More Reflection on Tibetan Protests

In an article for Radio Free Asia, veteran Asia correspondent Dan Southerland uses his decades of experience reporting in China to sum up the situation in Tibet. Of the many topics addressed, Southerland focuses on the recent wave of self-immolations on the Tibetan plateau, and government propaganda campaigns to discredit them:

Over the past 25 years in Tibet, repression has grown. But so has resistance.

[...]The biggest recent surge of resistance on the Tibetan side has been a wave of 33 self-immolations by Tibetan protesters since late February 2009, with 31 of them occurring in the last year alone.

The Chinese government has tried to discredit Tibetans who burn themselves to death by calling them criminals, terrorists, mentally ill, or losers in life.

This propaganda is likely to succeed with Chinese who don’t have access to the complete story.

But it is unlikely to work with most Tibetans, since many of those who have engaged in the extreme act of self-immolation have been monks and nuns who are respected in their communities.

As the trend of protest by self-immolation has continued (the most recent case by an exiled Tibetan on Monday), it has sparked a debate surrounding the efficacy of the practice, its root causes and its legitimacy in Buddhist tradition, in which Tibetan blogger/activist Woeser, exiled Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have all weighed in. Today The Economist said that if Tibetan protesters are hoping for foreign diplomatic intervention, the self-immolations have been largely ineffective:

China does not seem worried that the recent unrest in Tibet might derail its diplomacy. And it has good reason not to be too concerned. Four years ago China came under international pressure when a series of protests and riots swept across the Tibetan plateau. That outbreak coincided with Chinese preparations to stage the Olympic Games in August 2008, a period when international attention was unusually focused on China’s human-rights record. The unrest erupted before the global financial crisis made Western leaders more than usually eager to co-operate with China rather than confront it over internal issues such as Tibet.

March 30, 2012 5:56 PM
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