BEIJING — The Dalai Lama said Thursday that he was ready to meet China's leaders to discuss violent protests in Tibet, but China nearly ruled out any such possibility, assailing the exiled Tibetan as deceitful and even criminal.
Speaking in Dharamsala, the hill station in northern India that's the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, the Dalai Lama said the talks could take place once violence died down in Tibet.
"I (am) always ready to meet our Chinese leaders, particularly Hu Jintao," the Dalai Lama said, referring to China's president and military chief.
The Dalai Lama said he'd like such a meeting to occur outside China but would travel to Beijing if the outlook seemed positive. "If there are concrete indications, I am ready, I am happy, after this crisis — in a few weeks, in a few months," he said.
Hope arose a day earlier that such a parley might take place, when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told Parliament in London that Premier Wen Jiabao of China had confirmed to him that he could hold talks with the Dalai Lama under certain conditions.
"The premier told me that, subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said — that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence — that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama," Brown said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing that China hadn't softened its stance on dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and likened the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to a gangland figure.
"Some reports are not very accurate," Qin said, referring to Brown's remarks.
Qin said China disbelieved the Dalai Lama's assertions this week that he doesn't seek Tibet independence, only greater autonomy in the Himalayan region.
"We must judge the Dalai Lama not merely by his words but also by his actions," Qin said. "As we have repeatedly pointed out, Dalai is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion."
Qin said the exiled Tibetan leader was the head of a "Dalai clique" that orchestrated criminal unrest, which began in Lhasa last Friday as Tibetan mobs torched scores of Han Chinese-owned stores, set street bonfires, threw rocks at police and overturned vehicles. Since then, ethnic unrest has spilled outside Tibet to three neighboring provinces.
"You have seen the relevant videos and pictures on television. Is it a peaceful demonstration or violent crime?" Qin asked. "So many things happened simultaneously. Do you still believe this is a coincidence?"
Qin declined to define what he meant by a "Dalai Lama clique," but he described the work of the "clique" as criminal in nature.
China and representatives of the Dalai Lama have held six rounds of talks since 2002, but they've gone almost nowhere, and China appears to be preparing for when the 72-year-old Dalai Lama passes from the scene.
The Dalai Lama said Tuesday that his government-in-exile remained committed to nonviolence, and that he does not seek independence for Tibet, which he fled in 1959.
China has refused to explain how the Dalai Lama could voice his views in a way that would satisfy Chinese conditions for resuming talks.