A burning Tibet cannot be good for China
For possibly most of China, Tibet, or what officially is the Tibetan
Autonomous Region, is a serene sort of a place; a place where high
mountains shadow vast open valleys, where colourfully dressed Tibetans
lead a tranquil, pastoral lives going about their routines with their
heads down and where antique monasteries are home to ancient
A cheerful, young anchor from the national broadcaster CCTV - the
wonderful parallel to our very own, homegrown Doordarshan - took his
viewers across parts of TAR the other evening; it was in fact a
cheerful journey full of flags flapping in distilled air, rugged
terrain and jolly, welcoming people sharing hot cups of butter tea.
Wednesday's China Daily carried a one-page feature - which reminded
the-gullible-reporter in me of an advertorial - on "Tibet still on
steady path to growth."
The closest I have been to Tibet is Majnu ka Tila near Delhi
University and my information is based on statements from human rights
groups and the responses from the Chinese government. But maybe, just
maybe the situation is not as tranquil in Tibet, which China considers
inextricably its own.
Last week alone, seven ethnic Tibetans deliberately doused themselves
with the nearest can of fuel and lit themselves; six lit themselves
well enough to die of lethal burn injuries. They had nearly 50 other
examples to follow of ethnic Tibetans who have self immolated
demanding more freedom under Beijing's hard-line rule and the return
of their spiritual icon, Dalai Lama.
All the cases didn't take place in TAR; ethnic Tibetans are also found
in the four provinces of eastern China: Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan and
The protest suicides are all but blacked out in the
government-controlled media. When the state-run Xinhua does confirm
the rare death, the reasons given for the suicides are not political;
the reasons usually are domestic infighting, acting under the
influence of alcohol or acting under the influence of alcohol because
of domestic infighting.
Ironically, when questions about the suicides are raised at press
conferences - like at the one last week - the spokesperson, any
spokesperson for the day for that matter, are belligerent in blaming
Dharamshala-based Dalai Lama in inciting the simple, rustic Tibetan.
The self immolators are branded "terrorists".
Do terrorists usually burn themselves to death after a fight with his
wife? Or having too much chang? Or is he not brainwashed enough by
outside forces to carry out a suicide attack on government forces and
symbols? The terrorist, it seems, is brainwashed just enough to light
a match stick, or maybe a made in China lighter, to his own
I agree with China Daily's Thursday advertorial - err, perceptive
feature stories - about the fact that "... TAR is on a trajectory to
maintain stable and balanced growth thanks to a set of preferential
policies from the central government and assistance across the
country" and "income growth rate in double digits for the ninth
consecutive year." I am certain that as rest of China progresses,
Tibetans too will have less chilly winds of progress blowing over
their mountainous homes.
But maybe Chinese leaders should put their ears to the hard ground of
eastern China to find out what's actually happening. The sudden rise
in protest suicides days before the 18th National Congress of the
Communist Party of China (CPC) is surely not coincidental; those
protesting China's rule know the world's focus is on Beijing. It
should also be remembered that the suicides took place in spite of
heavy presence of security personnel. It can't be great for China if
its own citizens continue to burn themselves to death. For the new
leadership readying to rule China, to douse the fire and make Tibet
actually serene and tranquil should be a priority.
POSTED BY SUTIRTHO PATRANOBIS ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2012 AT 1:47 PM
The above article strikes me no less as a propaganda piece as the
"feature" piece in China Daily he criticized.
He sounds every bit ignorant of what he was talking about as his
extreme confusion of which part is west and which part is east inside
China. (Hint: Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan and Gansu are as far
west as you can get, except for Tibet itself. If they were in
the east, they wouldn't be so medieval.)
First, he boldly asserted:
"All the cases didn't take place in TAR; ethnic Tibetans are also
found in the four provinces of eastern China: Sichuan, Qinghai,
Yunnan and Gansu."
And then in the conclusion:
"But maybe Chinese leaders should put their ears to the hard ground of
eastern China to find out what's actually happening."
