China is on the boil these days, and the ethnic tensions in much of the country are part of the picture. The Associated Press has a long piece worth reading in full, but here is a summary:
More than two dozen Tibetans, many in their teens or 20s, have set themselves on fire since early 2011 in an unprecedented series of suicide-protests. In the moments before they are overwhelmed by pain or tackled by Chinese security, they cry out for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet, for an end to China’s crackdowns or for their homeland’s independence.
Fiery suicides among Tibetans represent a new kind of mass protest in a country that has seen more than its share of unrest in recent years. While the Chinese government is unlikely to be moved in the short run, these kinds of protests will leave an inexpungible mark on rising generations of Tibetans.The western half of China including Tibet, the borderlands around it and the vast northwestern region of Xinjiang with its restive Uighurs and other minorities, poses questions for the Chinese government that don’t seem to have happy answers. The locals hate Beijing’s centralized authority and its reliance on importing large numbers of Han Chinese as a ‘solution’ to the development and political problems of these remote areas — but they lack the power to challenge Beijing’s grip.Self immolation is about as sincere an act of public protest as one can imagine; it is infinitely more impressive morally than suicide bombing, and like almost nothing else it communicates a sense of the unbearable agony which victims feel.The US is in no position to lecture other countries on how to handle restive indigenous minorities, but world opinion cannot help but be struck by the spectacle in Tibet. The Dalai Lama, one feels, remains the person with whom China reach an agreement that would keep Tibet in China while ending the unrest. But His Holiness is growing old, and younger generations of Tibetans may not share the wisdom and the pragmatism that long years of exile have given the world’s most famous monk.