As much as the Chinese government may wish otherwise, Tibetans are still not willing to reconcile themselves to the forced merger of their homeland with China more than half a century ago.
On September 26, two monks burned themselves in Tibet, reportedly shouting “Long Live the Dalai Lama” before setting themselves on fire. In the past six months, a total of four Tibetan monks have engaged in this extreme act of political protest.
And this is just the most obvious sign of Tibetan discontent. The region has been riled by unrest in recent times. “Unlike protest campaigns in the 1950s and '80s, the new wave of demonstrations has flared across the entire Tibetan Plateau,” reports Time magazine.
The most severe eruption of Tibetan anger occurred in 2008, when large-scale rioting and a heavy-handed crackdown caused the deaths of 140 people. But even this repression doesn’t seem to have enabled the authorities to calm things down.
The Chinese government is scoring on other fronts, however. It used its massive clout to apparently persuade the South African government not to give a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend fellow Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu’s eightieth birthday celebrations. Tutu was not thrilled. “Archbishop Desmond Tutu, visibly shaking with anger, compared the South African government unfavorably with the apartheid regime and threatened to pray for the downfall of the African National Congress (ANC) yesterday after the Dalai Lama said he was forced to pull out of Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations because he had not been granted an entry visa,” The Guardian reports.
Instead of drawing pleasure from such cheap victories, the Chinese government should enter into serious negotiations with the Tibetan government in exile, now with a new head after the recent political retirement of the Dalai Lama. Otherwise, the situation could get uglier.
Younger Tibetans “are questioning their movement's longtime commitment to nonviolent resistance,” Time notes. But resorting to violence is not the way out for Tibetans, as hopeless as the situation may seem for them.
With the assistance of the CIA, there was a Tibetan guerrilla movement in the 1950s and the ’60s that made little headway. (Mikel Dunham’s “Buddha’s Warriors: The Story of the CIA-Backed Tibetan Freedom Fighters, the Chinese Invasion, and the Ultimate Fall of Tibet” provides an account of that fiasco.) And the violent 2008 uprising gave Beijing an excuse to engage in massive retribution. To ensure that the Tibetans aren’t further alienated and radicalized, the Chinese regime needs to declare that it is willing to give Tibet meaningful autonomy, of the type that Hong Kong has—and more.
Anything less will guarantee that Tibet will continue to fester.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "U.S. Must Change Policy Toward Pakistan."
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