In the question of what drives self-immolation and other forms of protests against China’s rule in Tibet, the exile Tibetan government explains it as a sense of “desperation.” What makes them desperate is generally viewed as political, cultural, and religious suppression under Beijing’s policies, while economically it is assumed that the Tibetans are living a relatively more prosperous life today. However, a Western scholar who studies the economic development in Tibet believes a large source of Tibetan people’s grievance lies in the realm of China’s economic and development policy.
Dr. Andrew Fischer, Associate Professor in Population, Poverty and Development Studies at Erasmus University Rotterdam, believes that China’s highly subsidized economy structure in Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas dis-empowers the Tibetans, while making the Chinese economic power holders in the region.
“This underlying structure and institutional patterns of economy creates strong bias against the Tibetans and also creates a strong external orientation of economy that makes it very inefficient, and it naturally creates a tendency to be bias against Tibetans,” he said. “Not just the poor Tibetans but also highly educated Tibetans.”
Dr. Fischer tells VOA's Tibetan Service that the Chinese control the main economy opportunities in the Tibetan region, where the Tibetans are largely excluded from holding any mechanisms in the economy development where Beijing puts billions of dollars each year.
China poured $3 billion in Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in 2010, two years after the wide spread Tibetan uprising protests against China in 2008. In 2012, the government subsidy in TAR increased the amount to about $13 billion. In that year, subsidy in Qinghai Province, another Tibetan area, reached $18 billon according to Dr. Fischer’s latest article, titled “Subsidizing Tibet.”
Pouring a relatively large amount of money and changing Tibet to China has been viewed as an effort Beijing is making with the hope that it will help stabilize the region. But Dr. Fischer says that, while the money is generating economic activities and increasing income level for many Tibetans, the result is contradictory. “The government has been adopting this as their strategy to resolve tensions in Tibet as if the problems with Tibet were economic grievance, as an poverty, rather than other forms of grievances. Obviously, ironically that has been backfiring. We’ve been seeing rising protests.”
He said as more rural Tibetans moves to the cities, they become more aware of the job and language discriminations against Tibetans structured in the regional economic system.
Chinese officials say Tibetans are living with happy lives. In 2011, then the chairman of TAR, Peme Trilan (Ch: Padma Choling) told reporters in New York that Tibetans were enjoying with their share of regional economy prosperity and that no one was protesting against China. Between 2009 and 2014, 130 confirmed self-immolations took place in the Tibetan regions, including TAR.
The Chinese government has accused the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan groups in instigating the act. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan administration in exile have repeatedly rejected China's accusations.