Challenging Tibet’s Most Radical Form of Protest

dalaiRecent Tibetan resistance to Chinese colonial rule has resulted in heart wrenching images of burning protesters  who see little option but to set themselves on fire to raise attention to the plight of their people. Shots of self-immolation make for dramatic headlines- but how much impact are they having on the bureaucrats?

Last Thursday the Dalai Lama questioned the practice, stating that it was having little effect on Beijing’s policies. He urged Chinese leaders to look harder at the reasons behind self-immolation, rather than attempting to crack down on the protesters themselves.

“I express this as a symptom of some causes of Chinese officials. They must investigate what is the cause of this symptom, of these events. It’s not the solution just to blame someone, including the Dalai Lama,” he said.

 the violent suicide protests, visceral as they are, may ultimately be fanning the flames of Chinese propaganda

Since 2009, 117 ethnic Tibetans in what China terms as the Tibet Autonomous Region in Southern Chinese provinces have set themselves alight in a series of largely fatal incidents. During a visit to Australia, the exiled leader commented, “It’s a sad thing that happens. Of course it’s very, very sad. In the meantime, I doubt how much effect [there is] from such drastic actions.”

Before this, the Dalai Lama had been at odds as to what his public stance on self-immolation should be. Although there is eternal pressure on him to condemn the practice, he has been adamant that he needs to remain neutral for the sake of the families of these protesters. Several Tibetan scholars have taken this as covert acceptance, and are highly critical of the apparently silent stance.

Many believe that the Dalai Lama is secretly encouraging the practice, with one Chinese official going so far as to claim that there was evidence the spiritual leader was secretly funding the work of protesters. Whilst this seems unlikely, the violent suicide protests, visceral as they are, may ultimately be fanning the flames of Chinese propaganda which frames the Dalai Lama as a violent separatist leader.

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