BEIJING China's Foreign Ministry lambasted the United States on Friday for "disgusting" comments by a U.S. official on the human rights situation in Tibet, saying it had prompted them to file a formal diplomatic complaint with Washington.
Maria Otero, United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, said in a statement on Wednesday that tensions in Tibetan areas, including self-immolations, had been exacerbated by tough Chinese policies and controls.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, using unusually harsh language, said the Tibet issue had nothing to do with human rights, ethnicity or religion.
"It is an important issue of principle which relates to China's unity and territorial integrity. China resolutely opposes any country or person using any means to interfere in China's internal affairs," he told a daily news briefing.
Ninety-two Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule since 2009, with at least 75 dying from their injuries. The number of self-immolation cases have increased this year, with 28 alone in November.
Hong repeated the official stance that Tibetans had enjoyed unprecedented advances and rights under Communist Party rule, blaming exiled spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner the Dalai Lama for inciting the self-immolations.
"The relevant U.S. official issued a so-called statement and did not condemn the anti-Chinese splittist conduct of the Dalai Lama clique and Tibetan independence forces and actually attacked and rebuked China's important ethnic policies; it is totally confusing black with white and right with wrong," he said.
"It is sending a serious wrong message to Tibetan splittist forces and is utterly disgusting. China is extremely dissatisfied with this and resolutely opposes it. We have already made solemn representations with the U.S. side," Hong added.
"China demands the United States abide by its promises to recognise that Tibet is part of China, not to support Tibetan independence and respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and stop using the Tibet issue to interfere in China's internal relations."
China has defended its iron-fisted rule in Tibet, saying the remote region suffered from dire poverty, brutal exploitation of serfs and economic stagnation until 1950 when Communist troops "peacefully liberated" it.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)