It was only a matter of time that the spate of self-immolation attempts by Buddhist monks and nuns in the Tibetan areas of China’s Sichuan province induced Tibetans outside China to follow suit. On October 4, a Tibetan youth from Dharamsala tried to set himself on fire near the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. An alert police force saved the situation. On October 01, eighteen Tibetan refugees in Nepal were prevented from another self-immolation bid by local security personnel. The common slogan from all these people was “free Tibet from oppressive Chinese rule” and “religious freedom”.
In recent months eleven Tibetan religious persons – nine monks and two nuns attempted to set themselves on fire. Six of them have already succumbed to their injuries.
Many question why protests by Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the Chinese government delineated area of Tibetans, have subsided and this has spread outside TAR? The answer may lie in the political thinking among Tibetans inside China. Following the March 2008 Tibetan protests in TAR capital Lhasa, the iron fist of the security forces have been so heavy and their monitoring so close, that they have apparently decided to play act their contentment with their situation, while outside TAR the defiance against the Chinese authorities is kept alive. The authorities should not be surprised if such incidents erupt in the capital Beijing and metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou where the international community heavily represented and focused. Such acts will draw far more attention from the world and stir a new round of questioning of China’s human rights practices.
A bomb-blast at a government building in the Chaundo area of Sichuan took place in the night of October 19, resulting in the harassment of monks in a nearby Karma sect monastery. Although no evidence about the culprits have been forthcoming, the monks are the natural suspect. This, in spite of the fact, that several cases of arson and killings have taken place in these areas by disgruntled Han workers and peasants. Tibetan monks are not known for such violent activities. But even if they are beginning to do this, their own position will be weakened. Some say that such incidents may be created by the Chinese intelligence agents outside the knowledge of the uniformed security forces to provoke tougher punishment for the monks.
During a recent visit to Japan, the Dalai Lama deplored these acts of self immolation, but also asked the Chinese authorities introspect what was driving those people to take their own lives. Expectedly, the Chinese ignored this question but continued to condemn and vitlify the Dalai Lama, making him responsible for instigating unrest among the Tibetans.
The Chinese are generally fine strategists, and this has been honed in their genes since ancient times. Sun Zu would not have advocated the unattainable. According his famous strategy of war, Tibet should have been kept a friendly vassal state with its own laws so that it would not threaten China. The Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach offers China more than what China’s most famous military strategists would have advocated. Although Sun Zu’s strategies are being studied in China’s military academies, it does not seem to have had any effect on the communist party’s thinking.
The CCP’s presumption that if the Dalai Lama’s character is assassinated the Tibetan nationalism will flounder and perish, is totally flawed. They have been bitterly attacking the Dalai Lama’s character internationally and inside the country for decades. They have called him “wolf in monks robe”, the “serpent’s head” and most recently compared him to the American cult leader David Koresh, who called himself Jesus, established his Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, and amassed weapons with a few crazy followers to challenge the American state and established religious of the world. Koresh’s inside story was one of sex, rape, violence and imprisonment.
If the CCP propagandists think that by comparing David Koresh to the Dalai Lama they can influence the international community, their understanding remains in the stone age and are completely out of touch with the realistic world outside China. This is a laughable proposition and only belittles the Chinese leadership. But such propaganda initiated by the Tibet section of the CCP’s minority affairs commission should be in the know of the top leaders of the Party’s political Bureau headed by Party General Secretary Hu Jintao. It is well known that Hu Jintao heads the special groups on Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. Has he approved such language to attack the Dalai Lama which will hurt his own international image?
Inside China, however, such propaganda helps to garner support among the Chinese people against the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. The Chinese people have been kept totally ignorant about the Dalai Lama’s “middle way”, his Strasbourg declaration, the talks with the Dalai Lama’s delegations the last of which was held in January 2010 in Beijing, studies by Chinese NGOs about the wrong road in Tibet’s development and the host of other issues. The only thing that appears in the Chinese media, which is state owned and directed, is the concocted version of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet issue.
