BEIJING— More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese government policies, with many of those immolations occurring within the last year. As delegates from across China gather in Beijing for the National People’s Congress, officials from the Tibet Autonomous Region faced questions about instability in their region from reporters.
In recent months protests have roiled communities throughout China’s Tibetan plateau with students, farmers, taxi drivers and monks staging mass demonstrations and self-immolating. Top officials from the Tibet Autonomous Region repeated claims that more economic development will improve the situation.
Baima Chilin, head of the Tibet Autonomous Region People’s Congress, says that in Tibet government officials must thoroughly study their comrades’ policies in the eastern coastal regions of China. He says Tibet must let investors come and get rich, because if investors get rich, Tibet develops, and if investors get richer, Tibet develops even more.
China has been improving infrastructure throughout the plateau for years, building highways and new roads to connect remote areas and improved housing for monks. However, critics say this investment has done little to quell protests in some Tibetan communities.
Woeser, a prominent Tibetan activist and blogger in China who has documented the unrest, says on the surface it may seem that Tibetans have all they need to eat, clothes to wear and that everything is fine, but emotionally their situation is humiliating. Woeser says living under these types of circumstances and inequality has resulted in increasing numbers of protests over the last few years.
China has responded to these protests with a harsh police crackdown, stepped up surveillance of monasteries and the arrests of hundreds of dissidents. The government has announced anyone found inciting immolations will be charged with murder, and alleges that the protests are being coordinated by followers of the Dalai Lama living in exile in India.
On Friday, People's Congress delegate Baima Chilin said officials have evidence the Dalai Lama clique is responsible for the self-immolations, but the delegate said they would not share the evidence with reporters.
Few expect China’s new leadership will change the government's approach to Tibet protests or reopen talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives. There have been no meetings between the two sides since January 2010.