China, a prisoner of its Tibet policy

Starting in Lhasa on March 10, 2008 in protests spread throughout Tibet. The photos shows the protest in Labrang, Amdo of March 15, 2008, Tibetan monks took to the streets to protest against oppression.
Starting in Lhasa on March 10, 2008 in protests spread throughout Tibet. The photos shows the protest in Labrang, Amdo of March 15, 2008,Tibetan monks took to the streets to protest against oppression.

By Pema Thinley, Mar 31’08

China did its best to conceal its violent suppression of the monk-led demonstrations in Lhasa which provoked riots across the Tibetan plateau. It remains steadfast in its determination to use massive force and repression to enforce peace. What is more, it blames the Dalai Lama for the turbulent events that actually resulted from its failed policies of repression, provocation, marginalization and forced integration against the Tibetans.

In a hard hitting commentary in the party mouthpiece People’s Daily on Mar 22, China vowed to “resolutely crush” the “Tibet independence forces”. Other official comments and media commentaries spoke of such reprisals as “people’s war” and “tit-for-tat” actions against the protesters. “We are currently in an intensely bloody and fiery struggle with the Dalai Lama clique, a life or death struggle with the enemy,” the AFP Mar 19 quoted party secretary Zhang Qingli of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as saying in an editorial in the Tibet Daily on Mar 19.

Premier Wen Jiabao claimed on Mar 18 that he had ample fact and plenty of evidence to prove that the violent incidents across the Tibetan plateau since Mar 10 were “organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited” by the Dalai clique. The consistent claims made by the Dalai clique that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue are “nothing but lies”, Xinhua Mar 18 quoted him as contending.

This line continues to be repeated by Chinese officials both in Beijing and across Tibet as well as in a series of vitriolic media commentaries directed against the exile Tibetan leader. The purpose behind the upsurge of protests, they say, is to bring about Tibet’s independence and to undermine the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. Of course, they also express confidence that the alleged efforts are doomed to fail.

Fact and evidence were, however, least of the Chinese concerns. Beijing seems to be only interested in attacking in every vicious manner and from every possible angle the Dalai Lama just for the sake of it. It roped in its very own Tibetologists and Tibetan religious and political leaders with high sounding but entirely powerless titles and credentials to condemn him. While TAR’s current government Chairman Jampa Phuntsok and recently retired NPC vice-chairman Ragdi were known for their acerbic tongues against the Dalai Lama, the bringing in of even 98-year-old Ngapo Ngawang Jigme and the generally reticent Phagpalha Geleg Namgyal, besides several “top living Buddhas”, clearly betray the virulence of a high level pressure on the issue.

All protestations by the Dalai Lama that he is totally committed to non-violence, peaceful negotiation and a meaningful autonomy, not independence, for Tibet remains futile. It is maddened to no end by the Dalai Lama’s constant voicing of fears that China’s current Tibet policy would lead to Tibet’s “cultural genocide” and his reference its “rule of terror”. Beijing even accused him of plotting “terror” in Tibet and colluding with Uighur separatists in Xinjiang, reported the Guardian (UK) Mar 24, citing a Xinhua report Mar 23.

The Chinese allegations, including its questioning of his commitment to non-violence, prompted the Dalai Lama to seek an independent international investigation to determine the truth. He even threatened, repeatedly, to resign, presumably from his political leadership, should the violence in Tibet “spiral out of control”.

There seems to be a sort of competition among Chinese leaders when it comes to hurling abuses at the Dalai Lama. The Financial times (UK) Mar 16 cited a Xinhua dispatch as describing the Tibetan leader as a “master terror maker” who had willed his supporters in Lhasa to stage violent demonstrations. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called him a “chief representative” for the serf system and a person engaged in the activities of splitting China and destroying national unity, according to a report Mar 23. And the TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli called the exile Tibetan leader “a wolf wrapped in a monk’s robe, a monster with human face and animal’s heart,” in the Tibet Daily article.

China’s massively violent crackdown in Tibet attracted criticisms, even condemnation, protests, and appeals for a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue from across the world. Those who talked directly to the top Chinese leadership by phone over the issue included US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. But China reacted mostly by accusing them all of being either misled by the exile Tibetan leader or biased. “Human rights police like Pelosi are habitually bad tempered and ungenerous when it comes to China,” Xinhua Mar 23 responded to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the US congress’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala on Mar 21 and her comment that “The situation in Tibet is a challenge to the conscience of the world”.

Likewise, when asked by US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice to consider a new policy to address the Tibet issue and to start talks with the Dalai Lama, reflecting a view still being continuously expressed by so many world leaders, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang bluntly urged the international community to see the Dalai Lama’s “true face” and offer no support for his secessionist activities, reported the official China’s Daily online Mar 26.

