“The Arab Spring Is Coming to China.”

Senator John McCain, right, and the Chinese vice foreign minister, Zhang Zhijun. | Andreas Gebert/European Pressphoto Agency

HONG KONG — The former Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, told one of China’s most senior diplomats on Saturday that “the Arab Spring is coming to China,” pointing to the wave of Tibetans setting themselves on fire in China.

With the news Sunday of three more Tibetan self-immolations, at least 18 ethnic Tibetans — many of them current or former Buddhist clergy members — have set themselves alight in the past year to protest Beijing’s harsh stance against the Dalai Lama and the apparent suppression of Tibetan religious and cultural practices.

All the self-immolations have occurred in Tibet and the western Chinese province of Sichuan.

Three Tibetans in Sichuan burned themselves on Friday, according to news reports on Sunday.

Zhang Zhijun, the Chinese vice foreign minister, was on a panel with Senator McCain at a security conference in Munich, and Mr. Zhang termed the notion of an Arab Spring-style uprising in China as “no more than fantasy.”

“It is a matter of concern when Tibetans are burning themselves to death because of the continued repression of the Tibetan people in your country,” Senator McCain told Mr. Zhang during the panel, reiterating his belief that “the Arab Spring is coming to China as well.”

A street vendor in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in December 2010, and his death was the catalyst for nationwide riots and protests. Similar rebellions followed in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.

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