We Can’t Go This Way
By Palden Gyal (Charlottesville VA): Over the past few months I would go to bed every night praying not to wake up to another horrifying self-immolation in Tibet. My prayers have been going unanswered. Today I woke up to yet another self-immolation by a young monk in my hometown of Aba, Sichuan. The last one was a week ago in Damshung, in “TAR”, Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Tibetans inside Tibet have embraced self-immolation as a form of protest to express their grievances of repression and suffocation under the regime by offering themselves to flames. It is a daring call for the people of free societies to stand up and use their liberties to work for and promote the rights of those who are deprived. Little has been heard except for the upsurge of protests and demonstrations across the globe by the diasporic Tibetans in solidarity with their people in Tibet. In fact it took a month for the three hunger strikers (one had to be forced to be hospitalized on the 27th day by NYPD) outside the UN Headquarters in New York to get a response to their demands of UN intervention to the tragic plight of Tibetans in China. The hunger strike ended in “victory”, as the TYC president declared when two UN officials handed a letter from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nobody knows what exactly the “letter” said for it wasn’t made public. But I am not hopeful of even a promise of any substantial action by the UN, the gesture was simply a ruse to avoid the shame of letting the hunger strikers die at their door.
Initially, seeing the news of the self-immolations published in widely read papers like the Guardian and the Times, I comforted myself by thinking that it was getting some attention and would hopefully inspire governments and the international community to speak for and condemn the ongoing repression in Tibet. But now that hope has turned into fear and anxiety. After fifty-one self-immolations, thirty-four of them fatal (known), no leaders of the free world seem to hear their calls. President Obama, the Nobel Peace laureate, turned a blind eye from raising the issue when he met Xi Jinping, China’s next-in-line president, in February, in the midst of self-immolations in Tibet. The only thing he discussed was China’s responsibility for balanced trade with the U.S. in coming years. Tibetans shouldn’t have hoped much for him given his redemptive moves in meeting the Dalai Lama earlier, but when you are in in such a debilitated state, hope is the only thing one can cling to.
When the young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze as an act of rage against humiliation by the municipal officials, it symbolized the frustration and desperation of millions in the Arab world, sparking a series of movements from Tunisia through Libya to Egypt and now in Syria. But unlike these countries, this form of public protest is far from bringing any change in Communist China, because first of all, the conscience of the Chinese people (except a few) has gone numb and their eyes and ears attuned to the government propaganda of waging “a war against secessionist sabotage” as the new Party Chief of Tibetan Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguo stated. If the silence and indifference to self-immolations in Tibet are not signs of “moral decay” in China, it is not so shocking and morally repugnant a case as the hit-and-run case of a two-year-old girl who was knocked down twice by vehicles, left and ignored by 18 passersby in a Southern Chinese city, that spurred some speculations on the moral decency of the citizens. Secondly, as a result of China’s economic might, no leaders dare to hurt China by raising questions of human rights violation in China and particularly of the Tibetans. They are willing to forgo their principles of respect for human dignity and rights for not straining their trade ties with China. The “Tibet issue” or the “Tibetans” are bereft of any diplomatic or strategic interests that had its best days of strategic significance in the Great Game.
New Delhi’s placatory gesture to Beijing during president Hu’s visit was simply an act of cowardice and a real test of their defense of democratic values. It made it clear that, India too, against the disbelief of many, forfeits its principles of democracy and basic human rights when it comes to real diplomatic ties with the mighty China. This should wake up all Tibetans inside and outside that there is no country in the world that care more about human rights and justice than economy and self-interest. It is high time for Tibetans to stop self-immolations as a form of protest, though it might have successfully induced empathy for many people, no leaders of the world truly stand for their words. This disillusionment is real and we cannot afford losing more brave souls.
The dilemma of the Dalai Lama, in his post-politics climate, is understandable. Because any comment he makes would be interpreted, brutally, in their interests by all parties involved. It would only invite him to be subjected to criticisms and allegations, and paint disingenuouity to his decision of political resignation. Any utterance will be politicized without wit or mercy. However, if the Tibetans inside Tibet are taking the silence as a tacit approval of the act, I think it is high time for the Tibetan Government in exile to put an end to their retreat to silence. The mourning and heartbrokenness over the tragic incidents of self-immolations through the sit-in hunger strikes and demonstrations in “solidarity” may as well be translated as validation of the acts. The Kashag, the Executive of Tibetan government in exile, needs to have the political guts by refraining from “political correctness” in making an explicit statement and appeal Tibetans not to resort to such acts in judgment of the ruthless and unconscionable mentality of the CCP, the almost-total ignorance and the indifference of the world-democracy-champions and the hypocritical presidents and MPs. There is no waiting. Remember, the life of one young brave soul in Tibet is far more precious than a few seconds of talk from a president or a prime minister on something close to a “reminder” note to China of its human rights violations in Tibet.