BEIJING -- As far the Communist Party is concerned, Tibet is the happiest place in China and dissatisfaction is stirred up by outside agitators.
So pronounced Tibet’s top delegates at the 18th Communist Party congress, which is convening this week in Beijing. They dismissed the rash of self-immolations by young Tibetans and accompanying protests by thousands of students as the work of outsiders manipulating Tibetans for political gain.
Since Wednesday, at least six Tibetans, mostly teenagers, have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.
"Overseas separatists entice victims. Those people who support Tibetan independence call their deeds a heroic act and these people heroes," said Lobsang Gyaltsen, vice governor of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is under Chinese rule. He blamed the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, for the immolations. “It is actually an act of murder to entice somebody to commit suicide .... The Dalai Lama group is sacrificing other people’s lives to achieve their evil goals."
In a conference room of the Great Hall of the People, decorated with fanciful floor-to-ceiling Tibetan landscapes, Tibetan delegates praised the Communist Party for raising living standards, bringing electricity, running water, television and free education to formerly nomadic people. Though Tibetans, the delegates identified themselves by their Chinese names and spoke with reporters at the news conference only in Chinese. The Communist Party secretary for Lhasa, Che Dalha, said the Tibetan capital had been voted the happiest city in China, and recited lyrics of a song.
"The sky is the bluest, the clouds are the whitest, the water is the cleanest and the people are the happiest," he said, adding, “and there are harmonious ethnic relations."
In protests against Chinese rule in Tibet, nearly 70 Tibetans have immolated themselves since last year. Eight cases have taken place in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and the rest in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces which have equally large Tibetan populations.
On Friday, more than 1,000 Tibetans, mostly students and young monks, marched through the central square of the western Chinese town of Tongren -- Repkong in Tibetan -- to commemorate an 18-year-old former monk who had immolated himself Thursday afternoon. It was the second day of large protests in the town.
Tongren, home of a 600-year-old monastery, lies at the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai province, where the collision of Chinese culture has piqued Tibetans' fears of losing their identity. In 2010, there were major protests in the town as well about the reduction of Tibetan language education in the schools. There have been three self-immolations in the town this month alone, including that of a 23-year-old young mother who left behind a 5-year-old son.
Earlier this month, a U.N. human rights envoy, Navi Pillay, urged China to allow independent human rights monitors to visit Tibet. That suggestion was promptly rejected by the Chinese government.
"We welcome everybody to Tibet, but if people investigate issues like human rights, we don’t think that is appropriate," said Lobsang Gyaltsen, the vice chairman.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Exiled Tibetans hold a portrait of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, during a protest Thursday in Dharmsala, India, in solidarity with Tibetans who have self-immolated. Credit: Ashwini Bhatia / Associated Press.