The new Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party emerged today from behind closed doors in Beijing at a historic juncture for Tibet. In the week of the 18th Party Congress, November 8-14, a once in a decade transition of power, thousands of Tibetans took to the streets to peacefully protest China’s heavy-handed rule in Tibet. On the eve of the meeting and over the same week, nine Tibetans set fire to themselves in different areas of Tibet, bringing the confirmed cases of self-immolations in Tibet to 72 since February 2009, and there are emerging reports of more Tibetan self-immolations today. It has been reported that nearly every Tibetan self-immolator has called for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

The self-immolations and widespread resistance by Tibetans are a dramatic and visible counter to the claims of the Chinese Communist Party to be improving Tibetans’ lives, and they are a direct challenge to the Party’s legitimacy in Tibet. While the Chinese government has sought to blame the Dalai Lama and ‘outside forces’ for the self-immolations, it is acknowledged by the international community as well as a number of scholars and netizens in China that these dramatic developments in Tibet reflect a significant failure in policy that must be addressed.

China’s new power structure and its top leader Xi Jinping – whose father was close to the Tenth Panchen Lama and knew the Dalai Lama – has been announced at a time when a fundamentally new approach is warranted in Tibet.

Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The unfolding situation in Tibet indicates that Tibetans are moving their struggle onto a different tragectory than has been imagined in Beijing. It is time for the new Chinese leadership to take stock of the real consequences of China’s failures in Tibet. We are looking for the new Chinese leadership to urgently reduce the dominance of the security apparatus in Tibet, a factor that has intensified tensions and dangers, increasing the risk of more self-immolations, and to appropriately acknowledge the importance of the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan people, including his critical role in Tibet’s future.”