China has approved a rare visit by the older brother of the Dalai Lama. The trip signals a resumption of informal contact between Beijing and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Gyalo Thondup has traveled to China several times in the last decade, acting as the Dalai Lama's unofficial envoy.
After Mr. Thondup's last visit here in October 2000, he delivered a letter from the Chinese government to his younger brother. In response, the Dalai Lama said he wished to send a delegation to Tibet. There has been no sign of further communication until now.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference in Beijing that mainland authorities have approved a private trip by Mr. Thondup. Mr. Liu said Mr. Thondup will visit his relatives, and gave no further details.
Some media report that during his three-month stay in China, Mr. Thondup will travel to Tibet, his native province of Qinghai, which borders Tibet, and the northwestern province, Xinjiang.
Beijing views the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, and refuses to hold talks with him until he stops what it calls "split-ist" activities and recognizes Chinese rule over Tibet. But there are signs that China is exploring ways of resolving its stalled dialogue with the exiled spiritual leader.
Kate Saunders is a researcher for the London-based Tibet Information Network. Ms. Saunders said she is encouraged by Beijing's approval of Mr. Thondup's trip. "Unofficially, it does seem as though the Dalai Lama and the exiled government are developing closer ties with various Chinese writers, scholars, business people, with Chinese people who are interested in Tibet, and who want to move the situation on," she said.
Mr. Thondup, who lives in northern India, met the supreme Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979. Since then, he is said to have cultivated close ties with many Chinese authorities. But Ms. Saunders said Mr. Thondup's visit is unlikely to lead soon to direct talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in Dharamsala, India since 1959, when Chinese troops captured Tibet. Despite years of Chinese campaigns against him, he is still revered by many Tibetans in China.