(dpa) - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday said there were "significant human rights problems" in China's Tibetan areas and urged the Chinese government to solve them through talks.
Australia continued to recognize Tibet as China's sovereign territory, "but we also believe it is necessary to recognize that there are significant human rights problems in Tibet," Rudd said in speech delivered in Chinese at Beijing University.
"We recognize the need for all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue," he told several hundred students, officials and journalists.
His visit to China began as Australian media reported that China had lodged formal complaints about Rudd's remarks in Washington, where he also criticised rights abuses in Tibet and urged China to hold talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
In his speech, Rudd did not mention the Olympic torch relay, which is the target of continuing protests by Tibetan independence activists, or say if he planned to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing games in August.
But he said the holding of the Olympics should help to make China more open.
"I believe the Olympics are important for China's continuing engagement with the world," he said.
Reacting to Rudd's remarks on Tibet, a spokesman for the ruling Communist Party defended the government's record in its Tibet Autonomous Region.
"The reporter asked about a certain politician who expressed concern about China's human rights record," spokesman Si Ta said when asked about Rudd's comments.
"This particular politician should join us in condemning the violent crimes in Lhasa, crimes that have violated human rights," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Si as saying.
Tibetan independence protests began in Lhasa, the capital of the Autonomous Region on March 10 and escalated into serious rioting on March 14.
The Chinese government has said 19 people were killed in the violence in Lhasa but the Tibetan government-in-exile said about 140 people were killed, most of them Tibetans shot by Chinese police.
Protests and rioting were reported in dozens of other Tibetan areas of China over the past month.
Rudd was the first Western leader to make a speech in China in Chinese.
Despite him touching upon the controversial issues of human rights and Tibet, the end of his speech was greeted with loud applause from the students and officials.