Lashing back at criticism from Beijing, the Dalai Lama today 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.
Eight self-immolations have been reported over six days in China's Tibetan region, including two yesterday. 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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei Hong launched a new salvo at the Dalai Lama yesterday, 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 today, he said China's top leaders may not realise 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.