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Fresh Protests in Tibetan Areas of China

Unless the Chinese authorities have modified the route of the Olympic torch, which is being taken across China, it should be in the Tibetan inhabited areas of China later this week. According to the original programme, it is to reach Lhasa around June 19,2008.

2. As a mark of respect to the memory of the nearly 70,000 people who were killed in the huge earthquake in the Sichuan province on May 12,2008, the passage of the torch has been marked by solemnity to underline the unity of China without any gaiety.

3. There has been a realisation by the international community that because of the huge tragedy caused by the quake, it would be inappropriate for the Tibetans to organise another flare-up similar to what had taken place in the Tibetan-inhabited areas in March,2008. The Dalai Lama’s recent visits to Germany and the UK after the March uprising and his current visit to Australia have been marked by a downgrading of the importance accorded to his visit by the host governments.

4. In Germany, no meeting with any important leader of the Government was organised. In the UK, he did meet Prime Minister Mr.Gordon Brown, but in the house of the Archbishop of Canterbury and not in the Prime Minister’s office in No. 10, Downing Street. Mr.Brown met him in his capacity as an important Buddhist leader to discuss the human rights of the Buddhists in Tibet and not as an important political leader of Tibet to discuss the future of Tibet. Mr.Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, has been on a visit to Japan and, in his absence, His Holiness reportedly met his No.2 in the Cabinet.

5. Through well-organised public protests all over China against the disturbances by Tibetans and their supporters during the passage of the Olympic torch though London,Paris and San Francisco and also in other countries such as Australia and Japan, and calls for the boycott of Western—particularly French —goods, Bejing was able to subtly convey to the West that it is likely to be economically hurt if the Beijing Olympics were sought to be exploited for humiliating China.

6.Western corporate houses, which have invested heavily in China and in the Olympics too as sponsors, mounted pressure on their Governments to cool it and refrain from humiliating China. The French climb-down after the largely-attended demonstrations against the Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, was particularly striking. The French leaders are no longer calling for a boycott of the Games. They have even admitted that the conditions imposed by Beijing for a resumption of the dialogue with the Dalai Lama on the future of Tibet are reasonable.

7. The flare-up in the Tibetan areas came at a time when US exports to China have started going up and China has emerged as the third largest destination for American exports after Canada and Mexico. This week, a bi-annual Sino-US conference is being held in the US on strengthening the strategic economic partnership with China. At a time, when India has been focussing on strengthening its strategic political and military relationship with the US, China has been concentrating on strengthening its strategic economic relationship with the US and the economic inter-dependence between the two countries. This idea finds much support in the community of the US corporate houses.

8. By using its economic muscle skillfully, Beijing has succeeded in having the human rights campaign on the eve of the Olympics toned down. The support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans has not been as vociferous as it was before March. The US-funded Radio Free Asia, which had stepped up its broadcasts in the Tibetan and Uighur languages after March, has since toned them down—particularly after the quake. The campaign against China on the Darfur issue is also on a low key now.

9. The Dalai Lama himself seems to understand that any major violent uprising in the Tibetan-inhabited areas during the passage of the Olympic Torch could prove counter-productive. He has reportedly urged his supporters to avoid any violent protests.

10. As a sop to His Holiness, the Chinese have kept open the possibility of another round of talks with the representatives of His Holiness in July if there are no disturbances during the passage of the torch. They have also toned down their campaign of demonisation of His Holiness.

11. At the same time, the preoccupation of the Chinese Army with quake relief in the Sichuan Province has not come in the way of its drive to identify, arrest and jail all those who are suspected to be sympathisers of the Dalai Lama. While the rhetoric has been toned down, the action against Tibetans suspected of supporting the Dalai Lama continues as vigorously as before. Sixteen Tibetan monks have been arrested and prosecuted on charges of attempting to cause explosions in March in an apparent attempt to project them as terrorists.

12. Such actions are once again showing signs of added anger against Beijing. After a near lull of about two months, reports of fresh incidents have again started coming in. In the latest incidents, it is Tibetan women and nuns who have been in the forefront. Five Tibetan women staged a public protest in the Ganzi area of the Sichuan province on June 11,2008. They were arrested and allegedly beaten up. This led to a protest march by about 300 nuns on June 14,2008. The situation in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China is again becoming sensitive.

(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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