DHARMSALA, India – The Dalai Lama said Thursday he was willing to meet Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao, and reiterated he was not seeking independence for Tibet.
The comments came as Chinese authorities acknowledged that riots against Chinese rule of Tibet had spread to other provinces after sweeping through Tibet last week. The government also announced the first arrests stemming from the violence.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, said he would be prepared to meet with any Chinese leaders, including Hu. But he said he would not travel to Beijing for talks unless there was "a real concrete development" in relations between the Beijing government and Tibet.
Chinese officials said they would talk with the Dalai Lama if he "stopped separatist activities" and recognized Tibet and Taiwan as parts of China.
The Dalai Lama has long maintained he is not seeking independence for Tibet but he wants dialogue with China aimed at giving Tibetans autonomy while remaining under Chinese rule.
"The whole world knows Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, one hundred times, thousand times I have repeated this. It is my mantra — we are not seeking independence," he told reporters in Dharmsala, the seat of Tibet's government-in-exile.
"The Tibet problem must be solved between Tibetan people and Chinese people," he said.
Many Tibetans harbor a deep resentment toward Hu, who served as Tibet's Communist Party chief beginning in 1989, marking a return to hard-line policies after a period of relative openness.
The Chinese government said the Dalai Lama's words were not enough.
"For the Dalai Lama, we not only listen to what he says, but more importantly, we focus on what he does," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
Chinese officials have accused the Dalai Lama and his supporters of organizing violent clashes in Tibet in hopes of sabotaging this summer's Beijing Olympics and promoting Tibetan independence.
The Dalai Lama has said in the past that he would meet Chinese leaders. His representatives re-established formal contact formal contact with China in 2002 after years of silence. They have met six times since, most recently last June in China.
Tibetan officials in exile say at least 80 people have died in the violence following protests in Tibet that began March 10 on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising. Chinese officials say 16 people were killed.
On Thursday, Chinese officials and media confirmed there unrest had spread from Tibet to neighboring provinces in recent days.
The Dalai Lama said he feared there would be more bloodshed as more Chinese forces were sent into these regions and appealed to the international community to help.
"Please think, visit the helpless, unarmed innocent people who simply love Tibetan culture and are not willing to accept others bullying them. Now they are facing death. So very sad," he said.
The Dalai Lama dismissed the accusations and insults Chinese officials hurled at him this week, which included the Communist Party boss labeling him "a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast."
"As a Buddhist monk, it does not matter what they call me," he said, adding that he believed these comments were meant to stir up anti-Tibetan feeling within China.
"The outside world doesn't believe that I am devil," he said.