China’s long-standing power struggle with Tibet has erupted into a violent disaster which has further marred China’s image as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing approach. What began as peaceful protests marking the 49th anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against the Chinese in 1959 quickly turned into massive riots that, according to the Chinese government, have claimed at least 22 lives; the Tibetans claim 130 have died.
For the Dalai Lama, the situation is particularly awkward. The spiritual and political leader of the exiled Tibetans has never advocated violence and has tried to work with the Chinese to allow Tibet some autonomy while remaining part of China. He has led his people for 68 years, but some don’t think he has pushed against China hard enough and see him as complacent. Increasing frustration was part of the reason that tempers flared.
The current chaos and tragedy in China has thrust the Tibetan issue back into headlines. And Tibet is only the most recent issue in a string of disturbing reports regarding human rights violations in China. It would be no stretch to say that China has botched the situation, and it leads to serious questions about the fates of the dysfunctional relationship between the Tibetans and the Chinese.
Politicians around the world have condemned China’s current actions but have also been quiet on their opinions about the future of Tibet. It’s hard to tell if these statements indicate genuine interest in finding a long-term solution or if they are simply issuing statements to keep up appearances.
If the international community does decide to put some weight behind its words, don’t be surprised if the Olympic Games start being mentioned as a bargaining chip. While a boycott shouldn’t be the first step, China has shown how important it considers these games, and it could play an important negotiating role.
The current riots show a need for an agreement between the Tibetans and the Chinese. Eventually, China’s overwhelming and oppressive police and military powers will settle the disruption, but it will be a tense calmness. This region needs help, and it will take more than a few “Free Tibet” bumper stickers.