Tibetan Monk Sets Himself Ablaze in Protest, Chinese Army Surrounds Monastery

Tsewang Norbu, a Buddhist Tibetan monk, died of self-immolation on Monday in southwestern China.

The Buddhist monk publically set himself ablaze in protest against Chinese government policies that keep the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, in exile.

Concerns are arising that the protest could spark ethnic tensions in southwest Sichuan, where Norbu became a martyr to his cause.

Norbu’s act was the second time within five months that western China has seen a monk martyr himself in a cry for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Norbu killed himself in Tawu, which is part of the Ganzi County in Sichuan. Ganzi is largely inhabited by the Tibetan people.

According to an emailed statement by the Free Tibet organization to Reuters, “Tsewang Norbu drank petrol, sprayed petrol on himself and then set himself on fire.”

The email also stated, “Today’s news exposes how desperate some Tibetan’s feel.”

The Free Tibet organization also believes that the Norbu’s protest was conducted in part, to protest against the government crackdown in the region following the March immolation by another monk in China's western territory.

Reports are now surfacing that the Chinese army is surrounding the monastery where Norbu prayed and authorities have cut access to the internet and phone lines in the surrounding areas where Norbu burned himself to death.

Chinese Vice President, Xi Jinping, visited southwestern China last month following the attacks in Xinjiang that involved ethnic Uyghurs and called for Tibetan monks to “make a clean break from separatist forces.”

China is home to a Tibetan population of about 5 million. Prior to China claiming ownership of Tibet, Tibetan's argue that Tibet was a free and separate nation with its own currency, leadership, culture, and legal system.

China believes that Tibet is an inalienable part of the country and is unwilling to listen to the Dalai Lama’s calls for greater Tibetan autonomy. The government regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist that has abetted violence.

In the past few years the Chinese government has implemented a policy of developing its modestly inhabited western frontier, which includes Tibet.

Part of that policy includes building infrastructure in the region and also includes a build-up of ethnic Han Chinese into the western regions of the country.

The policy has resulted in heightened ethnic tensions between China’s different ethnic groups that feel that Han Chinese are being treated differently by the government and find them a threat to their own separate culture and society.