WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday urged China to correct “counter-productive policies” in Tibetan areas, saying it was concerned by a spate of Tibetan self-immolations that have underscored tensions over Beijing’s rule.
At least 11 ethnic Tibetans have burned themselves to death this year in southwest China, a region that has become the center of defiance against strict Chinese control.
The latest Chinese case occurred on Thursday when a Tibetan nun set herself on fire in Sichuan province, the Xinhua news agency said. Another Tibetan suffered burns to his legs on Friday when he set himself on fire outside the Chinese Embassy in India.
“We have consistently and directly raised with the Chinese government our concerns about Tibetan self-immolations and we have repeatedly urged the Chinese government to address its counter-productive policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said.
A number of the recent suicides have occurred among ethnic Tibetan herders and farmers living in areas across the vast highlands of China’s west that they regard as part of a larger Tibetan region encompassing the official Tibetan Autonomous Region.
China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in 1950. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled nine years later after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Tibet has been a persistent irritant in U.S.-China ties, which are also frequently strained by economic disputes. In July, Beijing reacted angrily to U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama.
Nuland said the United States would continue to press Beijing to allow journalists and diplomats access to Tibetan areas and called on China to respect the rights of all of its citizens “and particularly the rights of Tibetans to resolve their underlying grievances with the government of China.”
Nuland said the United States was concerned that Chinese policies in Tibetan areas including the destruction of religious property and resettlement of people in sensitive religious areas threatened the unique religious, cultural and linguistic identify of the Tibetan people.
The Dalai Lama, whom China condemns as a supporter of violent separatism, denies advocating violence and insists he wants only real autonomy for his homeland.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said the Dalai Lama should take the blame for the burnings, and repeated Beijing’s line that Tibetans are free to practice their Buddhist faith.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Philip Barbara)