silent on Tibetan
self-immolation By Saransh
VIENNA - More Tibetan Buddhist
monks in China are resorting to self-immolation in
desperate protest against Beijing’s suppression of
religious freedoms. However, the suicidal acts
have failed to attract global attention to the
Experts on Tibet attribute
this to the rise of China as an economic
superpower, with Western and Asian foreign
governments, avoiding confrontation with Beijing.
At least 28 Tibetans have set fire to
themselves in a wave of protests since February
2009, with 15 cases taking place in the last three
months amid reported unrest in the Himalaya
region. This has prompted Tibetans in exile to
launch worldwide protests against China's cultural
and religious policies toward Tibet. However, no
foreign government is willing to put serious
pressure on Beijing over the issue.
China's economic power increases and that of the West
declines, the Tibet
issue risks being confined to a small section of
civil society. In the past, Western government
would at least pay lip service to the rights of
the Tibetans. As China ups the ante, Western
governments' appetite to upset it disappears,"
Dibyesh Anand, associate professor of
international relations at London's University of
Westminster, wrote in an e-mail to Asia Times
Frustrated by the indifference of
the world, religious followers inside of the Dalai
Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile,
inside and outside China, are set to continue
their struggle for a Free Tibet.
Chinese authorities have heightened their
vigilance in Tibetan-inhabited regions inside
China in the sensitive month of March. March 10
marks the anniversaries of the Dalai Lama's
fleeing Tibet to India after a failed armed
uprising in 1959 against Chinese rule, and of 2008
bloody riots in Lhasa - Tibet's capital - amid
Tibetan protests. Tibet watchers warn that more
self-immolations might happen this month.
The latest self-immolation occurred on
March 14 in northwestern Qinghai province,
according to China's state run Xinhua News Agency.
Jamyang Palden, a monk from the Rongwo Monastery,
walked out of his temple at 10:42 am, dressed in
gasoline-soaked robes, and used a lighter to set
fire to himself.
Rongwo Monastery is the
second-largest temple of Tibetan Buddhism in
Qinghai, located in Tongren County in the Tibetan
autonomous prefecture of Huangnan.
Security guards on duty nearby rushed to
put out the blaze and sent him to the Huangnan
People's Hospital. But some monks and local
residents went to the hospital at noon and
forcibly took Jamyang Palden away from the
hospital, Xinhua said quoting a local government
Four days before, on March 10,
a teenage Tibetan monk, Gepey, from the Kirti
Monastery in Aba prefecture of Sichuan province,
set fire to himself. "18-year-old Gepey
self-immolated behind a military camp on March 10
in Aba… locals tried to take his body away but
security personnel removed it," the London-based
Free Tibet group said.
Just days before,
on March 6, an 18-year-old Tibetan protester
Dorjee set himself on fire and died, also in Aba
prefecture. "Dorjee walked towards a local
government office in Ngaba County (Aba prefecture)
shouting slogans against the Chinese government's
policies on Tibet before he self-immolated and
died," said the international Tibet campaign group
Tibetan-inhabited areas in
Sichuan, Gansu and provinces - outside the Tibetan
Autonomous Region proper are increasingly the
Interestingly the epicenter of the
officials have recently branded the acts of
self-immolation as "suicide terrorism" and held
the Dalai Lama responsible. Some Chinese media
commentaries said the Dalai Lama deliberately
instigated suicide protests outside Tibet proper
to "justify" his claim for a "greater Tibet", in
other words to show that his influence extends to
Tibetan-inhabited areas beyond Tibet proper.
Wu Zegang, head of Aba prefecture in
Sichuan, had earlier made similar allegations.
"Some of the suicides are committed by clerics
returning to secular life, and they all have
criminal records or suspicious activities. They
have a very bad reputation in society," said Wu,
himself an ethnic Tibetan.
However, at a
press conference in Beijing on March 14 at the end
of the annual session of the National People's
Congress (NPC), Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
appeared to strike a different note, saying he was
"deeply distressed" by the self-immolations. "The
young Tibetans are innocent. We feel deeply
distressed by their behavior." He also stressed
that that the Chinese government was "opposed to
such radical moves that disturb and undermine
Wen also accused the
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in
Dharamsala of trying to separate Tibet and its
inhabitants away from China. "We have a firm
position and principle on this matter," he added.
Meanwhile, Tibetan exiles have rejected
the allegations and continued a series of mass
protests against Beijing's policies, while calling
for intervention from the United Nations and major
On the eve of the anniversary
of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising, mass protests
were launched by Tibetans and their support groups
from their exiled capital Dharamsala, India to
Times Square New York. Hunger strikes, Candle
light vigils, remonstrations and public anger were
witnessed in every Tibetan community across the
On March 8, during the conclusion
of a five-day Monlam Chenmo (great prayer
festival) in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama said,
"Truth is being violently suppressed inside Tibet
right now ... truth is losing to might and power
but there is nothing much we can do."
Marking the March 10 anniversary of the
failed uprising, Dr Lobsang Sangay, prime minister
of the Tibetan government in exile, said, "I offer
tribute to the brave people who have sacrificed so
much for Tibet. Despite 53 years of occupation by
the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Tibetan
spirit and identity inside Tibet remains unbroken
... Fault lies squarely with the hardline leaders
in Beijing," he said. "We hope that China's
upcoming leaders will initiate genuine change, and
that they find the wisdom to admit the
government's long-standing hardline policy in
Tibet has failed."
China like Nepal and India also seem to have
yielded to China's economic power and influence
and do their best to prevent any anti-China
activities on their soil. No other Asian countries
has actually shown much concern with what happens
inside Tibet. Instead, their governments always
reiterate their recognition of Tibet as part of
the People's Republic of China (PRC) and that the
issue is an internal affair of China.
Western countries which used to raise
Tibet as an issue in their relations with China
now also appear to overlook or bypass it when
dealing with China.
During a visit to the
United States in February by Vice Chinese
President Xi Jinping - tipped to succeed Hu Jintao
as China's supreme leader later this year -
President Barack Obama and senior US officials
never broached the Tibet issue.
rendered a recent statement by US Special
coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero rather
"The US Government consistently and
directly has raised the issue of Tibetan
self-immolations with the Chinese government, "
said Otero in January. " The US Government
repeatedly has urged the Chinese government to
address the counterproductive policies in Tibetan
areas that have created tensions and that threaten
the distinct religious, cultural and linguistic
identity of the Tibetan people."
Asian governments' record when it comes to raising
issues of human rights anywhere is rather abysmal.
While Nepal acts against its Tibetan residents as
if it is a surrogate of the Chinese government.
India's conduct is only marginally better," says
Anand at the University of Westminster.
Associate professor Elliot Sperling, an
expert on the history of Tibet and Tibetan-Chinese
relations at Indiana University, says "China
exercises a degree of leverage over the way it is
criticized by dint of its economic footprint in
the world and this is reflected in the ways in
which it is criticized (or not criticized) over
But for Tibetan exiles,
international support, especially support from big
powers such as the US, is very important for the
Free Tibet movement. Now the community of Tibetans
in exile in Dharamsala starts to discuss and
debate how to win back international attention and
support to their cause, seeing that even the
extreme protests of self-immolations are largely
Lobsang Wangyal, an exiled
Tibetan entrepreneur living in India says,
"Tibetans in Tibet have long said they are not
happy under Chinese rule. The self-immolations are
saying that they mean it. But the world is paying
little attention. It gives a feeling that 25
Tibetans risking their lives is still not enough
to make a point and as if more lives should be
Saransh Sehgal is a
freelance contributor based in Dharamsala, India,
who currently is pursuing further study in Vienna.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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