China Downplays Impact of Tibetan Self-Immolations

Monks gather to pray at the Labrang monastery before the Tibetan New Year in Xiahe county, Gansu Province, China, February 21, 2012. A teenage Tibetan Buddhist monk had set himself on fire and died in southwestern China, a rights group said, in the latest
Monks gather to pray at the Labrang monastery before the Tibetan New Year in Xiahe county, Gansu Province, China, February 21, 2012. A teenage Tibetan Buddhist monk had set himself on fire and died in southwestern China, a rights group said, in the latest
William Ide

As a wave of self-immolations continues in Tibetan areas of China, Chinese authorities not only are tightening security, but also are stepping up efforts to discredit those who have set themselves on fire to protest China's policies in the region.

Chinese authorities held press conferences Wednesday on the sidelines of a major political gathering in Beijing to emphasize the government’s point of view and its argument that overseas groups and Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, are orchestrating the unrest.

Chinese officials held two briefings on the sidelines of the annual National People's Congress about the situation.

Growing wave of protests

At least 25 nuns, monks and other people have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas since last March, and the wave of protests shows few signs of abating.

On Monday, an 18-year old identified as Dorjee set himself ablaze and walked from a bridge to a Chinese office building in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture. Before succumbing to the flames, he shouted slogans against the Chinese government. Two others have set themselves on fire since last Saturday.

China has said little about the link to government policies in Tibetan areas, which activists say is a key motivator behind the protests.

On Wednesday, Wu Zegang, an ethnic-Tibetan and head of Aba prefecture - where most of the recent self-immolations have taken place - blamed separatists for the unrest.

Wu said that most of the people who are carrying out acts of self-immolation shout out separatist slogans such as "Independence for Tibet" or aim to divide China.

He also said that many of those who have committed suicide have criminal records and are outcasts.

Isolating a region

Although some foreign media organizations have managed to send out video from Tibetan areas, showing increased security, the region is mostly off-limits to journalists, making it difficult to verify reports of self-immolations or better understand why they are happening.

On Wednesday, China's state media confirmed the death of Tsering Kyi late last week, saying her decision to set herself on fire might have been the result of a head injury she allegedly sustained in school. Tibetan activists disagree.

"We know that a few days before she self-immolated, she had actually been at her family home, which is a few hours away from where she attended school. And she had been with her family, and her family described her as being very well and happy. She had been talking to friends and family in the local area. No one had expressed any concern about her well being," said Stephanie Brigden, with the London-based organization Free Tibet.

Brigden said local Chinese leaders are under immense pressure to maintain order ahead of an expected political succession in China later this year, and that the situation in Tibet is raising domestic and international concerns.

"These statements, including Wu Zegang's statement, are really part of China's propaganda to deflect internal, as well as the external, criticism that they are now facing in the face of increased numbers of self-immolations," said Brigden.

Chinese authorities used Wednesday's press conferences to highlight the funds and efforts they have put into developing Tibetan areas and to assure reporters that the region is largely stable. But analysts and Tibetan activists caution that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.

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Comment Sorting
by: Persephone
March 23, 2012 10:36 PM

by: Wangchuk
March 09, 2012 5:02 AM
More CCP propaganda about Tibetans. One of the Tibetans was Zopa Rimpoche, a highly respected lama & guru. After nun Palden Choedon self-immolated to protest CCP oppression, 10,000 Tibetans came to her funeral. We Tibetans are not fooled by CCP lies.

by: Jonathan Huang
March 08, 2012 2:00 PM
@Genghis Khan , Mongolians killed 90% chinese during their occupant at yuan dynasty, so stop talking about autonomous. Han chinese fought back and regain control of china, not due to your mercy. Mongolians occupied Tibet too at the same time. Tibet is a part of China as Inner mongolia does!

by: Xing
March 08, 2012 10:28 AM
Only evil religion asks people to self-immolation.

by: Flying
March 08, 2012 3:44 AM
China is a fast-developing nation. It is inevitable that there might be injustices in every part. But, self-immolation itself is to be despised. If instigated by overseas-based splittists, these immolators are just the fall guys to those splittists. They died a meaningless death.

by: Genghis Khan
March 08, 2012 1:46 AM
Even our great ancestors (such as Genghis Khan and Khubilai Khan) who once occupied China allowed Chinese people to autonomously control themselves. Communist Chinese Government is now trying to eradicate Tibetan people and settle Chinese in Tibet. Get out of Tibet! All nations in the rest of the world support Tibetan people.

by: CynicalJerk
March 07, 2012 10:46 PM
Growing wave of protests? 25 people set themselves in fire out of what, 1,3 billion people. More people is hit by lightning in China than that. Quote: 'But analysts and Tibetan activists caution that the situation could quickly spiral out of control'. Out of control how? Unless we have monk-terrorists, who detonate bombs in market square. Hurting yourself will not achieve you any political goal, only by hurting others can you do that. Apology for the cynicism.

by: Rider I
March 07, 2012 1:37 PM
Down plays impact the Communist Party wants the monks to kill themselves so others do it too. the Monks should go to school for economics and politics and start training themselves out to fight peacefully with cognition's instead of suicide. As suicide is what they want the to do.

by: Bill Ireland
March 07, 2012 12:59 PM
Why will China never look at its own culpability? To blame the Tibetans for suffering with a forced Chinese government policy is the height of absurdity. China is losing face everyday. Fix the problem please. Don't blame the people you are torturing and murdering for trying to take a stand.

by: Keith Dawson
March 07, 2012 12:56 PM
It has been fifty years since china ruled tibet, most of those imolating have never known anything else so how do they know what tibet was like before the chinese took control? tibet is one of the most backward countries in the world however you define backward.

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