But support for a negotiated settlement of the Tibet issue and criticisms of China current policy show no signs of abating. On Mar 20, a group of 26 Nobel Laureates said in a statement, released by the Elie Wiesel Foundation, that they “deplore and condemn the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on Tibetan protesters,” and urged Beijing to exercise restraint. They protested the “unwarranted campaign waged by the Chinese government against our fellow Nobel Laureate, his holiness the Dalai Lama”. Chinese dissidents, themselves victims of the regime in Beijing, called for an end to the propaganda war and the beginning of talks to resolve the issue peacefully.

China issued sharp criticisms of the western media, calling their coverage of the events in Tibet biased while keeping the region totally out of bound for them and exercising stringent censorship on media coverage there. “ was blocked after the riots began, and CNN and BBC broadcasts regularly go black after mention of riots in Tibet,” reported The New York Times Mar 25. On Mar 26, it brought to Lhasa a strictly controlled group of 26 western journalists picked by the Foreign Ministry for a three-day tour, with hopes to control who says what about the situation there, with a significant focus on economic effects of the disturbance.

Still, the visit turned out to be a propaganda own goal for the Chinese when on Mar 27 the AP reported that monks at Jokhang burst in on a briefing on inter-ethnic harmony by the temple’s administrative head in an astonishing act of defiance and said, “They are tricking you. Don’t believe them. They are lying to you.” It quoted Callum MacLeod of USA Today as saying, “The monks hijacked the briefing. They were desperate to get their story out – that they have no freedom, that 120 of them haven’t been allowed to leave their dormitories since March 14.” The monks told the journalists that troops were guarding the temple and were removed the night before the reporters’ visit.

On the other hand, China rejected repeated requests from Australia to allow diplomats to visit Tibet, noted the Sydney Morning Herald, Mar 27, despite mounting calls for transparency about what is actually going on in Tibet from many countries. This was despite the fact that China’s top leader repeatedly stressed, during the National People’s Congress meeting around in the first half of Mar 2008, that Westerners visit Tibet to see the actual situation there, rather than listening to its critics.

Although an intense campaign by Tibetans and supporters of the Tibet campaign across the world continues, calling for the boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games over China’s Tibet policy, the Dalai Lama remains steadfast in very public support for the event going ahead. The first serious sign of trouble for the Chinese has already emerged with Narisa Chakrabongse, chairperson of Thailand’s Green World Foundation, pulling out as a torchbearer for the Olympic Games during its April crossing of the country. “I want to send a strong message to China that its actions are not accepted by the world community and China should urgently review its policy toward Tibet,” Independent Online (South Africa) Mar 24 quoted Narisa as saying in a statement released over the weekend.

Besides, a mini-boycott idea is already gaining serious momentum with the French daily Le Figaro Mar 25 citing junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, as saying she might boycott the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games if the crisis caused by Tibetan anti-Chinese protests worsens. AP Mar 25, likewise, cited French President Nicolas Sarkozy as saying he could not rule out the possibility of an opening ceremony boycott. “Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet,” he was quoted as saying. EU Parliament President too said an Olympic boycott must be considered. “Beijing must decide. It must negotiate with the Dalai Lama immediately,” the mass circulation German newspaper Bild Mar 23 quoted Hans-Gert Poettering as saying. And as we go to the press, Belgium too was veering towards an opening ceremony boycott.

The Olympic pressure is only part of the big Tibet trouble pin-pricking the Chinese leadership with rising pain. On Mar 21, Xinhua cited Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao as bemoaning the fact that since March 10, 17 of Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States, Canada, India, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia had undergone violent attacks from overseas “Tibet independence” elements. The embassy protests were the most widespread and virulent in the history of exile Tibetan protests, with protesters breaking into embassy compounds and scaling rooftops, often removing Chinese flags and replacing them with Tibetan flags.

China also expressed serious concern over an exile Tibetan campaign to march from Dharamsala to Tibet, bullying Nepal to accept deployment of its own troops on its side of the border with Tibet.

Finally, the repression in Tibet became a significant issue in Taiwan’s Mar 2008 presidential election, with both the KMT and DPP candidates vowing never to “Tibetise” the de facto island country by getting too close to China. While China wants Taiwan to accept its sovereignty in a sort of political reunion, the former is concerned that the latter’s treatment of Tibet hardly makes the proposition viable. The KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou, all along the overwhelmingly favoured candidate, eventually won the election, but not before his commanding lead narrowed after Tibet’s eruption. And aspects of his policies for establishing closer economic links with China are considered to remain hostage to China’s Tibet policy.


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