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Civil Disobedience Movement By Tibetans Continues

The civil disobedience movement launched by the Tibetans living in the Kardze area of the Sichuan province continues. Local Tibetan farmers have been refusing to cultivate their land in protest against the alleged Chinese suppression of the Tibetans. It has been reported by reliable sources that the Chinese authorities have warned the protesting farmers that if they do not resume the farming by April 11,2009, their land will be confiscated by the State. Despite this warning, they continue to be defiant.

2. The Qinghai province, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was born, and the Kardze area of the Sichuan province, which is the homeland of the Khampas, continue to be affected by peaceful protests by Tibetan monks and nuns and Tibetan students. Over 40 instances of peaceful protests have been reported from these areas since March 10.The Chinese security authorities have been following the same tactics in dealing with the protests—- allow them to take place and arrest those involved after they have returned to their homes or monasteries.

3. March 28, which was observed by the Chinese as the “Emancipation of the Serfs Day” to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the rule of His Holiness, passed off peacefully without any violent incident reported from the Tibetan-inhabited areas. Since the emancipation of the serfs by Beijing has been a popular measure with a large number of Tibetans whose parents and ancestors had served as serfs, the call for a protest by the Tibetans on that day did not receive much response from the local people.

4. While the protest movement by the supporters of His Holiness continues, it has failed to pick up momentum. A problem faced by the supporters of the Dalai Lama arises from the fact that the Tibetan-inhabited areas have benefited from economic development. How to maintain and increase the protest movement against the Chinese without jeopardising the fruits of the economic development? This is a major question confronting the anti-Chinese dissenters in the Tibetan areas.

5. Apart from the civil disobedience movement by the farmers of the Kardze area, another matter of concern to the Chinese arises from the recent attacks on two soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by suspected Tibetans, who have not yet been identified and arrested.On March 19,2009, an unidentified person wearing a mask shot dead an 18-year-old PLA soldier in Chongqing and ran away with his sub-machinegun. On March 26, another soldier from the same PLA battalion was repeatedly stabbed in the residential area of the PLA unit at Leshan in the Sichuan province by an unidentified person, who managed to run away. It is not known whether the soldier survived his injuries. The Chinese are treating both the incidents as possible terrorist attacks.

6. The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) itself remained free of incidents during March when three important and emotional (to the Tibetans) anniversaries were observed. Relieved by the absence of any violent incident in the TAR, the Chinese authorities in the TAR have announced that group tourism to the TAR will again be allowed from April 5. The Chinese authorities in Beijing have also taken a group of foreign journalists on a conducted tour of the TAR. The anti-Dalai Lama rhetoric has come down since the end of March. Significantly, “The Hindu” of Chennai, which generally disseminates only the Chinese version of the events in the TAR and censors foreign news agency reports which reflect negatively on China, has prominently carried a detailed interview with His Holiness in its issue of April 1,2009.

7. This prominence to the views of His Holiness has come at a time when the Chinese themselves through academics and others have undertaken an exercise to assess the impact of the success of their diplomatic campaign against His Holiness on his thinking regarding his own future and that of the Tibetan people. They have been gratified by the refusal of the South African Government to issue a visa to His Holiness to enable him to attend a peace conference in South Africa and by the public statement of President Nikolas Sarkozy of France that Tibet is a part of China after a meeting with President Hu Jintao in the margins of the G-20 summit in London.

8. The Chinese, whose confidence in Tibet was rudely shaken by the violent incidents of March-Aprl,2008, have regained their confidence after the success of their security agencies in preventing any repetition in March,2009, and after the muted international reaction to the curbs imposed by them to achieve this. They are now convinced that the international community as a whole—barring sections of non-governmental opinion, particularly in the US and West Europe—- has accepted the irreversibility of the ground reality of Tibet as an integral part of China. They also show fresh confidence that they would be able to deal with the continuing protests in the Qinghai province and in the Kardze area of the Sichuan province.

9. They are prepared to show patience and wait out for the death of His Holiness and thereafter nominate their own Dalai Lama. What they are worried is that His Holiness might try to pre-empt this by changing the traditional process by which a successor to His Holiness is chosen. One thing is certain—- if and when His Holiness dies, his successor—however chosen and by whom—- may not enjoy the same reverence and loyalty from the Tibetans in China as His Holiness. The Chinese are counting on this possibility for ultimately wearing out the Tibetan resistance.

10. At present, the Chinese are not making an issue of the activities of His Holiness from his exile in India. They understand the love and reverence for His Holiness from the Indian people. If and when His Holiness dies, the Chinese attitude to the activities of the Dalai Lama’s followers from Indian territory may harden. This could become a new friction point in the relations between the two countries. It is important for the Government of India to identify the various possible scenarios with regard to Tibet during the next 10 years and examine its options.

( 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: )

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