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Dalai Lama's envoys to China resign in frustration

Two high-profile resignations and an increasing number of self-immolations within the Tibetan community highlight a desperate effort to attract attention to the Chinese government's crackdown in Tibet.

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Attention to the cause

The envoys’ resignation is not an abandonment of relations with China, says Mr. Samphel. New envoys will likely be appointed later this year after the reshuffle in China’s Communist Party this autumn. “We will see what emerges after the leadership transition in China,” says Samphel.

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The former envoys will continue to advise on negotiations with China as members of the Tibetan exile administration’s task force team until then. 

The administration emphasized that it remains “firmly committed to nonviolence” and the Dalai Lama’s “middle way approach,” which advocates autonomy for Tibet rather than independence from China.

The Dalai Lama last year voluntarily resigned his political role and fully transferred official political duties to the prime minister of the exile administration, elected by Tibetan exiles around the world.

Lobsang Sangay, formerly a research scholar at Harvard Law School, was inaugurated as the new prime minister for Tibet last summer. China, however, has said it would negotiate only with the Dalai Lama’s envoys, not representatives of the exile administration. Given China's demands, the Dalai Lama will likely still be involved in appointing envoys.

“The only way to resolve the issue of Tibet is through dialogue,” said the exile administration in a statement. “The Tibetan leadership … is ready to engage in meaningful dialogue anywhere and at anytime.”

What next?

But without any improvement in the situation in Tibet, the self-immolations are continuing.

Riyko, the 36-year-old mother of three, set herself on fire on May 30 in Rangtang county in Aba, a Tibetan region of Sichuan Province in southwest China. Riyko, who has just one name like many Tibetans, is the fifth woman to self-immolate, including several young nuns.

Most of the self-immolators have been in their 20s or late teens. Monks were the first to self-immolate, but a growing number of laypeople have joined the wave. Two young Tibetan men set themselves on fire in Lhasa on May 27, marking the first self-immolations in Tibet’s capital.

Near Dharamsala’s Buddhist temple, 23-year-old Tsewang Gyatso was one of 160 Tibetan students from a nearby Tibetan school staging a hunger strike last week to protest repression in Tibet. Young men shaved their heads in a signal of solidarity, as did a few female students. Mr. Gyatso fled Tibet five years ago so he could study at Tibetan schools in India.

“Every time we hear about a self-immolation, we feel terrible, horrible, depressed. Sometimes we lose hope for our country,” says Mr. Gyatso. “We are afraid sometimes of what will happen.”

Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala say they feel helpless. “It is in the hands of the Chinese government,” says Lobsang Yeshi, a monk at Kirti Monastery in Dharamsala whose sister monastery in Aba has been at the heart of recent protests and self-immolations. “They’re the ones who can bring some change on the ground.”

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