Dalai Lama Wants to Make First China Visit

The Dalai Lama said Friday that he has asked China to let him to visit the country for the first time since he fled Tibet nearly a half-century ago.

His comments came in an address to thousands of followers on the anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule, which marked the beginning of his exile.

The supreme Tibetan spiritual leader, 70, did he did not specify an itinerary, but said he wanted to make a pilgrimage. His envoys, who recently returned from talks with officials in China, had conveyed his request to the Chinese government, he said.

"As a country with a long history of Buddhism, China has many sacred pilgrim sites," he told his followers. "As well as visiting the pilgrim sites, I hope I will be able to see for myself the changes and developments in the People's Republic of China."

In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reached by telephone had no immediate response.

China has claimed Tibet as part of its territory for centuries, and its forces occupied the region in 1950. Branded a separatist, the Dalai Lama fled to Dharmsala in 1959 where he formed a government-in-exile. He hasn't been back since.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he wants autonomy, not independence, for Tibet.

Tibetan and Chinese officials met last month in southern China. Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Dalai Lama's chief representative, said there was a growing understanding between the two sides, though fundamental differences persisted.

The envoys have attended four rounds of talks with China since 2002. Specific details of those discussions have not been released, but they are believed to have focused on the Dalai Lama's demands for more autonomy for Tibet to protect its unique Buddhist culture.

"I have stated time and again that I do not wish to seek Tibet's separation from China, but that I will seek its future within the framework of the Chinese constitution," the Dalai Lama said.