The Dalai Lama said Monday that China is more interested in criticising him than finding the reason behind a spate of Tibetan self-immolations threatening to mar the Communist Party’s leadership change.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters in Japan that Beijing is not looking “seriously” at the protests taking place across the country during the highly choreographed meeting.
“The Chinese government should investigate the cause (of the incidents). China does not look into it seriously and tries to end (the incidents) only by criticising me,” he said, according to a Kyodo News report in Japanese.
The comments come after seven people set themselves on fire in a week and are thought to be the Dalai Lama’s first on the issue since the Communist Party congress began in Beijing last Thursday.
On Saturday an 18-year-old Tibetan died after setting himself ablaze in front of a monastery in northwestern China’s Gansu province, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
Sixty-nine people have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule of Tibet since 2009, of whom 54 have died, the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile said before the latest incident.
But the immolations have gained pace in recent months and particularly in the past week as the Communist Party opened its sensitive congress on Thursday to pass the baton of power to the next generation of party apparatchiks.
The party has sought to project an image of national unity during the highly stage-managed gathering amid unrest in minority areas.
The escalating protests have been aimed at undercutting the facade, according to representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.
On the sidelines of the congress on Friday, officials from the Tibetan Communist Party angrily denounced the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetan “separatists” for orchestrating the immolations to breed unrest.
“The Dalai Lama clique and overseas Tibetan separatists have been sacrificing other people’s lives for their own secret political aims,” said Losang Gyaltsen, vice-chairman of the Tibet region’s government.
The Dalai Lama is nearing the end of a 12-day visit to Japan, a country to which he is a regular visitor and where he has a sizeable following.
He was in Okinawa in the country’s far south on Monday, but was due to return to Tokyo on Tuesday, where he was expected to speak to a cross-party group of parliamentarians.
More than 100 lawmakers are expected to attend the speech, said the secretary of opposition party member Hakubun Shimomura, who will jointly host the meeting, adding that politicians will establish a Tibet support group.
Tokyo formally recognises Beijing’s position that Tibet is a part of China and in a nod to this, the government bars its officials from meeting the Dalai Lama during his frequent visits.
China criticises Japan for allowing the visits, which it says give the saffron-robed monk a platform for views it considers unacceptable.
During a trip here in November last year the 77-year-old said Tibetans faced “cultural genocide” under Beijing’s hardline rule, which he blamed for a wave of self-immolations at the time.
“Chinese communist propaganda create a very rosy picture. But actually, including many Chinese from mainland China who visit Tibet, they all have the impression things are terrible,” he told journalists in Tokyo.
“Some kind of policy, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place.”
Tibetan anger at Beijing’s control has simmered for decades but burst into violent rioting against Chinese rule in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa and across the Tibetan heartland in southwestern China in March 2008.
The violence left 20 people dead, according to the government, while exiled Tibetans put the figure at 203, and prompted a massive security clampdown across Tibetan areas that remains to this day.
Many Tibetans accuse China of cultural, religious and political oppression. They are also angered by Beijing’s repeated vitriol directed at the Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered by Tibetans.
China insists most Tibetans are happy and touts its efforts to bring economic development to the region.
Despite the coming leadership change, political analysts say no rethink of Tibet policy is expected as Beijing fears any hint of indecision could further embolden restive minority groups.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]