Tensions are rising in the Tibet Autonomous Region in western China. The Chinese government must reopen dialogue and allay everyone's worries.
Outside the autonomous region, Qinghai and Sichuan are also home to ethnic Tibetans.
Since February 2009, fiery protests against the Chinese government by Buddhist monks and other Tibetans have resulted in 33 deaths. Twenty cases of self-immolation have already occurred this year.
Beijing's position is that the Tibet Autonomous Region is Chinese territory and, therefore, inseparable from the rest of the nation. Basically, this is also the understanding of the Tibetan Central Administration, or the Tibetan government in exile, which is based in India. The Tibetans are seeking a "high degree of autonomy" under the Chinese government, but not independence as such.
Beijing, however, is deeply suspicious of the Tibetan Central Administration's intentions, believing that independence is what it is really after. The dialogue that was reopened in 2002 has been suspended since January 2010.
The Tibetans have their liberties curtailed. For instance, they are not allowed to display images of the 14th Dalai Lama, their beloved spiritual leader. They have made huge efforts to resist the erosion of their historic and cultural heritage due to an influx of Han Chinese into the autonomous region and the reinforcement of Chinese language education.
The extreme acts of self-immolation clearly point to a high degree of frustration, anger and despair with the situation.
But Beijing boasts Tibet's recent economic development as a "Copernican transformation," justifying its approach of governing the Tibetans.
The latter, however, have strong religious values of their own and are not satisfied with economic prosperity alone.
Many of the people who have committed or attempted self-immolation are in their teens to their 30s. They grew up in relative economic prosperity. There are limits to securing people's allegiance to the government with economic benefits. A similar sense of dissatisfaction is smoldering among Uighurs in the northwest and other minorities.
Beijing is trying to suppress them with tougher control, but that is no way to get to the root of the problem.
The Chinese Communist Party will undergo a leadership rejuvenation this autumn. It would be in the interest of the party to resolve the problem through dialogue. This should also help stabilize society at large and improve China's position in the international community.
We urge the Tibetans to try to make their voices heard without sacrificing their lives. After all, they have a perfect role model in the Dalai Lama, who has rightfully earned the respect of world leaders.
The Dalai Lama no longer plays a political role, but his influence is still enormous. We hope he will continue to remind his people of the sanctity of life.
The spiritual leader is 76 years old, and Beijing is looking beyond to the "post-Dalai Lama" Tibet. But there are decisions that only he can make. Both he and the Chinese government must seek to create an environment conducive to dialogue.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 10
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