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Tibet: Two Years After the Uprising of 2008

The Chinese are less tense and more relaxed as Tibet and Tibetans observe the second anniversary of the uprising of March 10,2008, which started in Lhasa and spread across the Tibetan areas. They have made many preventive arrests in Tibet to prevent anything untoward happening, but the high tension, which one witnessed last year, is not there.

2.The Chinese authorities continue to be more nervous about the situation in Muslim-majority Xinjiang than in Buddhist-majority Tibet. Despite the reported death last month of Abdul Haq al-Turkistani, the Amir of the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET), in a missile strike by a Drone (pilotless plane) of the US in North Waziristan of Pakistan, the Chinese officials in charge of internal security in Xinjiang are worried over the situation in the Autonomous Region and are taking no chances. If the death of Abdul Haq is confirmed, it is not clear who would succeed him. So little is known about the organisational structure of the IMET that it is difficult to assess what would happen to the IMET after him.

3. There has been a greater sophistication in Beijing in the handling of the Tibetan issue. One no longer sees the kind of demonisation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which one used to see before March,2009. The Chinese reacted with anger to the meeting of President Barack Obama with His Holiness in the White House last month, but refrained from talk of any retaliatory action against the US.

4. The Chinese authorities held a Tibet strategy session at Beijing from January 18 to 20, 2010. Since the People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet in 1949-50, Chinese leaders are reported to have held five such strategy sessions under the name the Tibet Work Forum. The latest session called the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was reported to have been attended by about 300 Party, Government and military leaders playing a role in policy-making on Tibet.

5.There were three significant outcomes of the Forum:

While continuing to reject the Dalai Lama’s idea of an integration of all the Tibetan areas of Tibet,Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, they are now making a distinction between the problems of governance in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the problems of development of the Tibetan minority living in these provinces. There is an attempt to approach the development, religious and cultural problems of the Tibetans in a comprehensive manner, wherever they might be living. While continuing to claim that Tibet has developed considerably under Chinese rule, there is now an admission that there is a wide gap between the urban and rural areas. The development in Tibet has till now been focused largely on infrastructure projects. The beneficiaries of infrastructure-centric development were the people in the urban areas. The rural people benefited mush less. There is now an admission of the need to develop further the rural areas in order to improve the quality of life of the people. The Work Forum led to a decision to resume the dialogue with the representatives of His Holiness after a gap of 14 months. The talks, which were held in the last week of January, 2010, could not break the deadlock. Both sides stuck to their respective position. While the representatives of His Holiness maintained that the purpose of the dialogue was to discuss the future of Tibet and the Tibetans in the context of His Holiness’ demand for greater autonomy and for the integration of all Tibetan-inhabited areas in a single province, the Chinese made it clear that the purpose was to discuss the future of His Holiness and not of Tibet and the Tibetans. However, despite the deadlock, both sides have kept open the possibility of more meetings. 6. The opportunity provided by the current session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese Parliament, at Beijing has been utilised by the Chinese leaders to make it clear in a media briefing held on March 7,2010, in the margins of the session that the Chinese Government will have the final say regarding succession to His Holiness.Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan who was appointed Governor of the Tibet autonomous regional government in January, 2010, told the media briefing as follows:”The reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism should follow strict historical conventions and religious rituals. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas … It is unreasonable for him to do whatever he wants (about reincarnation). There’s no way for him to do so.The 14th Dalai Lama himself was approved by the Nationalist government, the then central regime of China.”

7.Qiangba Puncog, Chairman of the standing committee of the Tibet autonomous region’s People’s Congress, said at the briefing: “The reincarnation must meet the traditional requirements in four aspects: religious rituals, historical conventions passed on since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), lot drawing from the Golden Urn in front of the Buddha Sakyamuni, as well as approval from the Central Government. Any claimed reincarnation that fails to meet all these requirements will be illegitimate and invalid.”

8.Padma Choling ridiculed the Dalai Lama’s indecision on his succession and said: “The Dalai Lama has previously made a series of assertions, saying that he might choose his reincarnation while alive, that he could stop his reincarnation, that his reincarnation could be designated, that his reincarnation could be a female, or that his reincarnation would be found inside or even outside China. People don’t know which assertion is what he really wants. There is currently no need to talk too much about issues related to the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, as he is still alive.”

9. The Chinese have utilised the current NPC session to give a greater political exposure to the Panchen Lama nominated by the Chinese Government in 1995 after rejecting the Panchen Lama designated according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions by the Dalai Lama. The Government-designated Panchen Lama is one of the 13 new members nominated to the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top advisory body with no legislative powers.

10. During his interactions with the Tibetan delegates to the NPC session, President Hu Jintao said that political stability and economic development would be the keynotes of the Government’s policy on Tibet.

( 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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