The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:
The suicide attempts of five Chinese in Tiananmen Square are a direct response to Beijing's brutal repression of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement over the last 18 months. The more Beijing tightens the screw, the greater resistance it will encounter. China's only choice, if it wants to prevent further escalation and gain acceptance by the international community, is to give its people greater freedom.
In Tuesday's protest, on the eve of the lunar year, five people said to be sect members set themselves on fire; one of them died. It marked a dramatic shift in Falun Gong's largely peaceful campaign of civil disobedience and comes at a time when China is trying to head off condemnation by the U.N. Human Rights Commission and burnish its image abroad in the hope of enhancing its bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The campaign of repression against Falun Gong is Beijing's way of trying to maintain unity and stability in the face of economic transformation. The movement combines Buddhism and Taoism with other religious elements. But the Communist rulers see the movement as an "evil cult" and have jailed thousands of its practitioners.
Allegations of torture and even murder of Falun Gong members in police custody have rightfully led to worldwide denunciation of Beijing. For a number of years, the United States has led the push in the United Nations for a formal condemnation of China's tactics, but Washington has not won enough votes in support. The Bush administration should try again when the Human Rights Commission meets in March.
The self-burning in Tiananmen Square was the most dramatic among hundreds of protests that members of Falun Gong have staged in recent months. Clearly, China's government cannot crush the movement by force. Rather it should ease its pressure, lift the ban and deal with the sect in a manner that eases tensions.