By John Chalmers and Frank Jack Daniel
DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - There are encouraging signs that attitudes towards Tibet are shifting in China, the Dalai Lama said on Wednesday, adding that the exiled Tibetan leadership is ready for fresh talks on his homeland if there was a genuine change of heart in Beijing.
The spiritual leader said in an interview that it was too early to tell if China's next president - who is almost certain to be Xi Jinping after a Communist Party Congress later this year - would adopt a new stance that could break decades of deadlock over Tibet. But he was reassured by what he had heard.
"I can't say for definite, but according to many Chinese friends, they say the new, coming leadership seems more lenient," the Dalai Lama, 77, told Reuters in his audience room in the Indian Himalayan foothills town of Dharamsala.
"If their side ... for their own interest are thinking more realistically we are ready for full cooperation with them."
His comments were more upbeat than just a few weeks ago when he declared that resuming formal negotiations - frozen since 2010 - was futile unless China brought a more realistic attitude to the table and that it was useless trying to convince China that he was not seeking full independence for Tibet.
The Nobel peace laureate said there had been a stream of visitors to Dharamsala from China, among them people who told him they had connections with senior Communist Party leaders.
"We don't know who is who ... everything is a state secret, so it is difficult to say," he said, but added that some officials in China now appeared to agree with intellectuals that a new approach to Tibet is needed.
"These are very, very encouraging signs," he said.
"No formal talks, but there are sort of signs among the Chinese officials or top leaders."
China has ruled Tibet since 1950, when Communist troops marched in and announced its "peaceful liberation".
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 following a failed uprising, has accused China of "cultural genocide". Beijing considers him a separatist and does not trust his insistence that he only wants greater autonomy for his Himalayan homeland.
"FORCE HAS FAILED"
A spate of self-immolations in China in protest over its rule in Tibet has heightened tension in recent months.
As the number who have set themselves on fire topped 50 this week, Indian-based rights groups said there had been a massive security clampdown in Tibet and Tibetan areas of China, and in some instances protesters were beaten even as they were ablaze.
The Dalai Lama has refrained from calling for a halt to the self-immolations.
"I will not give encouragement to these acts, these drastic actions, but it is understandable and indeed very, very sad," he said. "Now the Chinese government, they should investigate what are the real causes. They can easily blame me or some Tibetans but that won't help solve the problem."
In June, two of the Dalai Lama's envoys to negotiations with China resigned over what they said was a deteriorating situation inside Tibet and Beijing's lack of a positive response to Tibetan proposals for genuine autonomy.
Asked if he thought that with a change of leadership ahead in China there was now a better prospect for resuming talks soon, the Dalai Lama said it was difficult to say and it could take six to 12 months after Xi becomes president before any shift becomes apparent.
In the early 1950s, the Dalai Lama knew Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, one of the most liberal leaders of the Chinese revolution, who was known to have had a less hardline approach to Tibet.
The Dalai Lama said he was sure China would, sooner or later, realize that "using force for 60 years completely failed" and its revolutionary leader Mao Zedong's idea that power came from the barrel of a gun was "outdated".
Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama said he had information suggesting Chinese women spies had been trained to attack him with a slow acting poison. Asked about his safety by Reuters on Wednesday, he said he knew of no more plots but that his security detail frequently encountered Tibetans who confessed to being paid by China to spy on him.
"Sometimes these agents are a good source of information, these Tibetans receive some sort of salary or something, and they tell us everything," he said.
Apparently in good health, the spiritual leader said he was looking forward to another 10, 15 or 20 years of life, and joked that China seemed more interested in who would be reincarnated as the next Dalai Lama after his death than he was himself.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)