Beijing, Apr.9 : Visiting Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has told Beijing University students that there are significant human rights problems in Tibet.
In a speech delivered in Mandarin at the start of his four-day trip to China, Rudd was quoted by The Australian as saying: Australia, like most other countries, recognises China sovereignty over Tibet, but we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet.''
The current situation in Tibet is of concern to Australians. We recognise the need for all parties to avoid silence and find a solution through dialogue,'' he added
The Chinese Government has reacted strongly to Rudd's comments, telling him to back off from saying anything related to China's internal affairs.
In Wednesday's speech, Rudd repeated his position that there should be no boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games, as some groups and international leaders have suggested to punish China over its crackdown on the past month of Tibetan unrest.
Rudd is the highest-profile Western leader to visit China since the unrest broke out.
Chinese officials raised Mr Rudd's earlier comments with Australian ambassador Geoff Raby in Beijing, and in Canberra, Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai conveyed the protest to an Australian foreign affairs official.
However a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said no formal written complaint had been lodged.
Australian and Chinese officials have discussed the comments and our differences over Tibet, including in Beijing and Canberra,'' the spokesman said. The Australian Government stands by its comments on Tibet, which reflect our strong and firmly held views.''
The spat comes as China looks to Mr Rudd to open the door on billions of dollars worth of resource investments.
China is believed to be preparing to buy a multi-billion dollar stake in BHP Billiton as part of a plan to thwart the resource giant's proposed merger with rival Rio Tinto.
Tibet and human rights are certain to dog Rudd's four days in China, the final leg of his marathon 18-day global tour.
Rudd will address business leaders at a financial services lunch today and attend a cultural exhibition this evening.
Rudd, a former diplomat, who was posted to Beijing, is known by his Chinese name - Lu Kewen - and his biography is available in local bookshops where even more sales are expected after his visit.
Rudd's media minders have received hundreds of requests for interviews from the local media in China, but it is not yet clear if or with whom he will grant interviews.