Tibetans Burning: Beijing blames the Dalai Lama, but suicides show his influence is waning.

The U.S. has expressed "disgust" with the Chinese and Russian vetoes of a United Nations resolution to condemn the Syrian regime, and rightly so. So why is the Obama Administration saying so little when it comes to ongoing violence against another repressed people?

We're talking about China's crackdown in Tibet, where at least 19 Tibetans have burned themselves to death over the last year in protest at Chinese rule, most recently last Friday. Senator John McCain may have been right when he told China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun in Munich last week that China could be seeing the start of an Arab Spring-like movement. "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," he warned.

As expected, Mr. Zhang dismissed this possibility. But Beijing's actions show that it appreciates the danger. As the Tibetan New Year holiday and the anniversary of the 2008 Lhasa riots approach, the government is moving troops into restive regions and rounding up suspected troublemakers. Internet access and mobile phone networks have been shut down, and foreign journalists shut out. Lest any officials think of going soft, Tibet's official newspaper warned that leaders who fail to maintain stability would lose their jobs. A "thankfulness education" campaign requires Tibetans to hang the portraits of Chinese leaders in homes.

The use of brute force often succeeds in preventing unrest for a time. But it also fuels resistance in the long term and increases the danger of a more violent movement forming. The latest self-immolations could presage another outbreak of riots.
As usual, Beijing blames the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile for encouraging the self-immolations. In fact, the suicides are a rebuke to the Dalai Lama's "middle way," which asks the Tibetan people to be patient while exile leaders offer to negotiate with China on their behalf. As calls for violence and extremism echo on both sides, the Dalai Lama looks increasingly irrelevant.

Self-immolation is forbidden by Tibetan Buddhism and it was practically unknown to Tibetans as a form of protest until 1998, when a former monk named Thupten Ngodup burned himself to death in New Delhi. His suicide, which came as Indian police broke up a hunger strike by the pro-independence Tibetan Youth Congress, was an expression of frustration with the Dalai Lama's failure to achieve any alleviation of the suffering in Tibet. Prominent Youth Congress leaders have long called for an end to the nonviolent resistance insisted on by the Dalai Lama.

Some Tibetans hope that the new generation of Chinese leaders who are due to assume power later this year will take a more humane approach to governing Tibet. While there is little evidence to support this, the possibility should be kept alive. If violence breaks out next month it will become even more difficult for the authorities to reverse direction. Statements like Mr. McCain's can get the message to the Chinese that Congress hasn't forsaken Tibet. A statement from President Obama would be even better.

Popular Posts