The Dalai Lama told his supporters in Taiwan that he would like to revisit the island. (Photo: AFP)
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has announced his wish to visit Taiwan, a move expected to infuriate Beijing, which regards him as a "dangerous separatist."
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who continues to advocate Tibet's freedom from China, has not visited Taiwan, the Chinese-claimed democratic island, since 2009.
On his 86th birthday on July 5, in a message via video link, the supreme leader of Tibetan Buddhism told his supporters in Taiwan that he would like to revisit the island.
"As the political scenario changes, it may be that I'll be able to visit you in Taiwan again. I hope so. Whatever happens, I'll remain with you in spirit," he said in his message.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou on July 6 said they would welcome the Dalai Lama again to "propagate Buddhist teachings."
Ou said the government had not yet received an application for the Dalai Lama's visit but would handle it under "relevant rules" if one came.
The Dalai Lama’s birthday is celebrated as World Tibet Day to create greater awareness about the human rights abuses being suffered by the Tibetan population at the hands of China.
The announcement of the possible visit comes at a time when Beijing is growing deeply suspicious of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, who it believes will push for the island's formal independence.
Although Taiwan claims to be an independent nation, China claims Taiwan as part of the mainland. Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 14 out of 193 United Nations member states, including the Holy See.
Diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing worsened when Taiwan offered asylum to people from Hong Kong who wished to flee the former British colony after China passed a draconian security law on June 30.
The Dalai Lama first visited Taiwan in 1997 and made trips in 2001 and 2009. Increasing pressure from China has prevented subsequent trips, especially since Chinese Present Xi Jinping assumed charge of the communist nation.
In 1950, China annexed Tibet. The Dalai Lama was exiled to India in 1959 after a failed rebellion against Chinese rule in Tibet. Since then, he has headed the Tibetan government-in-exile, based in India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
China accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader of being a "separatist" because he works to split the Tibet Autonomous Region from Chinese rule. The Chinese Communist Party's chief of Tibet, Zhang Qingli, in 2011 repeated the party line that the Dalai Lama is a "wolf in monk's robes."
The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, assumed the position of the Dalai Lama or a reincarnation of Buddha in 1940. Known to Buddhists as His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama has been the spiritual leader of Tibetans for more than 75 years, and they consider him as the reincarnation of Buddha.
Greetings and well wishes poured in from around the world on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's birthday, with Tibetans in Tibet posting images of their revered spiritual leader online, defying a Chinese prohibition on celebrations.
China has maintained tight control over Tibet, banning political activities and expression of cultural and religious identities. Those who defy such measures are subjected to imprisonment, torture and extrajudicial killings.
Displaying the Dalai Lama's photo, public celebrations of his birthday and sharing his teachings on mobile phones and social media are banned by the Chinese leadership.
Artists and celebrities who support the Dalai Lama are not welcome in China. Beijing criticized conferring the Nobel Peace Prize on him 1989.
Beijing has repeatedly said that it intends to choose the next Dalai Lama when the present one dies, which is considered a move to control Tibetan Buddhism.