Fear can drive people — and governments —to act violently. Beijing’s policy on Tibet relies so heavily on State violence because it is driven by fear. It showed once again when government forces reportedly fired at monks and other people who gathered a few days ago in a Tibetan-majority area in Sichuan to mark the 78th birthday of the Dalai Lama. On several occasions every year, the authorities in Tibet take additional precautions to deal with possible popular revolts against Chinese rule. That such violence still erupts periodically in Tibet points to two things. One, for all its repressive measures, the Chinese State is powerless to impose its will on Tibet. Second and more significant, large numbers of Tibetans defy the State’s instruments of fear. This defiance often leads to tragic results — nearly 120 Buddhist monks have immolated themselves since 2009 to protest against China’s rule in Tibet.
The Chinese responses to Tibetan tragedies are both belligerent and hollow. Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for all the violence in Tibet. In fact, its policy on Tibet has hardened since the ethnic riots in Lhasa in March, 2008. Talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representatives have been stalled. The new Chinese leadership does not hold out hopes that the talks will be revived anytime soon. The irony is that the more hardened Beijing’s policy on Tibet is, the more futile it proves to be. The Dalai Lama’s influence seems to deepen, rather than lessen, as harsher measures are unleashed on the Tibetans in China. Nothing exposes the failure of the State policy as much as the defiance and deaths in Tibet. Peace and stability in Tibet will continue to elude Beijing until it learns to accept the Dalai Lama’s moral presence among the Tibetans. What Beijing does in Tibet largely determines how the world views China. Ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang test China’s skills in handling dissent and religious freedom. The only way Beijing can redeem its record in Tibet is by returning to the talks.