The man who could become Japan’s next prime minister met with the Dalai Lama Tuesday and called for freedom in Tibet, prompting an immediate protest by the Chinese government.
Former prime minister Shinzo Abe, an outspoken nationalist who has been critical of Beijing, joined around 130 other parliamentarians in welcoming the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader to a meeting in Tokyo.
“We lawmakers here are in complete agreement, that we want to help the suffering Tibetan people and help create a Tibet in which people do not have to kill themselves in a quest for freedom,” he said.
Speaking at the meeting, the Dalai Lama invited Japanese parliamentarians to visit Tibet to find out the reasons for a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans. He also called on Chinese authorities to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the protests against Chinese rule.
In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei blasted both the Dalai Lama and the Japanese government, saying both were encouraging extremist separatist groups.
“Japan’s right wing openly supports the Dalai Lama’s anti-China, separatist actions and interferes with China’s internal policies. China strongly condemns this,” said Hong Lei. “The Japanese government indulges the Dalai Lama’s separatist movements and the right wing’s anti-Chinese actions, betrays the principle and spirit of mutual benefit between China and Japan. China has already launched a protest.”
Japan-China relations were already strained in recent months after Tokyo nationalized a group of uninhabited East China Sea islands at the center of a long-running dispute between the two Asian neighbors.
Tuesday’s meeting, which was not sponsored by the Tokyo government, occurred after two more Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest China’s policies.
VOA Tibetan service says 24-year-old Nyingkar Tashi set himself on fire in front of a school in a town in Rebkong, an area called Tongren by the Chinese. Witnesses say he called for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet before he died.
A second man, 18-year-old Nyangchak Bhum, set himself on fire and died several hours later in front of Chinese government offices in Dowa, also in the Rebkong region.
Witnesses say in both cases large crowd gathered after the self-immolations to say prayers.
Monday’s self-immolations bring the total since February 2009 to 72, with the last nine coming since just last week. In 58 cases, the protesters have died.
The self-immolations coincide with China’s 18th Party Congress in Beijing and the country’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
China has long accused Tibetan exiles of self-immolating as part of a separatist struggle, denouncing them as terrorists.
DHARAMSHALA, November 14: In one of the strongest statements yet on the spate of self-immolation in Tibet by a political leader, senior Japanese leader Shinzo Abe promised to “do everything to change the situation in Tibet.”
Abe, former prime minister of Japan and currently head of the main opposition party was speaking to reporters Tuesday after meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Tokyo.
“I swear I will do everything in my power to change the situation in Tibet where human rights are being suppressed,” Abe has been quoted as saying by reporters.
“Tibet seeks freedom and democracy and we agree on those values.”
China has responded by filing a diplomatic protest with Tokyo saying, “Japanese rightwing forces have openly supported Dalai’s separatist activities … We express severe criticism to this.”
The Dalai Lama, who is on a 12-day visit to Japan, earlier told reporters that the Chinese government should carry out a thorough probe into the real causes of self-immolations by Tibetans.
“The self-immolations are very sad, but the Chinese government is not investigating the real causes of the self-immolations. They are taking the easy way out by simply blaming us for all the problems in Tibet,” the Tibetan spiritual leader said while responding to questions from the media.
“The Tibetan issue is related to the history of the last 2,000 years especially the last 60 years. Generations have changed in Tibet but the resentment towards the Chinese government is still continuing, therefore the Chinese government should study the real causes of the resentments through a holistic and realistic way.”
The ongoing wave of self-immolations in Tibet that began in 2009 has seen an alarming escalation with as many as 20 known cases in the months of October and November alone.
On November 9, Canadian Member of Parliament Peggy Nash released a statement of solidarity with the Tibetan self-immolations saying that the Tibetan people’s voices must be heard.
“Canada has a moral responsibility to take immediate action to end the suffering in Tibet. Now more than ever, the Government of Canada must reach out to the Chinese government and urge a peaceful and quick resolution to the current situation,” Nash said. “It would be unconscionable to do nothing.”
Till date, 72 Tibetans inside Tibet have set themselves on fire in protest against China’s occupation, demanding freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Earlier this month, the Central Tibetan administration made an open appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council to convene a Special Session on Tibet in light of the deteriorating human rights situation inside Tibet.
The CTA appealed to the 47-member states of the UNHRC to convene a special session on Tibet in view of the “desperate and unprecedented spate of self-immolations by Tibetans due to China’s repressive policies and the continued intransigence of the Chinese leadership to the relentless efforts of UNHRC.”