Tibet’s Agony, China’s Obstinacy

A heart-wrenching saga continues to unfold in Tibet.

“Two Tibetan teenagers died after they set fire to themselves in protest at Chinese rule, reports and Western rights groups said, in a rare instance of a double self-immolation in the restive region,” Agence France Presse reported Thursday.

Though two people jointly engaging in this action may be rare, the form of protest itself isn’t in Tibet. More than 100 Tibetans have engaged in this amazingly brave rebellion in the past few years.

“The wave of self-immolations in Tibet, which began in 2009, has brought into sharp relief the intense frustration and defiance of Tibetans, whose vast homeland came under Communist rule after Chinese troops occupied central Tibet in 1951,” the New York Times reports. “At least eighty-two of the 100 self-immolators have died.”

And astoundingly, twenty-two of those who have set themselves on fire have been minors.

In spite of all the material progress that China has brought to Tibet, its repression of Tibetan identity and aspirations has made sure that the province continues to simmer. A severe recent eruption of Tibetan anger occurred in 2008, when large-scale rioting and a heavy-handed crackdown caused the deaths of 140 people. Since then, Tibetan discontent has manifested itself differently.

But instead of meeting Tibetan grievances even part way, the Chinese regime is hell-bent on just stopping their public manifestations—freaking itself out in the process.

“So fearful are Chinese officials of the self-immolations and the message they send that the officials have even put fire extinguishers in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, thousands of miles from where the acts have occurred,” the Times reports. “Chinese leaders are sensitive to the fact that protesters across China often try to make their way to the square. Officials in Tibetan regions have also equipped security forces with fire extinguishers and put them in monasteries.”

The Tibetan government in exile is not completely blameless for the lack of movement on self-rule in Tibet. It has included the Tibetan-populated regions outside Tibet proper in its definition of Tibet and has let the Western-based Tibet lobby often set the agenda. But the Chinese government has shown scant interest in granting sovereignty to the Tibetans, and the talks it has held in the past with the Tibetan leadership have been little more than a charade.

Instead, the regime seems more intent on waiting for the death of the Dalai Lama in the hope that this will render the Tibetans leaderless. It is spending much of its energy in machinations to choose a more pliable successor to the current Tibetan spiritual guide, ignoring the fact that the vast majority of Tibetans will reject such a figure. Meanwhile, the younger generation in Tibet is becoming more and more alienated.

The Tibetan people have long made it clear that they’ll be satisfied with nothing short of meaningful autonomy. It is high time their overlords listened.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Departing Pope Has Misrepresented both Islam and Christianity."

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