Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday accused the exiled Tibetan religious leader the Dalai Lama and the “government-in-exile” in Dharamsala of trying to “separate Tibet and Tibetan inhabitants away from China” in his first comments on recent protests in the region.
The Chinese Premier said he was “deeply distressed” by the at least 25 self-immolation protests by monks and nuns reported in the past year, but added that the Chinese government was “opposed to such radical moves that disturb and undermine social harmony”.
“The young Tibetans,” he said, “are innocent. We feel deeply distressed by their behaviour.”
His comments appeared to strike a different note from hard-hitting comments from officials in recent days, who described monks behind the protests as “criminals”.
Mr. Wen did however hit out at “the so-called government-in-exile in Dharamsala in India which is a theocratic one”, he said, adding that he believed it was under either “the direct control or indirect influence of the Dalai Lama”.
”Its purpose is to separate Tibet and Tibetan inhabitants away from China,” he alleged. “We have a firm position and principle on this matter.”
The Dalai Lama, however, has stressed that he does not seek Tibet’s independence but only genuine autonomy for Tibetans. He has said that he did not encourage the self-immolations, although he expressed sympathy with monks who said they were protesting restrictive religious policies.
Mr. Wen said the Chinese government had taken strong measures to accelerate development in Tibet, particularly to promote the living standard of farmers and herders. He added that attention needed to be paid to protecting the environment and Tibet’s cultural heritage.