China is still willing to meet Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to negotiate an end to his exile but on condition that he renounce any idea of independence for his homeland, a Chinese official said.
Despite an explosion of anti-Chinese protest and the imposition of martial law in Lhasa in March, Beijing stands by its offer made last year that it is ready to hold talks anywhere at any time, said Gong Liefu, spokesman for Tibet's regional government.
"But the Dalai Lama must recognize that Tibet is an inseparable part of China. That is the most important question," Gong said in an interview Friday.
His remarks were the most conciliatory made by China since the March unrest, which Beijing blamed partly on the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile in India.
China has also denounced this month's award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the 54-year-old Buddhist priest.
In Lhasa, which resembles a city under military occupation, Tibetans greeted news of the Nobel Peace Prize with private jubilation.
Two small groups of Buddhist nuns held brief pro-independence protests a week ago near the sacred Jokhang Temple in the center of Lhasa but were quickly arrested, residents said.
Worshiped as a living god by many Tibetans, the Dalai Lama fled his Himalayan homeland in 1959 as Communist troops crushed a mass rebellion against Chinese rule.
For many Tibetans their land is incomplete without the Dalai Lama and some nationalists believe that, independent or not, Tibet will see an end to anti-Chinese protest only when he returns.
In recent public statements the Dalai Lama has backed away from calling for total independence, proposing that China be allowed to keep its troops in the vast strategic region of 2 million people and oversee its foreign affairs.
But Gong said the Dalai Lama must unequivocally renounce any claim to independence or semi-independence for talks to begin.
"History shows that a ruler who loses power cannot return and regain it," the spokesman said.
China also demanded that the Dalai Lama or his appointed representatives drop the title of government-in-exile during negotiations.