BEIJING — The Dalai Lama tried to hold a rare direct conversation with people inside China on Friday, answering questions live on Twitter about the fate of long-tense Tibet.
The hourlong session with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader had been requested by Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer and convert to Tibetan Buddhism who lives in Beijing. The two met for Friday's online conversation in a hotel room in New York, where the Dalai Lama is visiting.
Through a Chinese interpreter, the Dalai Lama tweeted messages of criticism about the Chinese government's policies in Tibet and words of welcome to Chinese citizens.
"The government made these tensions, not the people," he said.
It wasn't clear how many people inside China were reading his comments. Twitter is blocked in China, but the service has become popular with thousands of Chinese, especially activists, who find a way around controls. Wang's Twitter feed, where the conversation was posted, had more than 8,000 followers as of Friday night.
Peking University professor and media critic Hu Yong tweeted that he was struck by the Dalai Lama's comment that "Stability comes from the heart."
The Dalai Lama remains a highly sensitive person for China, which objected strongly when President Barack Obama personally welcomed him to the White House in February.
China maintains that Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for much of its history and consider the Dalai Lama their rightful leader. He fled 51 years ago and lives in India.
China's government says the Dalai Lama seeks to destroy the country's sovereignty by pushing independence for Tibet, but he says he wants some form of autonomy instead.
While a spokesman for the office of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Taklha, confirmed Friday's conversation, it was impossible to tell who posed the questions selected from almost 300 submitted online.
But it was a start, Wang said.
"For years, there have been only official statements about the issue of Tibet inside China," Wang said in his open letter to the Dalai Lama on May 5 requesting the online chat. "No doubt, it's hard for people to know the truth about Tibet."
Tibetans in China have long complained about restrictions on Buddhism, government propaganda campaigns against the Dalai Lama, and an influx of Chinese migrants. Those feelings boiled over in deadly anti-Chinese riots in 2008 that shocked Beijing's leaders.
The Dalai Lama said Friday the gap between Tibetans and China's majority Han Chinese "is getting deeper and deeper" and said that in some areas the Han community has grown so dramatically that "Tibetan culture faces a great crisis."
Calls to the United Front Department of the Communist Party, which handles talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama, rang unanswered Friday night.
Wang said more than 1,200 people submitted questions and that the most popular ones were asked Friday.
More than one of those questions concerned what will happen when the Dalai Lama dies, and whether the Tibet issue will be resolved before then.
"I've been through many eras ... and I've seen big changes," he answered. He pointed out that already some retired Chinese government and Communist Party officials, as well as intellectuals, are saying the country's ethnic policies are not right and need more reflection.
Blacklisted author Yu Jie tweeted in response, "It's still a small number, the Dalai Lama is too optimistic."
Talks between China and representatives of the Tibetan government in exile haven't gone far. In January, Chinese officials told the Dalai Lama's envoys that Beijing would not make any compromises on its sovereignty over the Himalayan region and that both sides' views remained "sharply divided."
The Dalai Lama's representatives said China's warnings came across as high-handed, but they said they would keep pursuing dialogue with Beijing despite their differences.
Beijing has refused to discuss the status of Tibet with the emissaries, saying the Chinese would only address the Dalai Lama's return to China. He fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against China.
Any question of the Dalai Lama's return to China did not come up in Friday's conversation.
"I believe not far in the future there will definitely be change and the problems will be resolved," he said.
(In Chinese) http://twitter.com/wlixiong