China Grumbles as the U.S. Expresses Concern over Self-Immolations in Tibetan Regions

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Diptendu Dutta / AFP / Getty Images

Tibetan monks hold lighted candles as they participate in a Tibetan solidarity rally at Tashi Gomang Stupa on the outskirts of Siliguri on October 20, 2011. Tibetans living in exile in India launched protests throughout India over Chinese actions in Tibet after a spate of self-immolation's by Buddhist monks.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has some advice for its U.S. counterpart: Stop meddling in Tibetan affairs. Earlier this week, a U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed “serious concern” over a series of self-immolations in Tibetan regions that have claimed at least 11 lives since March 2011. Just this month, three Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest China’s repressive rule and call for the return of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The most recent incident occurred on Jan. 8 when a 42-year-old “Living Buddha” in China’s Tibetan-dominated Qinghai province guzzled kerosene and fatally lit a match.

But on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin shot back at the U.S. for its expression of concern: “We firmly oppose such remarks and practices making use of Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, which could disrupt Chinese social stability and national unity.”

Fifteen Tibetan monks, nuns or former clergy have set themselves on fire since last March, desperate displays that contravene Tibetan Buddhist dogma even as they shock the world into paying attention to the plight of the Tibetan people. As the spent matches have proliferated, China has stepped up its Tibet p.r. campaign, blaming the Dalai Lama and his supporters for orchestrating the self-immolations, without detailing evidence of any such plot. (Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama says China’s “ruthless and illogical” policies toward Tibet, such as mounting religious and linguistic restrictions, have galvanized Tibetans to commit these fiery acts.)

On Jan. 11, the Global Times, a Beijing-based newspaper with ties to Communist Party media, warned in an editorial: “China’s Tibetan region has been affected by outrageous political influences under the name of religion. This concerns the interests of the Dalai group as well as those of the West.” The editorial then went on to assert: “The selfishness and ruthlessness of the Dalai group are carefully packaged by the West [and] the fact is that the more self-immolations happen in Tibet, the more comfortable the life of the Dalai group becomes.”

Such crude attacks on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate will likely find little sympathy with much of the international community. Nevertheless, the Chinese government is continuing its crusade against the spiritual leader who, despite decades of anti-Dalai Lama propaganda in Tibetan classrooms and workplaces, is still revered by many Tibetans. Earlier this month, Tibet’s Communist Party chief, a non-Tibetan appointee named Chen Quanguo whose given name means “whole nation,” vowed to strengthen control over Tibetan monasteries and “urged monks to cherish the current unity and stability and unswervingly fight against the separatist activities of the Dalai Lama group,” according to the official China Daily.

The Chinese p.r. effort also extends to a state-run bimonthly magazine called Tibet Studies that this year will begin publication in English to counter “Western perspectives” on the region. It’s safe to say that the Dalai Lama won’t be granted positive coverage in the Chinese-run journal.