China denied changing its stance on exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Saturday, after reports said Beijing had relaxed its policies of publicly denouncing him and banning worship of his image.
“Our policy towards the Dalai Lama is clear and consistent, and has not changed,” China’s state bureau of religious affairs said.
Reports by a Tibet-focused rights group and US-based Radio Free Asia said China was showing signs of rethinking some aspects of its Tibet policy, which has been blamed for sparking a wave of more than 110 self-immolations by Tibetans since 2009.
Authorities in some Tibetan areas were allowing locals to “openly venerate the Dalai Lama as a religious leader but not as a ‘political’ figure”, Radio Free Asia reported.
Local authorities had dropped policies requiring monks to denounce the Dalai Lama, according to London-based rights group Free Tibet. The issue has been seen as a key source of tension between monks and government officials.
China regularly condemns the global spiritual figure, and has branded him an anti-China “separatist”.
China’s top religious authority repeated that position on Saturday, saying: “If the Dalai Lama is to improve his relations with China’s government, he must drop his separatist position...and stop making statements which damage the peaceful development of Tibet.”
Free Tibet said on Thursday that monks at a monastery in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, were told they could show pictures of the Dalai Lama, reversing a 17-year ban on displaying his image.