The Chinese security authorities have stepped up vigilance in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China to prevent a repeat of last year’s outbreak of violence coinciding with the Tibetan New Year and three sensitive anniversaries.
2. The Tibetan New Year’s Day called Losar, which fell on February 25, was observed in large parts of the Tibetan-inhabited areas as a day of mourning. Normally, the celebrations and religious functions in connection with the Losar continue for a fortnight. In response to appeals by Tibetan monks and youth in China as well as in the diaspora abroad, the entire fortnight is being observed as a period of mourning. The response to the call for mourning has been widespread, but there have been no major incidents of violence so far. The period of mourning has been marked by processions of monks to local Government offices to present petitions to the officials on the grievances of the Tibetans. Apart from one incident of attempted self-immolation by a 24-year-old Tibetan monk reported from the Sichuan province, no other major incident has been reported.
3. The Chinese officials have avoided any actions of a provocative nature. They have not prevented the processions so long as they were peaceful and did not refuse to accept the petitions. However, they prevented any pictures of His Holiness the Dalai Lama being carried. They have been visiting the monasteries after the processions are over in order to enquire about the leaders of the processions. In some instances, the leaders were taken to the police stations for questioning.
4. The Chinese have discouraged the local Han Chinese settlers in the Tibetan areas from organising counter-demonstrations against the pro-Dalai Lama monks and youth. It was such counter-demonstrations by the Han Chinese settlers in Lhasa, which led to widespread violence last year with attacks on shops and other property owned by the Hans. While the Chinese authorities have been organising State-sponsored Losar celebrations, they have refrained from forcing unwilling Tibetans to join them. The more sophisticated approach followed by the Chinese security auhorities this year as compared to the aggressive prevention techniques used by them last year has helped in preventing any violence so far.
5. However, the Chinese are keeping their fingers crossed as to what could happen on March 10, which is the 50th anniversary of the escape of the Dalai Lama to India, on March 14, which is the first anniversary of the outbreak of violence last year, and on March 28 on which the Chinese are planning to hold big celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the abolition of serfdom, which, according to them, marked the end of the rule of the Dalai Lama and the introduction of people’s democracy in the Tibetan areas. They are comparing the proclamation of 1959 ending serfdom to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in the US ending slavery. The Chinese apprehend that pro-Dalai Lama elements might try to indulge in acts of violence on March 28 too.
7. Learning lessons from the consequences of their ham-handed handling of the pro-Dalai Lama demonstrations of last year, the Chinese, while stepping up security precautions and temporarily suspending the issue of permits to journalists to visit the Tibetan areas, have avoided any over-demonisation of His Holiness. They have kept up their criticism of the Dalai Lama to ridiculing his ideas of a Greater Tibet and autonomy for Tibet. At the same time, they have refrained from projecting him and the members of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) as terrorists as they did last year. Because of the impending Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese were more nervous last year and tended to over-react. This year, instances of over-reaction have been absent so far. Though worried, they seek to give the impression of being more relaxed this year than they were last year.
8. While not ruling out isolated incidents of violence during March, they have expressed their confidence that there will be no repeat of the kind of violent incidents of a widespread nature seen last year. Reports received so far speak of indications of some unrest in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, but Tibet itself has been quiet. Even the kind of processions seen in different parts of Sichuan during Losar have not been seen in Tibet till now. The Maoist Government headed by Prime Minister Prachanda in Kathmandu has been co-operating with the Chinese in preventing Tibetan youth from Nepal and India from infiltrating into Tibet to instigate anti-Chinese demonstrations. It is learnt from reliable Nepalese sources that the Prachanda Government has allowed the Chinese intelligence to increase its presence in Nepal in order to keep a stricter surveillance on the local Tibetan community as well as Tibetans from India and the West visiting Nepal.
9. Simultaneously with stepping up vigilance in the Tibetan areas, the Chinese have also mounted a vigorous publicity and propaganda drive coinciding with the current session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) to highlight the progress made by the Tibetans since the end of the rule of the Dalai Lama. Tibetan members of the NPC as well as Tibetan Government and party officials attending the NPC have been holding daily press briefings on the situation in the Tibetan areas. During these briefings, they have been highlighting the damage suffered by the Tibetan economy as a result of the incidents of last year, in an apparent attempt to wean the people away from supporting His Holiness.
10.Lhasa Mayor Doje Cezhug told a media briefing in Beijing that the economy of Tibet enjoyed a fast growth in 2007 and early 2008,but the violent riots of last year denied the autonomous region a good chance of development. The local economy, mainly driven by tourism, was “severely hurt” by the March riots of last year, he said, and added that Lhasa received 1.35 million tourists in 2008, down half from the previous year, and the tourism income dropped by 58.66 percent to 1.17 billion yuan (about 172 million U.S. dollars). “We were also faced with other difficulties such as halt of factory production and investment outflow and shrink because of investors’ panic after the riots.” He said that the city had taken a series of measures to restore normal economic and social order, including reinforcing social public security and promoting tourism by tax cut and tax exemption policies. He accused the Dalai Lama’s followers of sabotaging the develoment of Tibet.
11. Interestingly, in all these briefings, the Tibetan officials supporting Beijing referred to only Tibet and refrained from any observations on the unrest in other Tibetan-inhabited areas outside Tibet. An impression was sought to be given that the trouble faced by the Chinese was mainly in Tibet because of the activities of the Tibetan youth and monks from the diaspora and that the Tibetans in other Chinese provinces outside Tibet, which the Dalai Lama claims as belonging to Tibet, refrained from supporting His Holiness. But the fact of the matter is that the pro-Dalai Lama demonstrations lasted longer in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan last year than in Tibet and this year, there have been more demonstrations in Sichuan than in Tibet.
12. The Chinese also released on March 2,2009, a White Paper on the progress made by Tibet since the end of the Dalai Lama’s rule. The Chinese have also undertaken a campaign to refute allegations emanating from the Tibetan diaspora abroad that many of those arrested in connection with the disturbances of last year have been sentenced to death or life imprisonment.Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Tibetan Government, told a media briefing in Beijing that only 76 of the 953 people detained for their involvement in last year’s Lhasa riots received prison sentences, and that the rest were all released. He also said that those who were convicted received sentences ranging from less than five years to life.Most of those jailed were found guilty of theft, robbery, arson, disrupting public services or attacking government agencies, Puncog said. Only a few were convicted of “endangering national security”. He did not specify whether anyone was sentenced to death. However, independent enquiries indicate that while a number of Uighur separatists in the Xinjiang autonomous region were sentenced to death, the death sentence has not been used against Tibetan dissenters.
13.Puncog said that the Tibetan Administration had applied for the deployment of more security forces. But he said that this was not because of last year’s riots but was based on the region’s real needs. “Tibet covers a large area and more people are traveling in and out of the region. The current deployment of police and border defense forces is simply not enough,” he said.Kang Jinzhong, the political commissar of the armed police force in Tibet, said that the deployment of armed police in Tibet was a normal practice, and claimed that there has been no “sudden increase” in their numbers in Tibet since last year’s riots. Puncog said that Tibet always welcomed foreign reporters, but they should work “in a just and objective way”.
(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )