Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama arrives at a seminar held by Japanese Diet members in Tokyo, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
TOKYO (AP) — Lashing back at criticism from Beijing, the Dalai Lama on Tuesday said China needs to thoroughly investigate the causes of self-immolations by Tibetans and blamed "narrow-minded Communist officials" for seeing Buddhist culture as a threat.
The Dalai Lama also called on foreign media and members of Japan's parliament to visit Tibet — though such trips are severely restricted — to see that what is happening there does not go ignored.
"I always ask the Chinese government, please, now, thoroughly investigate," the Tibetan Buddhist leader said. "What is the cause of these sad things?"
The Dalai Lama was speaking to a group of Japanese lawmakers that included opposition party head Shinzo Abe, an outspoken China hawk seen by many as the top contender to become the country's next prime minister.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing has lodged a protest with Japan following the Dalai Lama's visit.
"China is opposed to any country or any individual providing a stage for his separatist moves," Hong said.
Eight self-immolations have been reported over six days in China's Tibetan region, including two on Monday. China has long accused the Dalai Lama and his supporters of inspiring and even glorifying such acts, though the Dalai Lama says he opposes all violence.
Hong had launched a new salvo at the Dalai Lama on Monday, claiming he was taking Japan's side in an ongoing territorial dispute and calling him a separatist who is aligning with Japanese right-wingers.
Chinese media said the Dalai Lama called the islands by their Japanese name during a news conference in Yokohama last Monday, but an Associated Press review of a tape of the event showed he referred to them only as "the islands."
Tibet support groups overseas say the increase in protests in recent days is meant to highlight Tibetan unhappiness with Chinese rule as the country's leaders hand over power to younger successors at a party congress in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama has said the self-immolations are a symptom of the desperation and frustration felt by Tibetans living under the Chinese government's hardline policies in the region, including tight restrictions on religious life.
The Dalai Lama fled to India following an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule over Tibet. He denies seeking the region's independence, saying that he wishes Tibetans to enjoy real autonomy and protection of their traditional Buddhist culture.
In his remarks Tuesday, he said China's top leaders may not realize the severity of that frustration because "narrow-minded Communist officials" on the ground fear Tibetan Buddhist culture and may not be relaying the real situation to Beijing.
"These officials on the spot may not reply clearly to the higher authority," he said, suggesting that foreign media and lawmakers should go to Tibet to see the situation there and share it with the outside world.
Access to Tibet is controlled by regional security services and is permanently off limits to foreign journalists, except when the government grants special access. Such access has become increasingly rare in recent years as Beijing seeks to maintain tight control over the story and prevent detailed reporting on unrest.
Since anti-government riots in 2008, access even to traditionally Tibetan areas in provinces neighboring the Tibetan Autonomous Region has been tightly restricted. The vast majority of the self-immolations have taken place in such areas, often near large monastic communities, and authorities have responded with a smothering police presence.
Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen and Louise Watt in Beijing contributed to this report.