BEIJING (Reuters) - One of Taiwan's most influential Buddhist monks urged China on Friday to turn Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, "from an enemy into a friend" in the wake of unrest in the Himalayan region.
Tibet has become a flashpoint since March for anti-China protests that have disrupted the international leg of the Olympic torch relay and led to calls for national leaders to boycott the Beijing Games, which open on August 8.
The Dalai Lama's envoys are due to fly to China from India on Saturday to meet their Chinese counterparts over the crisis in Tibet, the government-in-exile said, days after Beijing bowed to international pressure and agreed to fence-mending talks.
"It's a very good thing the Dalai Lama's envoys can come. It's also a very good thing China is willing to accept (them)," Master Hsing Yun told Reuters during a visit to China.
Hsing Yun, abbot of Buddha Light Mountain temple in Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung, said China would be better off befriending the Dalai Lama, who has been demonized by Tibet's hardline Communist Party boss and state media.
"The Dalai Lama is Tibet's spiritual leader. Politically, (China) should turn (him) from an enemy into a friend," Hsing Yun said in an interview.
Hsing Yun said he did not understand recent events in Tibet but called for "mutual respect and tolerance" between China and the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule.
Asked what he thought of the Dalai Lama, Hsing Yun said they have met several times and he found the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate to be "optimistic, bright and cheerful, always wearing a smile and easy to get along with".
Hsing Yun urged China to take the Dalai Lama seriously, saying the Tibetan god-king is "very sincere" when he says he wants autonomy, not independence, for his homeland, albeit China does not believe him.
The Dalai Lama cannot unilaterally decide Tibet's fate, Hsing Yun said. The Tibet Youth Congress, the radical wing of the Tibetan community in exile, has challenged the Dalai Lama's "middle way" policy of non-violence.
China has blamed the Dalai Lama and his supporters for the rioting, which it says has killed about 20 "innocent" civilians. The Dalai Lama denies the accusation.
The government-in-exile says 140 people have been killed and thousands arrested in an ensuing government crackdown.
Hsing Yun's comments were unlikely to rile China, which has sought to win the hearts and minds of Taiwanese in a policy change since 2005, analysts said.
Editing by Giles Elgood