It is a little piece of geographic knowledge that every Chinese child
comes to learn as they grow up. And it should be a simple fact that
anyone who is concerned about Chinese citizens as the author of the
above article proclaimed to be should be familiar with before yelping
like a fool.
And no wonder! He claimed that the closest he has ever been to Tibet
was some place near Delhi University. And he was satisfied that
"maybe the situation is not as tranquil in Tibet, which China
considers inextricably its own"
because he had received his information about Tibet from
"statements from human rights groups and the responses from the
the latter of which he refused to accept.
Clearly, the first question I would like to ask is:
how does he define "traquil"?
Is it tranquil in the eastern part of the United States right now?
Is it tranquil in the East China Sea?
Has it been tranquil in western Pakistan or the entire Afghanistan
since the turn of the century?
Is it tranquil in Libya?
Is it tranquil in Syria?
Is it tranquil in Kashmir?
Is it tranquil in a large part of Myanmar?
Is it tranquil in Greece?
Is it tranquil in Spain?
. . .
If we would recall Stephen Prothero telling us that there were more
than one hundred cases of self-immolation in Tunisia last year alone,
and yet hardly any attention was paid to them from the outside, what
are some 60 cases of the same thing in Tibet since 2009?
We are talking about the self-immolations in Tibet but not those in
Tunisia because Tibet is on the agenda of long term US foreign policy
while Tunisia is not. Even the year 2009 is noteworthy. It is the
year after 2008 - the year China hosted for its first ever Summer
Olympics. Nobody can forget the Free Tibet protests begining in the
early spring of that year. And I certainly cannot forget how some
Tibetan protesters went and roughed up a young double-amputee woman
for carrying the Olympic torch on wheel chair. The protesters were a
bunch of very angry people who think that a world peace gesture such
as the Summer Olympics should take place simply because they hated
But those people never think quantitatively nor logically. How many
people felt the way they felt? And if China was such a horrible
antithesis of peace, then why did the IOC vote to let China host the
games in the first place?
Those people have neither numbers nor logic.
But they sure knew that they would grab plenty of attention because
the west and its media would be sure to devote maximal attention to
anything that would make China look bad!
Ok. That was clearly a propaganda move planned and organized by the
Tibetans in exile (based in India's Dharamsala), most likely with a
lot of funding from various NED-backed NGOs.
Anyone who thought that those protests were not timed to an event or a
series of events that would put China in the spotlight because of the
Summer games would be either grossly in delusion or incapable of using
the brain he or she has.
But then what after the games?
And that apparently was the beginning of self-immolations in 2009.
Yet most of the 60 plus cases of Tibetan self-immolations happened
And I've noticed that the distribution of the incidents has been such
that it was all pretty quiet during the London Summer Olympics as well
as around our 9-11 anniversary. So, we are feted with a bunch during
the last week. But what was so special about the last week? Well,
first, the news about the embassy attack in Libya has more or less
subsided in the west. But most importantly, the once-a-decade
leadership transfer was about to start. In western media, umpteen
articles about Chinese politics appear daily. All eyes are now
turning to China.
Also, maybe the heated dispute on the islands in East China Sea might
also give some group an idea that China is automatically some kind of
aggressor. For example, Lobsang Sangay, the so-called prime minister
of the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), used the term "occupation"
to refer to the fact that there are Tibetans living in the four
provinces which the author of the above article ignorantly referred to
as being in the eastern part of China.
That island dispute (which really is in the east) certainly does not
make China an aggressor. To the contrary, even the New York Times in
the past week or so has used phrases such as "spoil of war" to
describe how Japan got hold of it in 1895. China had no choice but to
act in a way that the islands China had discovered and laid claim to
for several centuries would not just disappear because of Japan's
die-hard colonial attitude.
It is clear that the TGIE has been trying to exploit every moment the
west has a little time to think about China for propaganda purposes.
So the latest spike of Tibetan self-immolations is clearly timed to
the political transition in Beijing.
And yes, it is terrorism as far as its effect is concerned on the
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