BOAO, China – Chinese President Hu Jintao took a hard line Saturday on recent unrest in Tibet, saying problems in the region are a purely internal affair that directly threatens Chinese sovereignty.
Hu's comments to visiting Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd marked his first public comments on anti-government protests that broke out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa last month.
"Our conflict with the Dalai clique is not an ethnic problem, not a religious problem, nor a human rights problem," the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Hu as saying, referring to supporters of Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing blames for fomenting the unrest.
"It is a problem either to safeguard national unification or to split the motherland," Hu told Rudd at a meeting on the sidelines of a regional economic forum in China's southern province of Hainan.
As Tibet's former Communist Party boss, Hu enforced a harsh crackdown against the last major anti-government protests there in 1989 and has tightened Chinese rule over the Himalayan region since taking over as president in 2003. Under Hu, the party has increased controls over Tibetan Buddhism and increasingly opened the region to travel and migration from other parts of China.
In a later speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, Hu stressed China's belief in "peaceful development" and not intervening in other nations' affairs.
"China does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs, nor does it try to impose its own will on others. China is committed to peaceful settlement of international disputes," he said.
Hu's remarks come a day after China ratcheted up its attacks on overseas critics, blasting a U.S. congressional resolution on Tibet as "crude interference" and labeling a leading Tibetan exile group a terrorist organization.
The accusations follow massive demonstrations by pro-Tibet activists and other groups surrounding the Olympic torch's passage through San Francisco, London and Paris. The protests have stirred anger from both the government in Beijing and among Chinese citizens.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the resolution passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives "crudely interfered in China's internal politics, seriously hurting the feelings of the Chinese people."
"The Chinese side expresses its strong indignation and resolute opposition toward this," Jiang said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.
The resolution called on Beijing to stop suppressing nonviolent protests and end what it called cultural, religious, economic and linguistic repression in Tibet.
The latest round of protests began peacefully among Buddhist monks in Lhasa on March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising during which the Dalai Lama fled to India. Four days later the protests turned violent, with hundreds of shops torched and Chinese civilians attacked.
China says 22 people were killed in the riots, many in arson attacks, and more than 1,000 were detained. The Dalai Lama's India-based government-in-exile says more than 140 people were killed.
The U.S. resolution also called on China to begin an unconditional "results-based dialogue" with the 72-year-old Dalai Lama to address Tibetan concerns and work toward a long-term solution to the dispute. China has said it will only hold talks if he first meets a list of preconditions, including abandoning what Beijing alleges is his continuing support for Tibetan independence.
Chinese state media also lashed out at the Tibetan Youth Congress, accusing it of orchestrating recent protests in a bid to overthrow Chinese rule and sabotage the Beijing Olympics in August.
Such acts "exposed the terrorist nature" of the group, Xinhua said in an article Friday, citing alleged statements and speeches by the group's leaders as well as a purported plot to smuggle weapons into Tibet to launch attacks.
"Judging by these criteria, the Tibetan Youth Congress is a terrorist organization in a pure sense," Xinhua said.
The Tibetan group's vice president, Dhondup Dorji, condemned the allegation, saying China had no evidence for the claim and had long sought to weaken the group's effectiveness by smearing its reputation.
"The Chinese officials, after seeing that the Tibetan Youth Congress is the most potent force today in the peaceful movement-in-exile, have been trying to brand it as a terrorist organization for many years without any basis," he told The Associated Press.
Founded by leading exile figures in 1970, the India-based congress is historically linked to the government-in-exile, although it advocates full independence for Tibet as opposed to the Dalai Lama's calls for substantial autonomy under Chinese sovereignty.
The accusation was among the strongest against an exile Tibetan group in the latest round of anti-government protests. Chinese police earlier this month accused radicals of organizing suicide squads to launch violent attacks but offered no evidence.