China's Foreign Ministry is indicating there has been a slight thaw in the frosty relations between Beijing and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The comments follow a rare unofficial visit by high-ranking Tibetan exiles.

China's government has said almost nothing about the recent visit to Beijing by an envoy from Tibet's Dalai Lama. The visit went little noticed in the local media, as did a similar one last year.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says the visits had improved the atmosphere between the Dalai Lama and Beijing, after a decade of acrimony that saw little communication.

"This proved the central government has a connection and a channel of contact with the Dalai Lama," said Kong Quan.

He said the delegation, headed by envoy Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, has close relations with the Dalai Lama and will be able to help him understand the major changes that have occurred in China in recent years.

He implied that a better understanding would make the Dalai Lama less hostile to China's rule of his native land.

Beijing imposed Communist rule on Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet nine years later after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He runs a government in exile in the north Indian city of Dharamsala.

Beijing says Tibet is an integral part of China, and harshly punishes anyone who works for Tibetan independence.

The Dalai Lama says he wants autonomy rather than independence for Tibet.

Beijing stopped official dialogue with the Dalai Lama 10 years ago, with only occasional unofficial contacts until a groundbreaking visit by Tibetan representatives last September.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have often criticized China for its suppression of dissent and many religious practices in Tibet.

Experts in Chinese politics say Beijing is renewing contacts with Tibet as it seeks a political solution to the dispute over who should rule the remote mountain region.