The official also accused separatists in another autonomous region, Xinjiang, of sabotaging political stability by attacking civilians.
Wang Ping, deputy director at the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, told a group of Turkish reporters that acts of self-immolation were in fact sponsored by separatist groups operating outside of the Chinese borders. “These are involuntary actions committed at the encouragement of separatists,” he said while blaming the Western media for portraying a different picture from the reality.
“This recalls negative reporting about China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Western media is not credible. They are biased in their reporting, and this upsets us,” Ping underlined.
China has been shaken by a series of 11 acts of self-immolation committed by Tibetan monks and nuns protesting against the government's policies since last March. Official Chinese comments were apparently directed at disputing claims raised by the International Campaign for Tibet, which said it has information that the self-immolation was a protest against the Chinese authorities. Tibetan monks in Sichuan are protesting what they consider suppression of their religious rights and control of the activities of monasteries, the advocacy group working to promote democratic freedoms for Tibetans claimed. China argues that separatists are pushing Tibet into a split from the country.
China was angered last week when the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced alarm over Beijing's treatment of Tibetans during her visit to Honolulu for an Asia-Pacific summit. She said the US was “alarmed by recent incidents in Tibet of young people lighting themselves on fire in desperate acts of protest, as well as the continued house arrest of the Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng.”
“We continue to call on China to embrace a different path,” Clinton noted.
In response to Clinton's remarks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Friday told journalists at a briefing that the Chinese government was opposed to “foreign interference in China's internal affairs and judicial sovereignty.”
“The Chinese government protects the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizens,” he said.
Wang also described the violent acts perpetrated by some Uighurs, a Turkic and traditionally Muslim ethnic group, in China's western Xinjiang autonomous region as separatist terrorist acts. “They are attacking civilians and disrupt the stability in the region,” he said. A raid on a police station, arson and a stabbing attack took place in July in Xinjiang.
Wang told Turkish reporters visiting Beijing on Friday that China is committed to protecting the equal rights of minority groups in the country, adding that ethnic minorities are exempted from the one-child birth planning policy. He also noted there is a set proportion of seats for ethnic minority representatives in legislatures as well as more investment schemes developed for minority regions.
There are five autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties in China.