Tibetan Resistance Movement in Light of China’s Power Transition

By: Tenzing Peldun On the eve of China’s pivotal, once in a decade power transition, five Tibetans in Tibet self-immolated while calling for freedom and the return of his Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet. All eyes have been on China for the past few weeks due to China’s increasing role in the world arena coupled with the shocking exposure of internal disputes deeply rooted in the party through numerous scandals. Tibetans in Tibet are aware of the international attention directed towards Beijing and have been utilizing it as an opportunity to amplify their struggle. As of November 14, 72 Tibetans have been confirmed to have self-immolated inside Tibet since 2009. The cases of immolation have intensified significantly the past week with the changeover of the top officials taking place.

On the eve of the transition there were five cases of self-immolation. Three of the cases of self-immolation were carried on by fifteen and sixteen years-old monks from Ngoshul Monastary, located in Ngaba. The fourth case of self-immolation was Tamding Tso, 23 years old and a mother of a young son. The identity and condition of the fifth person to set himself on fire is unknown. The only information confirmed regarding him is the site of the protest, which took place in Driru County.

Due to highly sensitive times the Chinese government has heightened its already extreme security measures. During the Congressional meeting, security guards were readily equipped with fire extinguishers due to fear of such protests taking place during the meeting. Additionally balloons, ping pong balls, toy helicopters, and pigeons have been banned in fear of these items and bird carrying any reactionary messages. Not surprisingly, Google was completely blocked from China in the days following up to the power transition.

The Chinese government claims that these recent waves of self-immolation were instigated by the Dalai Lama, who is usually portrayed as a “wolf in monk’s robes.” The government as usual, has tried to avoid making any statements regarding the issue. However, it is clear that the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly weary of the recent development in Tibetan resistance. In the weeks leading up to the transition, the government posted flyers claiming to reward any informants on past and future cases of self-immolation with cash reward of about USD 8,000. Specifically in the Tibetan regions where many have lit themselves in protest, streets and public areas are flooded with Chinese security forces and undercover police officials. Phone lines and internet connections have been interrupted to restrict the flow of information to Tibetans in exile and the media.

The new fifth generation of leaders of the CCP is clearly nervous as this new group of political elites will have to face hefty domestic issues such as immense income disparity, decline in economic growth, growing discontent amongst the rural population. It is highly unlikely that Xi Jinping will mention - or even accept - the growing Tibetan resistance within Tibet, despite the fear the government has unsuccessfully tried to instill. However, if the Tibetan resistance continues, will Xi Jinping be forced to address the issue? Is there a chance the Tibetan struggle will finally bear fruit?

What the Tibetan movement needs more than ever is the international community to assert pressure on China. The United Nations finally raised concerns regarding the self-immolation on November 2nd. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, addressed the issue by expressing her concern; however, she did so without any conditions or measures. The Tibetan resistance movement has taken a tragic turn and is stronger than ever. Hundreds, and possibly thousands of Tibetans gathered at the funeral sites of Tamdrin Tso in Rebkong, on November 7, and Jinpa Gyatso, who took his life on November 8the day of the power transition. Is the sudden intensification in the Tibetan independence movement from within Tibet enough for any concrete progress from the Chinese government? Or is the new leadership extremely weary and likely to further tighten its grip on Tibet as the cry for justice within Tibet is louder and stronger than ever?

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