A plateau region north-east of the Himalayas, Tibet was incorporated by China in 1950 and currently an autonomous region within China. The conflict between many Tibetans and Chinese government has been nonstop as many demand religious freedom and more human rights. In March, 2008, a series of protests turned into riots in different regions across Tibet. Rioters attacked Han ethnic inhabitants and burned their businesses, resulting dozens of death.
Japanese party leader's Tibet remarks spark protest
The leader of Japan's main opposition party met the Dalai Lama yesterday and called for democracy in Tibet, sparking a fresh protest from China amid a territorial dispute.
"I swear I will do everything in my power to change the situation in Tibet, where human rights are being suppressed," Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe said before a speech by the Dalai Lama in Tokyo attended by more than 100 lawmakers.
"Tibet seeks freedom and democracy and we agree on those values," he added.
In his speech, the Dalai Lama urged Japanese lawmakers to visit Tibet to find out the reasons for a spate of self-immolations.
"I request some parliamentary groups visit Tibet," including areas where Tibetans have died in "very sad" self-immolations, the Dalai Lama told the meeting in Japan's Diet, or parliament.
"Perhaps the [Chinese] authorities, leaders of China, may get the true picture" of self-immolations if foreign lawmakers report what is actually happening there, the 77-year-old spiritual leader added.
The immolations have gained pace in recent months in the run-up to the 18th party congress.
China filed a formal diplomatic protest over what it called remarks by Japanese "rightists", Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing.
"Japan's right-wing faction openly supports the Dalai Lama's separatist activity, interfering in China's internal affairs," he said. "China solemnly condemns this."
Abe's stance could have implications for Sino-Japanese relations, already strained by a row over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu islands, called the Senkakus by Japan, in the East China Sea.