Envoys of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, have been allowed to pay a secretive visit to China that analysts say could lead to progress in resolving his decades-old exile.
And state media have prominently displayed details of the life a boy Beijing chose as the reincarnation of Tibet's other top lama in a sign of Beijing's increasing confidence in its control over Tibet.
Beijing imposed communist rule on Tibet after its troops invaded in 1950 and the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 in an abortive uprising.
Direct contact between the exiled Tibetans and Beijing was not established for 20 years and dialogue was suspended in 1993.
Two years ago talks were quietly revived amid signs China might have decided to allow a subtle but significant shift in policy that could be aimed at finding a way to unwind the Tibetan knot by allowing the Dalai Lama back -- under certain conditions.
Lodi Gyari, a US-based representative of the Dalai Lama, and three colleagues have been in China since Sept. 12 on a third, secrecy-shrouded visit by envoys in just over two years to discuss the future of the Himalayan region.
"This visit is a critical one. [Gyari] bears the weight of history on his shoulders right now," Tibet expert Kate Saunders said.
"The last two visits were very much about confidence-building and for this visit there are hopes that there may be something more substantial."
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Laureate, says he does not seek independence for Tibet but only greater autonomy for the Tibetan people. China has accused him of using his status to try to free Tibet from Chinese domination.
Entrenched differences will be hard to overcome quickly.
Gyari and his colleagues have come "to facilitate what we hope will become full-blown negotiations between the authorities in Beijing and His Holiness the Dalai Lama," Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Government of Tibet in Exile, said from its base in the north Indian town of Dharamsala.
He did not say who the envoys had visited and what they had discussed, but said he hoped Beijing's leaders, especially Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Hu presided over the remote and mountainous region from 1988 to 1992 as party chief.
"Since he has first-hand experience in Tibet, our hope is that he will have a genuine appreciation of the concerns of the Tibetan people," Samphel said.