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Tibet Unrest: Why Beijing is Shifting the Blame to “Western Anti-China Forces”?

Since the Tibet unrest began, the stand of the top leadership in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains one of condemnation of the Dalai Lama as ‘instigator’. In its view, ‘the Dalai clique organised, premeditated and incited the trouble’.[1] However, at junior levels as well as in the state-controlled media of the country, a parallel trend is being noticed simultaneously; the blame game, has spread to cover the role of “Western Anti-China forces” in the unrest and their motives have been brought under sharp focus; the US is specifically being held directly responsible for the unrest, with the ulterior motive of ‘containing’ China.

Critical references to “Western Anti-China Forces” are not new in China. As early as 2000, the Dalai Lama was accused in the media as their “tool”.[2] It does not come as a surprise that this charge is being repeated now in the context of happenings in Tibet, with the regional Party organ there portraying the Dalai Lama as “a running dog” of such forces.[3] That has been followed by comments pinpointing their objectives, i.e ‘ use of the Beijing Olympics as an opportunity to bring a political transformation in China’.[4]

A subsequent analysis[5] has gone to the extent of fixing responsibility on the US by name, for plotting Tibet incidents. It has alleged that the US has been channelling required funds through an organisation called National Endowment for Democracy (NED), with the intention of ‘containing’ China and in particular ‘splitting’ Tibet, a strategic region for the PRC with mineral and oil wealth. The NED functions outside the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but in reality is being controlled by the latter. Revealing that the headquarters of ‘Tibet Independence Movement’ is located in Washington and that the UK, along with other ‘friendly’ powers, is extending support to the US schemes against China, it has given an alert to the decision taken to intensify protests against the Beijing Olympics by August 2008, as part of the Action Plan finalised at the “International Conference of Tibet Support Groups” (Brussels, May 2007). The analysis has further claimed that the NED, with which the Friedrich Neumann Foundation of Germany, affiliated to the country’s Free Democratic Party, is also associated, funds the aforesaid conference mechanism.

Reflecting the views of military forces, the Liberation Army Daily has accused[6] the West of always exploiting the Tibet issue as a ‘bargaining chip’ against Beijing, in order to ‘contain the peaceful rise and weaken the national power’ of China. Attributing the unrest to two factors – the inability of the remnants of the old system in Tibet to reconcile to the loss of their privileges and the interference from ‘Western Anti-China forces’, it has declared that the ‘despicable plot of foreign forces to split China will not succeed’. On the role of the US, the Army mouthpiece has observed that though Washington did not support Tibet independence prior to the year 1948, it changed its policy in 1949; accordingly, Tibet rebels were given training in the US in 1957 – 58, with instructions to them to work for ‘splitting’ Tibet, even Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, from China. Stating that the troubles in the border region in 50s and 60s, created by ‘the armed elements of the Dalai Lama clique’ had the CIA support in terms of money and weapons, it has remarked that till 70s, the US intention was to split Tibet from China, but in the subsequent period, it became aware that there is no chance of achievement of Tibet independence and accordingly shifted to the ‘bargaining chips’ strategy. It has further charged that the US is continuing to fund the ‘Dalai clique’ even today, through the CIA.

A China Daily commentary (7 May 2008) has echoed the military organ’s opinions by alleging that the US game is to use the Tibet issue as a pawn to keep China in check. It has further opined that the US sees Tibet as a ‘breaching point for paralysing’ China, very much like the role many former Soviet republics played in bringing the Soviet Union to an end.

What is the significance of the current media campaign in China against the “Western Anti-China Forces” and the US in particular, on the Tibet issue? First catching attention from New Delhi’s point of view is that India has not figured in the media accusations; by implication, this could be important for Sino-Indian relations. Secondly, the charges of ‘containment’ and ‘political transformation’ against the US are far more serious than what is being alleged officially at present – Washington has adopted a cold war mentality under the pretext of working for human rights, though the Sino-US ties are on ‘even keel’.[7] The term ‘political transformation’ in fact reminds one, of the past Chinese condemnations of the West for attempting a ‘peaceful evolution’ in the PRC. The above leads to a question whether there is any possibility of media’s anti-West sentiments finally getting factored in China’s foreign policy. The chances are that this may happen, with Beijing at the same time taking care to ensure that the same does not alter the primacy of its present pre-requisites – to have a ‘stable international atmosphere and peaceful periphery’ as a guarantee for the country’s ‘peaceful development’.

Any tendency to brush the anti-West media remarks aside, as mere rhetoric, will be a mistake. Signs are appearing in China indicating that ‘safeguarding national sovereignty’ is becoming a task with a priority equal to that being extended to ‘development’;[8] the linkage between that task and fighting ‘Western anti-China forces’ is becoming clearer, particularly taking the cases of Tibet and Xinjiang, not to mention Taiwan. The central message being given therefore by the anti-West media campaign seems to be that China, while trying to meet the expectations of the West for its playing the role of a stake holder in the international system, may also henceforth feel prudent to fine-tune the implementation of its foreign policy, in order to ensure that there is no compromise at any stage with the US and its Western partners on ‘national sovereignty’ issues; that it is not going to be easy for China to do so, is different matter.

The anti-West media campaign in China started after the Tibet unrest began may also have to be examined from a domestic angle. Is it a further ‘neo-left’[9] expression of party policies, this time concerning Tibet? Is it an indirect way of challenging the liberal thought[10] prevailing in the country, even in favour of holding multi-candidate elections to top party posts? There are speculations, but no hard evidences to address these questions. The least that can be said is that the media attacks on the West could not have come without the tacit support of China’s top leader Hu Jintao, whose policies, such as ‘people-centric growth’ and ‘socialism in countryside’, seem to underscore the egalitarian side of his character. Also, judging from his mindset, he is expected to be unrelenting on ‘sovereignty’ issues.

The Chinese must already be aware of the harsh comments on Tibet emanating from the US Presidential hopefuls – McCain, Obama and Clinton. It may be justified therefore, to look at the campaign as a posturing by Beijing intended to forewarn the post-Bush administration in the US, about the likely negative fall out of its Tibet policies on the Sino-US ties.

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


1. Premier Wen Jiabao, Beijing , 17 March 2008 2. People’s Daily Commentary, 1 June 2000 3. Straits Times, Singapore, 20 March 2008, quoting Tibet Daily 4. Zhai Qizheng, Vice-Chairman, Foreign Policy Advisory Committee, as reported in “ China Aids” Press release, Chris Buckley, 13 March 2008. 5. Global Times (Chinese), 18 April 2008 6. Liberation Army Daily, Chinese, 6 May 2008, based on interview with a prominent military expert and Tibet veteran Wang Gui 7. PRC Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Press Conference after NPC session, Beijing, 14 March 2008. 8. President Hu Jintao’s remarks meeting Australian Prime Minister Rudd, Xinhua, 13 April 2008 9. ‘Neo Left’ party officials include Li Junru, Vice Principal of the Central Party School, Liu Guoguang, Consultant CASS Economy Institute and Prof Wang Hui of ,Tsinghua university 10. ‘Liberal ’ scholars include Prof Zhou Ruijin, former editor of the People’s Daily

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