|Potala Palace, the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until he fled in 1959|
In the last several years his administration cracked down hard on Tibetans, who revere the Dalai Lama. There were periodic campaigns where the authorities would search monasteries and private homes, and those caught with the Dalai Lama's image were punished severely.
That on top of other repressive measures, like the mass influx of Han Chinese, the insistence on economic development such as the high-speed train, and the Tibetan government in exile having practically no political leverage with Beijing, resulted in the 120 self-immolations the media has counted so far since February 27, 2009.
So we are now cautiously pleased to hear the Chinese government has loosened restrictions in two provinces, allowing Tibetan monks to openly revere the Dalai Lama. The authorities in Sichuan province announced people can display pictures of the religious leader and even ordered officials not to criticize him, according to Radio Free America reports.
Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York says that while banning photographs of the Dalai Lama was not a national-level policy outside of Tibet, the reversing of the policy attacking him is significant.
Although the Dalai Lama, 77, stepped down as political leader in 2001, Tibetans still consider him a religious leader. And we hope this relaxing of restrictions is a sign Beijing, now under Xi Jinping, is willing to talk.
For decades, the Han Chinese have not respected Tibetans for who they are and assumed that cracking down harder would finally result in obedience. But it was the self-immolations that has shocked the regime that cannot understand devotion to a higher being other than the Party.
So we hope that even though Xi doesn't seem to be doing much different as president except for his extensive campaign on cracking down on corruption, perhaps he will make his mark in coming to some ease in tensions with Tibet.