The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Tibetan Suicide Protests on the Rise

In the past two days alone, six Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese oppression, adding to an already alarming death toll. The AP reports:

A total of 69 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since February 2009, of which 54 have died, according to the government in exile, which has been based in India since Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959.

The protests have divided exiled Tibetans with some seeing them as a legitimate protest while others worry they contravene Buddhist beliefs in the sanctity of life.

Most of the self-immolations have been committed by Tibetans in their early twenties or teens. Meanwhile, China continues to crack down on dissent, “re-educating” monks by forcing them to hang portraits of Party leaders in their monasteries and rewarding informants who give up information on the protesters.

Xi Jinping’s stance toward Tibet is unlikely to be much different from his predecessor’s. Last year he expressed his hatred of the Dalai Lama and pledged to “completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardize national unity.” But Tibetans are unlikely to give up the struggle for freedom. The Guardian:

A 43-year-old blogger named Gudrup who self-immolated in early October left behind an article. “We are declaring the reality of Tibet by burning our own bodies to call for freedom of Tibet,” it said. “We will win the battle through truth, by shooting the arrows of our lives, by using the bow of our mind.”

The U.S. government cannot do much to help, and the prevention of a China-United States clash is an aim of even moral consequence for the lives and well being of many more people than live in Tibet, but observers around the world cannot fail to be impressed by the dignity and nobility of the Tibetan people.

For its own sake if not for that of the Tibetans, China needs to find a better policy mix than its current approach. China’s Asian neighbors don’t just judge its intentions from China’s statements at diplomatic conferences. They carefully watch what China’s rulers do when they don’t have to worry about international restraints to assess what kind of people they are, what kind of principles inspire them, and how genuinely tolerant and restrained they truly are. What they see in Tibet isn’t inspiring.

Published on November 9, 2012 2:31 pm