BEIJING (AP) — A government official from China’s Tibetan region on Friday rejected allegations of forced assimilation and curbs on religious freedom, while stressing that Tibetan Buddhism should adapt to the Chinese context.

Xu Zhitao, vice chairman of the Tibet region government, defended a boarding school system that overseas activists have said takes children away from their parents and their Tibetan communities. He said China has opened the schools to improve education for children from remote areas.

“The claim that Tibetan children are forced to go to boarding schools is deliberate smearing with an ulterior motive,” he said at a news conference to release an official report on the Communist Party’s policies in Tibet.

The report extolled progress in economic development, social stability and environmental protection under Communist Party rule. China has built highways and high-speed railways through the mountainous region and promoted tourism as a way to boost incomes.

But activists and some Western governments have accused China of human rights violations and suppressing Tibetan culture in its effort to quash any movement toward secession or independence. The boarding schools have come under criticism this year from U.N. human rights experts and the U.S. government, which said it would put visa restrictions on officials involved in the schools,

China also has boarding schools in other parts of the country but they appear more widespread in Tibet. Xu said they are needed to serve sparsely populated and remote rural areas.

“If the schools are too spread out, it would be difficult to have enough teachers or to provide quality teaching,” he said. “So it’s highly necessary to have a combination of boarding schools and day schools to ensure high quality teaching and the equal rights of children.”

He said the government manages religious affairs that are related to the interests of the state and the public but does not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups.

“We must continue adapting religion to the Chinese context and guiding Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to socialist society, which can help Tibetan Buddhism better adapt to the realities of China,” he said.

The English version of the report used the name Xizang instead of Tibet to refer to the region. The government has been increasingly using Xizang, the Chinese name for Tibet, in its English documents.