China's top Tibetan official said on Thursday "the door was open" for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama, but repeated its charge that the spiritual leader was a separatist bent on Tibetan independence.
In China's first high-level comment since the Dalai Lama retired in March as head of Tibet's government-in-exile, Padma Choling said the spiritual figure was welcome to return to Tibet as long as he ended his separatist activities.
"If he wants to come back, the door to China is always open," Choling, Tibet's highest-ranking official, told reporters.
"If the Dalai Lama really does retire as he says he has, if he stops his separatist activities, stops disrupting the stability of Tibet and really concentrates on Buddhism, then this will be good for Tibet," he said.
"The key is if he really gives up Tibetan independence."
China has made similar statements before but Tibet-watchers believe Beijing will not allow his return due to its potential for causing political instability in tense Tibet.
China has for years insisted the Dalai Lama wants to establish an independent Tibet, charges the 1989 Nobel laureate has long denied, saying he only seeks "meaningful" autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.
Following his March retirement, Tibetan exiles elected Harvard academic Lobsang Sangay, 43, as their new prime minister and handing him the daunting task of assuming the political duties of the Dalai Lama, a global icon.
Beijing has long been seen as playing a waiting game, believing that the Tibetan exiled movement will splinter and collapse after the eventual death of the 75-year-old Buddhist monk.
Choling, who was speaking on the 60th anniversary of China's "peaceful liberation of Tibet," further accused the Dalai Lama of seeking to restore the Tibetan theocracy that existed for centuries before China's 1951 takeover.
"Since he went into exile in 1959, he has never done anything good for Tibet, everything he has done since he left is to struggle for the restoration of feudal serfdom," he said.
He further reiterated Beijing's stance that the exiled Tibetan government was "an illegal organisation," and said any future negotiations on the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet would be with the Buddhist leader and not the exiled government.