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Can China Eradicate Faith of Tibetans?

The Chinese Communist Party recently (Feb. 06) issued a public directive that all government departments must unstintingly carry out all measures to quell any further (Tibetan) unrest. It made clear that failure to maintain stability could result in dismissal from jobs and even criminal prosecution of the officials concerned.

The Chinese authorities have always pressed on the administrative and security officials to ensure peace and stability. But never before has a threat like criminal prosecution been made for failure to do so. This clearly suggests very serious concern among the Chinese authorities and even distrust of Tibetan officials.

The directive was issued ahead of the Tibetan New Year (Feb. 22) and the “March 10” anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese. March 2008 also witnessed huge Tibetan unrest in Lhasa that spread to the neighbouring Tibetan inhabited areas of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

Separately, 20 thousand Han Chinese were being deployed in Tibetan villages to teach them “love for the motherland”. Described by some as a return of Maoist reeducation campaigns, a newly launched campaign demands every Tibetan monastery, school, community centre and household to display photographs of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao (the leaders of four generations of the Party leadership) copies of the party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, and the official Tibet Daily, and a Chinese national flag. The campaign has been named the “Nine Must-Haves”. According to reports more than one million photographs of core leaders and one million Chinese national flags were dispatched to Tibetan regions in January. Security and police personnel tried to force the Tibetans to celebrate the Chinese New Year this year, even bribing them with money. If a sense of desperation is writ large on China’s Tibet policy, then it is of their own doing. The approach towards reconciliation has turned out to be of bitter estrangement. Following the 2008 Lhasa riots, the Tibetan protests have spread to the Tibetan areas of Serthar (Seda) Draggo (Luhuo), Dzamthang (Rangtan), Ngawa (Aba) and Garze (Ganzi) Tibetan prefectures of Sichuan province, and they are moving to Qinghai province. Since March 2011, at least 20 monks, nuns and even lay people have attempted self-immolation, and most of them have died. Recently, firing by police personnel on Tibetan protest gatherings have killed several people, and the size of these gatherings are growing. The demonstrators including the self-immolaters are demanding independence of Tibet and return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. It has been noticed that the more the Chinese pressure to “reeducate” the Tibetans, the stronger is the opposition.

There are several issues that require further investigations, but a few are critical. The most important may be the Dalai Lama’s decision to give up his political responsibilities and devote himself to only religious activities. If the Chinese authorities wanted this Holy Monk to move out of the scene they have got it now. They do not have the Dalai Lama to talk with, and they do not want to talk with the new Tibetan government in exile lest it given them legitimacy. This is a serious dilemma for China.

Although the Tibetan diaspora abroad reluctantly accepted the Dalai Lama’s withdrawal from political life, the Tibetans inside China perceive that Chinese pressure forced the Dalai Lama to withdraw. This is not acceptable to them. It may be seen that the major protests almost coincided with the Dalai Lama’s resignation.

Since the Lhasa riots the Chinese have imposed even more strict restrictions on the Tibetans. It is true that the Chinese central government has invested substantially for Tibet’s, development, and this can be seen on the ground. The fruits of development have mainly gone to Han Chinese migrants. This fact has been pointed out by some Chinese NGOs, but the government is unwilling to accept this realistic advice.

A variety of changes and innovation introduced in Tibet, especially education, jobs and Han migration has seriously impacted Tibetan culture, language and way of life. The Tibetans recognized this as forceful sinicization of Tibet by Beijing. This is strongly resented as within this the Tibetans see a sinister plan to suffocate all that is Tibetan. A fearsome perception that can only create fatalism or obdurate opposition.

The Chinese authorities have tried everything including misconstruing Tibetan religion to subdue the protests and self-immolation. Nothing seems to be working.

Out of 65 minorities in China, most have died quietly because they were small in size and pushed into a corner. Inter-marriage with Han Chinese have further helped Beijing in this endeavour. There is a serious question which has not been asked in depth. The one-child policy is not applicable to the minorities. Yet, why has the minority population not increased in arithmetic progression but rather the Hans are overwhelming them? Has the coercive policies adversely affected the fertility rate of the minorities?

Beijing’s politics and actions towards the Tibetans defy logic. It appears to be a potpourri of Marxism-Leninism, Han chauvinism, Han nationalism, and a nightmare of disintegration of China. By its own action China has created a situation where it has become the devil against itself.

Political education is one thing. But even this did not work well for Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four. Even now, the state and the party have failed to change the minds of dissidents jailed for eight to eleven years.

For the Tibetans the Dalai Lama is their soul and Tibet their paradise. As long as the Dalai Lama was in charge of political affairs he had a say over the actions of his people. Today, Tibetans inside China believe they have no option other than peaceful resistance. They see themselves going down the abyss otherwise. Under these conditions the Tibetans will naturally attract sympathy and empathy from the international community. China has succeeded in limiting foreign pressure on this issue and human rights issues so far because of the various political and strategic shifts during the cold war. After that China’s economic benefit offer has given them power to talk down to the Western powers like the US, UK, France and Germany. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has been the biggest culprit in kowtowing to Beijing on the Tibetan issue. India has kept its hands off, but the pressure of the Dalai Lama in India and the location of the unrecognized Tibetan Government in-exile in Dharamsala (India) is likely to be taken up by the Chinese sooner or later.

India is the centre of Buddhism and will remain so. There is an effort to rejuvenate Buddhism and it will be centered in India. China is trying to counter that by its efforts to take control of Lumbini in Nepal. The Indian government will have to prepare a response when Beijing demands New Delhi dismantle the Dharamsala seat of Tibetan exile government even though India does not recognize it.

Basically, Beijing is on a wrong trajectory against the Tibetans. A body can be killed but not the soul. This is a strong belief in Tibetan Buddhism. And if Beijing pursues a hard line both internally and externally it will have to suffer the consequences. And this will create another unstable situation along the India-Tibet border which includes Nepal. The US and the West will not be far behind either. All parties concerned directly or indirectly have to work out this problem.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email:

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