The very fact that educated Chinese comprised NGOs understand where the party and government policies are going wrong in assimilating the Tibetans suggest knowledge about the Tibet issue is spreading. This is represented by well to do Chinese businessmen who frequently travel abroad starting to visit the Dalai Lama and sharing their empathy with him.
Chinese diaspora abroad, especially students, are brainwashed and controlled by Chinese diplomatic missions. Ethnic Chinese businessmen abroad, like the “committee of 100” in the USA are in sync with the Chinese authorities. But things are very slowly changing.
Following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, the leadership adopted the autonomy concept from Moscow, but had a better charter. But things started deteriorating soon after. But in 1979-80, under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and his chosen Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a new and more reasonable approach to Tibet was initiated and talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities commenced. Deng had said that anything other than total independence for Tibet could be discussed. But all that has been thrown into the dustbin by the following Chinese leaders.
Especially following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chinese authorities became paranoid. Any room, any lee-way even any consideration to the minorities is seen a prelude to the disintegration of the country. In the Dalai Lama’s middle path approach, where he seeks the minimum autonomy, that is the religion, culture, language, and handling its natural resources is seen in Beijing as the first step towards Tibet’s independence.
By not even thinking to consider that the Dalai Lama sees that Tibet in China’s fold is in the best interest of Tibetans and Tibet, the Chinese are being dangerously myopic. The Dalai Lama’s views came from an accumulation of knowledge, experience and introspection of the international community. No country wants the fait accompli for Tibet. Similarly, no country wants the Tibetan people, their history and culture, their religion and language to be demonised, destroyed and left to social anthropologists to study them for their college dissertations and PhD thesis.
How many of China’s 65 minorities really matter today? Almost all of them have been either diminished or sincized. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, some Han children were dressed up as minority children simply because these minorities have vanished under the communist rule. The remaining minorities who stand up for their identities and rights are the Tibetans, the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang and, to an extent, the Mongolians of Inner Mongolia.
The Chinese authorities are overly concerned by the Dalai Lama’s declaration that he may live to 90 years, leaving the process of his reincarnation vague but firmly in his control as per the Gelugpa sect tradition, and his refusal to be even touched by China’s propaganda vilification attempts. This has frustrated and upset their Chinese authorities.
Of course, the communist condescend to the existence of religion, only under their control, and emphasise that the Dalai Lama and all living Buddhas can be legitimised only by the party and the state. The citing of precedence, which is again concocted, religion is not a product of ideology or made by political considerations. Religion goes back to faith of man about its own existence. The 11th Panchen Lama selected by the Chinese authorities has failed to evoke any following among the Tibetans.
The Chinese authorities are aware that religion is creeping back among the society. Marxist rejection of religion was to shake up the masses from the fatalistic belief that whatever they suffer is because of their earthly sins and only god can deliver them from their misery. But religion and concept of religion has developed since then. Religion, today, is more of an emotional stay with humanity at its centre. The Chinese communist deny this.
The Chinese communist leadership perceives the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people a much bigger threat than the Uighur militancy or the Mongolian disaffectations. Neither the Dalai Lama nor the Tibetan people and their monks and nuns challenge China and its territorial integrity. They are pacifists, and self-immolations, though unfortunate, is out of frustration that their minimal demand to live as they are and carry their beliefs and identities to the future, are being brutally denied.
The Chinese communist authorities refuse to acknowledge that what they are seeing as a threat is actually a movement that could cement the integrity of a country if allowed to flourish. The CCP is faced with serious challenges internally on a number of issues. But anti-religion is one of the core principles of the party. And here, the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and the demands of the Tibetans to practice religion free from party and state control is a huge challenge. This is because religion is a belief and not an occupation.
The Chinese communist approach is annihilation of one of world’s oldest civilizations, culture, religion and language. The big powers of the world, led by the USA, will not stand by idly. The world is a much more integrated community than it was thirty years ago. There are consequences. It is time that the CCP viewed the Tibetan issue from a globalized perspective than the Maoist view during the Cultural Revolution.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email: email@example.com)