December 17, 2014 / 8:42 AM / 3 years ago

Dalai Lama says China hardliners hold back Xi on Tibet autonomy

BEIJING, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Hardliners in the Chinese government are holding back President Xi Jinping from granting genuine autonomy to Tibet, the Himalayan region's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, told a French broadcaster.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of being a violent separatist, charges he denies, saying he only wants real autonomy for Tibet, a remote region ruled by the Communist Party since its troops marched in in 1950.

Representatives of the Nobel Peace laureate held rounds of talks with China until 2010, but formal dialogue has stalled amid leadership changes in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet.

Speaking to television station France 24 in an interview to be aired on Wednesday, the Dalai Lama said he took heart from hearing Xi talking about Buddhism recently.

"This is something very unusual," the Dalai Lama said. "A communist, usually, we consider atheist."

Asked if the remarks led him to believe Xi was ready to discuss the Dalai Lama's calls for genuine autonomy, the spiritual leader said he thought there were "some indications".

"But at the same time, among the establishment, there is a lot of hardliner thinking still there. So he himself sometimes finds it's a difficult situation," the Dalai Lama said.

Xi's mother was a Buddhist and his father was friendly with the Dalai Lama, giving Tibetan leaders some hope that the president, who took office in 2012, could be more conciliatory.

"Now this president is quite active and realistic. However, the old thinking is still very much well entrenched. So change is difficult," the Dalai Lama said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, asked about the comments, repeated that the Dalai Lama must abandon his support for separatism, and there was no split in the government over how to handle Tibet.

"Opposing the splitting of the country, maintaining its unity and territorial integrity and ethnic unity, is the resolute consensus of the whole Chinese nation," he told reporters.

Many Tibetans feel their intensely Buddhist culture is at risk of annihilation by Beijing's political and economic domination and a regional influx of majority Han Chinese. China denies these are risks.

Asked if he might be the last Dalai Lama, as he suggested in a September interview, the Tibetan spiritual leader said the Tibetan people must decide, not a Communist Party made up of non-believers.

"Chinese officials are more concerned about the future Dalai Lama than me," he added. "I have no concern." (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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