A top Chinese government adviser has said “good communication” between China and India would be “helpful” in addressing ongoing unrest in Tibetan areas, an issue that the Chinese Parliament is set to grapple with as it begins its annual sitting here in a week's time.

While Indian and Chinese officials have, so far, not discussed the string of self-immolations and protests, with officials citing Beijing's sensitivities over its “internal affairs”, Zhao Qizheng, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top political advisory body, said in response to a question from The Hindu that China would “welcome” communicating with India over the role of overseas groups, which he blamed for orchestrating recent incidents.

He was speaking ahead of next week's annual joint sitting of the CPPCC and the National People's Congress, the country's Parliament, as they meet for a crucial session to formulate political and economic policies ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Tibet is likely to figure prominently in the two sessions, with the CPPCC responsible for advising the government on ethnic affairs and the meetings taking place this year amid tight security across much of western China. In recent months, more than a dozen Tibetan monks and nuns have set themselves on fire to protest what they have described as repressive religious policies, while two clashes between Tibetans and police forces in Sichuan last month have brought a fresh security clampdown.

Mr. Zhao acknowledged the government's concern over the incidents, but reiterated views expressed by officials that they viewed the unrest as a political plot. “We are of course concerned about these events,” he said. “If you think about it, it is strange that there have been successive self-immolation incidents, with the majority of victims only young people, some aged only 18.”

“It is even more strange that before these self-immolation incidents happened, some people already announced the time of the incidents, and carried a camera to the sites, filmed the incidents and immediately put the clips on the Internet. There may be other reasons [behind the unrest], but I believe the main reason is that someone is planning these incidents behind the scenes and making these victims into heroes and martyrs.”

While Chinese officials have blamed the exiled Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama, for fanning unrest in public statements, they have neither raised the issue nor presented concrete evidence of the role of India-based groups in talks with Indian officials, sources said.

During a visit to Beijing earlier this month, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said India was willing to “render any help that we can” to “ease the tension”, but he added that he did not think “that situation will arise”. Chinese officials reacted positively to Mr. Krishna's statement, and made clear they do not want ties with India strained or tested by the Tibetan issue, as they were during protests against the Olympic torch relay by exiled groups in 2008.

In recent weeks, China has tightened security and restricted travel across the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and in Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Qinghai. Tibetans from the region told The Hindu in interviews they were worried that the self-immolations would bring fresh security restrictions. But they also expressed sympathy with the monks, indicating that their actions enjoyed the support of many Tibetans who have complained over religious restrictions, including on worshipping the Dalai Lama.

The response from Chinese officials in recent days has been mixed, with some calling for tougher “strike hard” campaigns while others have pledged welfare measures to address the anxieties of monks. On February 10, Premier Wen Jiabao said “greater efforts will be made to improve the lives ofs Tibetan compatriots, protect the environment and the region's cultural traditions, as well as the religious freedom of the Tibetan people”.

But only two days later, Zhu Weiqun, deputy head of the Communist Party's United Front Work Department and a top official in charge of Tibet policy, hit out at preferential policies accorded to minorities.

He called for scrapping privileges accorded to minority groups and the use of ethnic labels in schools and in administration, which he said “weakened our sense of nationhood”, in a February 12 article.

The divided opinion among officials was underscored in recent days by concerns voiced by some Tibetan party officials in a letter sent to Beijing, opposing the promotion of an official behind the tight security restrictions imposed in Sichuan — the centre of recent protests — as provincial Vice-Governor. They voiced fears, also echoed by some Chinese scholars, that the tough security response would only trigger further unrest.

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