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Tibet Unrest: Chinese Counter-Measures in Lhasa

An examination of the Chinese language media despatches from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) on the subject, noticed since the protests began on March 14, 2008, reveals the following:

  1. A coordination office called “110 Command Centre” is functioning from Lhasa with the primary objective of dealing with the protests and restoring normalcy in Tibet. There are indications that the Centre is being operated by representatives from multiple agencies in Tibet- the Army, People’s Armed Police, Public Security organs and the Party United Front and propaganda departments.

  2. Top Party leaders and Government officials, both at the provincial and central levels, are now present in Lhasa, to supervise the ongoing operations against the unrest. They include the First Secretary of the Tibet Party and Tibet Military District Party Unit Zhang Qingli (a Hu Jintao loyalist and former Xinjiang Deputy Party Secretary with experience in counter-terrorism operations in that region), two Vice-Ministers of Central United Front Work Department Zhu Weiqun (had met Dalai Lama’s envoys) and Si Ta (Tibetan, heading the 7th Bureau of the Central United Front work Department), the Vice Minister of the Central Public Security Ministry Zhang Xinfeng and the Deputy Commander of the People’s Armed Police Headquarters in Beijing Zhen Yi.

  3. It can be seen that the counter-measures now being taken by the authorities under a series of “instructions” from the Communist Party of China higher-ups, fall under three categories-

a.) Prevention of recurrence of unrest by police and public security units. It has been claimed that initial success in this regard has been achieved, for which the concerned units have come under praise,

b.) Adoption of “people’s war” and traditional United Front tactics in the next stage, till complete victory over ‘splittist’ forces could be achieved. The former, a concept of Mao, would mean totally isolating the enemy (read splittists) so that they cannot escape from elimination by people (read security forces) and the latter would imply ‘unification of all forces which can be united with’. The United Front tactics is already assuming prominence in Tibet –mobilisation of organisations like Tibet Buddhist Association, Provincial People’s Consultative Conference and business groups like Dashi Group, to denounce the Dalai Lama clique. Even the Chinese appointed 11th Panchan Lama has been brought into the picture to attack the ‘splittists’.It was another matter that his reported statement, surprisingly, did not contain any attack on the Dalai Lama by name and

c.) Adding vigour to the ‘patriotic education campaign’ in the monasteries and strengthening propaganda in favour of the government’s counter-measures, through publicity organs including radio and TV.

  1. Extra care is being taken in Tibet to show that only the Police and Security units, not the PLA, are involved in preventive action against future trouble. No martial law is in force in Tibet, is another claim. However, the involvement of PLA units in combating unrest, at least indirect, has come out clear. Tibet Military District officers, along with Police officers, have been listed as accompanying the Tibet Party Secretary Zhang Qingli when he visited the riot-affected areas in Lhasa. Also, Army and Air Force officers, among others, have been mentioned as attending the “ All TAR Telephone-Television Conference on Protection of Region’s Stability”, where Zhang gave an “important” speech (Lhasa, 18 March 2008).

  2. Charges against the Dalai Lama and rioters, being levelled within the TAR, have been more intensive than those coming from Beijing. For e.g, the Tibet Party Committee’s conference mentioned above, besides repeating the Centre’s charge of the Dalai Lama having ‘organised, premeditated and masterminded’ the unrest, has maintained that the trouble has been the handiwork of “an extremely small number of unlawful elements”. This could be to show the world that the Tibet protests have not been popular. The Conference has also accused the ‘Dalai Clique’ of attempting to overthrow the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, subverting the socialist system, restoring feudal system, sabotaging regional stability, splitting the socialist China and sabotaging the forthcoming Beijing Olympics. Further, it has called the Dalai Lama a ‘jackal in disguise’ and observed that the struggle against the Dalai clique will be a ‘protracted, complex and life and death struggle’.

  3. Other allegations against the Dalai Lama, being noticed in Tibet, are also noteworthy. It has been said that the Dalai Lama, by demanding ‘Greater Tibet’ and ‘high autonomy’, wants to seize the entire Qinghai–Tibet plateau under his control and his activities being carried out behind the mask of peace, are aimed at shifting the centre of sabotage activities from outside to inside Tibet, by recruiting agents within Tibet’s monasteries. The Dalai Lama also wants to give open support, abandoning his earlier secret nod, to the violent activities of the ‘Tibet independence’ organisations like the Tibet Youth Congress. In addition, since 2007, the Dalai clique is strengthening its collusion with the ‘terrorist’ Eastern Turkistan Movement as well as making moves to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Olympics. The alleged Dalai Lama-Xinjiang separatist connection adds a new dimension to Beijing’s conflict with the exiled leader.

  4. Leading Tibet Party and Government cadres have avoided making references to India. Nor they repeated Beijing’s conditional remarks on still keeping the channel for dialogue open for the Dalai Lama. The reason could be their realisation that these matters are better left to the Centre to handle.

The above sums up the current scenario in the TAR in the matter of dealing with the unrest. At the best, the Chinese claims on their counter-measures achieving initial success may look like an effort to convince the outside world about their confidence in tackling the situation. Against its force superiority, a full re-establishment of law and order in Tibet, may not be difficult for Beijing to realise. Problem may however lie in finding a real solution to the Tibet issue, for which a holistic approach from the Central Government, capable of addressing all aspirations of the Tibetan people including in religious and cultural spheres, looks a must for China; Beijing should understand well the problems of minority nationality people of the country like the Tibetans who may still have doubts about the attitude of the Han majority. Its economic development plans for Tibet have to be coupled with a serious search for a negotiated solution with the exiled Tibetan community, especially the Dalai Lama. The chances in this regard however appear bleak considering the perceptions of the rulers in Tibet of a long-term struggle with the exiled spiritual leader.

(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email:


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