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Tibet: What can other countries do?

Q & A Part two: Robert Barnett, Columbia Univ. Modern Tibetan Studies director.
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A lone protester is dragged away by Indian police moments after he tried to set himself on fire in front of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi on Nov. 4, 2011. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 11 monks and nuns have set themselves on fire this year in condemnation of China's repressive policies in their homeland.

Is it an effective form of protest? Will China change its policies?

Not likely, without clear and consistent pressure on the international stage, argues Professor Robert Barnett, director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University.

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Self-immolations spread from Tibet to the diaspora

NEW DELHI — There's a grim reason for the mounting tide of self-immolations in the homeland they may never see. Now, perhaps more than ever before, China is winning the battle for Tibet.

What should the Dalai Lama do?

Q & A with Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia Univ.
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Tibet's exiled spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama at an open public talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Self-immolations are in the news. Besides reports today of a Chinese man who set himself on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, China is also facing a wave of self-immolations in eastern Tibet. 

At least 11 monks and nuns have set themselves on fire this year in protest of China's grip on their homeland. Last week, the Dalai came forward and blamed China for the spate of tragic acts, saying its approach in Tibet amounts to "cultural genocide." 

For some, it was a welcome message from a figure who, inevitably, is at the center of any news out of Tibet. For others, it began the well-worn cycle that starts with the Dalai Lama condemning China, moves to China condemning the Dalai Lama, and ends without much changed.

"It's hard to see new ways to describe the situation. But we have to keep on trying to describe it," said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies program at Columbia University.

GlobalPost spoke with Barnett about the likelihood that China will make some changes, what the Dalai Lama can really do, and why no one is an idle commentator on this issue.

GlobalPost: The majority of Tibetans who have self-immolated this year have died. It's clear these deaths are the result of more than a decade of repressive policies in Tibet. What is a helpful frame to make sense of this in the West?

Professor Robbie Barnett: We would have to imagine a government here treating universities as, let's say, mafia centers or criminal cults that have to be repeatedly invaded by police. That's roughly how the major Tibetan monasteries are being viewed now in China.

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Tibet is burning

BIHAR — During my detention by Chinese authorities, I was not mistreated, only exhausted. That does not compare to the intimidation and violence that Tibetans endure daily.

More bad news for Tibetan monks

China has sentenced a Tibetan monk to 11 years in jail for hiding his fellow monk who had self-immolated.
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Tibetan monk delegates arrive at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2009. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, news of a monk self-immolating in southwestern China sent ripples of terror through the Tibetan Buddhist community.

Not only did the act of Tsewang Norbu, known as Norko, burning himself alive bring onlookers to a halt, and force them to register the oppression under which Tibetans live in China.

But it also forced people to say, "Again?"

Norko was the second monk to light himself on fire and die from subsequent injuries in the last six months.

And today, it is that first monk, Rigzin Phuntsog, who self-immolated in China's Sichuan province on March 16, who is again making headlines months after his death.

A Chinese court has sentenced a monk called Drongdru to 11 years in jail for “intentional homicide” for hiding his fellow monk and preventing him from getting treatment after he set himself on fire, state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.

According to Reuters:

Drongdru ... pled guilty to the murder charge and said he felt very regretful over the hiding and prevention of emergency treatment and asked for leniency. Drongdru said at the court room that he would not appeal against the verdict,” Xinhua said.

According to reports, at least three monks have self-immolated in China since 2009.

Two other monks will stand trial on Tuesday charged with “plotting, instigating and assisting” in Rigzin Phuntsog's self-immolation.

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Thailand's elite bomb squad: keeping up with the insurgents

South and central Thailand — Only those physically and mentally fit enough to keep up with the insurgency's shifting tactics make it onto the force in Thailand's deep south, where there are about 25 bombings a month. 

Dalai Lama doesn't get the Dalai Lama joke

Leave it to the Aussies to finally stump His Holiness.
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Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, gestures while speaking at Parliament House in Canberra on June 14, 2011. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

Have you ever wondered what you would say to the Dalai Lama, if you ever got the chance to meet him?

One Australian newscaster clearly has not.

On his recent trip Down Under, the Dalai Lama appeared on an Australian news program. The newscaster decided he would, after all, share that one clever Dalai Lama joke

Suffice it to say the Tibetan spiritual leader doesn't get the joke, though still manages to have the last laugh.

One line that did get His Holiness to giggle was when he confused the prime minister's gender, referring to Julia Gillard as a man.

"Oh, her," he said with a laugh, after one of his aids corrected him.

Gillard refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, but said it was unrelated to his gaffe.

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Dalai Lama backs bin Laden's killing?

In a Tuesday appearance, the Tibetan Buddhist leader said "forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened."
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The Dalai Lama in Tokyo on April 29, 2011. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

To be fair, it wasn't like His Holiness came out and said he wanted bin Laden dead.

But for the man who serves as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists — you know, the ones with reverence for all living things — to even suggest that the killing of Osama bin Laden was justified is worth noting.

And according to the Los Angeles Times, at least, that's exactly what he did.

After speaking at the University of California to a crowd of thousands, the Dalai Lama was asked about the Sunday raid on Osama.

In his answer, the Dalai Lama said that as a human being the world's most wanted man may have deserved forgivenes.

But then he added: "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

One reading of this statement certainly suggests that the Dalai Lama was on board with the Sunday raid in which Al Qaeda's No. 1 was shot twice, once through the eye.

But, even if he did suggest as much, is that in conflict with Buddhism?

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