(TibetanReview.net, Nov 9) — Queensland Liberal backbencher Michael Johnson of Australia has concluded a Nov 2-5 visit to Tibet by asking China to consider allowing the Dalai Lama to visit his homeland. “As a friend of China, I would say that some kind of reconciliation must take place between Beijing and the Dalai Lama,” The Melbourne Herald Sun Nov 8 quoted Johnson as saying. That may, however, be a wishful thinking, given China’s very forthright rejection of the terms on which the exile Tibetan leader is willing to return. Besides, two journalists who accompanied the pro-China lawmaker found Tibet to be in such a state of repression as to render any positive consideration of his suggestion by China very unlikely. They found the extent of hostility towards the Dalai Lama, and the exile Tibetan government, to be the most striking aspect of their meetings with Chinese officials.
The journalists accompanying Johnson found increased numbers of soldiers and police patrolling the streets of Lhasa, a fact admitted by TAR’s vice-governor Pema Tsewang who told them the government had “moderately adjusted” the military and police presence in recent days because of “separatist activities”.
But what the journalists witnessed was more than just moderately adjusted troop presence or activities. The report cited them as saying military personnel with machineguns were conducting routine patrols around Lhasa’s historic Barkhor district while snipers were also positioned on rooftops and stairwells, including around the city’s most holy site, the Jokhang Temple. It said The Courier-Mail journalist who accompanied Johnson also witnessed (on Nov 4) monks being bundled into a police van close to Lhasa’s historic Jokhang temple.
The Australian Nov 8 reported that the Chinese authorities had gone to extraordinary lengths to monitor local Tibetans, installing CCTV cameras on buildings and deploying plainclothes police as well as the more overt scrutiny of the large numbers of uniformed police and soldiers. It said that as night fell, hundreds of Chinese troops fanned out across Lhasa city, armed with riot shields and assault rifles. “They set up sentry posts on street corners and dispatch patrols in groups of six soldiers, three with shields and three with guns.”
Johnson, vice-chairman of the Australia-China Parliamentary Friendship group, visited Tibet with two journalists at the invitation of the Chinese Government, which urged them: “Tell Australians what you have heard and seen about the truth in Tibet.” They were given access to high-level Communist Party officials, parliamentarians and local governors in Lhasa, with the obvious view that the journalists should limit their coverage to their comments.
The Australian report said the official programme for the visitors included no meetings with senior Buddhists and no one whose views strayed from the official line. A request to visit Drapchi prison, where at least 202 people involved in the March protests were reported to remain incarcerated, was refused.
The journalists made up for the deficit in their access to news about the situation in Tibet by slipping out of their hotel at night. They found the local Tibetans reluctant to talk, fearing they might be seen or overheard by the authorities or reported on by spies and informers whose presence was reported to be ubiquitous. One monk who had the courage to speak to The Australian had said, “more and more Chinese, more and more soldiers” in Lhasa in recent weeks.
Official cooperation in enabling the visiting journalists to report truthfully was not forthcoming. For example, the newspaper said attempts to get an explanation on a group of monks seen on Nov 4 being placed in a police van and taken away were entirely unsuccessful.
The journalists found the Chinese officials in total denial mode when asked about the all too obviously negative aspects of the government policies and actions in Tibet. And due to their little understanding or acceptance that Tibetans may have different priorities, they could not understand why years of economic growth in Tibet had failed to quell Tibetan demands for greater autonomy or independence.
The reporters found Lhasa brimming with middle class prosperity. However, they found this class to be made up almost entirely of Chinese immigrants, while the local Tibetans, being primarily herdsmen and farmers, lacked the literacy skills and education to seize the opportunities created by China’s massive investment.
The reporters also found officials often contradicting each other on Tibet policy measures. For example, the head of religious affairs of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Kalsang, denied widely reported views in the West that monks were required to denounce the Dalai Lama as part of “patriotic education” programmes in monasteries. Yet, Wang Jinjun, vice-director-general of the State Council Information Office in Beijing conceded several days later that monks in Tibet were being given “legal information programs” in which they were told not to mix religion with politics.
The reporters found the most striking aspect of their meetings with Chinese officials to be the extent of their hostility towards the Dalai Lama. Wang equated granting greater autonomy to Tibet to reducing the region to “a backwater society which features theocratic rule” and to its feudal origins.