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Viewpoint: Are Tibet burnings plot or policy failure?

posted Nov 22, 2011, 6:49 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

Twelve Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibet this year.  Professor Robert Barnett of Columbia University looks at what has caused these incidents and how China is choosing to respond.  

From the BBC:

Responses to protest are basically of two kinds. The first sees protests as a stratagem or plot to damage the government. The Chinese government's handling of the self-immolations by Tibetans this year has so far been of this type, denouncing them as "terrorism in disguise" and "connected to overseas Tibet independence forces".

It responded in a similar way to protests that spread across the Tibetan plateau three years ago, and to violent protests by Uighurs in north-west China in 2009, in each case accusing exile leaders of fomenting them.

The second approach is a policy failure model, seeing protests as a response to excessive pressures placed on people by a government. Western governments that have spoken out about the self-immolations have seen them through this lens - the US urged the Chinese government to "address its counter-productive policies in Tibetan areas".

Tibetan leaders in exile took a similar view: the Dalai Lama described the "sad" and "drastic" acts as due to "some kind of policy" imposed by "hard-liner Chinese officials". The Karmapa, now a major religious leader in exile, called for the immolations to stop but described them as "a cry against... injustice and repression".

'Legal education'

What are the implications of these two approaches?

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