Throughout China’s long and turbulent history, no people along its imperial fringes have been such a nuisance to the Middle Kingdom as the Tibetans are today. However, unlike neighboring Xinjiang or Eastern Turkestan which is wracked by sporadic violence, Tibet poses no military threat to the People’s Republic of China. Neither the Dalai Lama nor the Central Tibetan Administration question China’s sovereignty over Tibet in any future settlement of the issue.
Regardless of this, Tibet is a challenge for China. The challenge comes from not what the Tibetans are doing to China but from what they are doing to themselves.
Witness the 127 young Tibetans from across Tibet who since 2009 set themselves on fire, calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland and freedom for Tibet. Regardless of the merits and de-merits of such acts, and there are plenty of arguments on both sides, these unnerve the Chinese authorities. Such acts recall China’s own revolutionary past when Chinese individually and collectively sacrificed their all for the ideal of unified, just and egalitarian China. These acts also point in a fiery blaze of Tibetan determination to the fact that China physically controls Tibet but not Tibetan hearts and minds. [Source]
Thubten Samphel is the director of the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.