-old Buddhist leader has sought to visit South Korea since the early 1990s, but Seoul has not allowed it, apparently fearful of a negative impact on its ties with Beijing.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese occupation of the Himalayan region. He now lives in Dharmsala, India, and makes frequent travels abroad to publicize the plight of the Tibetan people.
He is widely revered in the world as a great religious leader, but the Chinese government accuses the exiled Tibetan of using his status for political and separatist activities.South Korea has come under growing pressure to allow him to visit.
"Recently, the Dalai Lama visited some Latin American nations with close ties with China," Dongguk University professor Yeon Ki-young said. Yeon is the head of the organizing committee for the Seoul meeting of world's religious leaders, slated for June 7-14.
If South Korea rejects his visa again, it would run counter to Seoul's status as the world's leading country on the human rights issue, Yeon said.