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Two Tibetan Anniversaries Pass Off Without Violence

Two important and emotional ( for the Tibetans) anniversaries have passed off without any reports of violent incidents in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China. These were March 10 which was the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 1959, which led to the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India, and March 14, which was the first anniversary of the violent uprising of last year.

2. There has been no major outbreak of violence this year due to the following reasons. Firstly, the heavy deployment of security forces by the Chinese authorities in all the Tibetan-inhabited areas. Secondly, a greater sophistication exhibited by the security forces which avoided over-reaction of the kind seen last year, which added to the anger of the Tibetan residents. Thirdly, the co-operation extended by the Maoist-led Government of Nepal by preventing the large number of Tibetan refugees in Nepal from extending any moral and material support to their co-religionists in Tibet and helping the Chinese authorities in imposing a virtual iron curtain between the Tibet Autonomous Region and the rest of the world.

3. The Chinese authorities have suspended all tourist traffic to the Tibet Autonomous Region and banned the visits of foreign journalists to the region. The only foreign journalist allowed to visit the Region since February this year was N.Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of “The Hindu” of Chennai. However, some foreign journalists, including a correspondent of the “International Herald Tribune”, managed to visit the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan and reported on the prevailing atmosphere of resentment in those areas.

4. As a result of this iron curtain around the Tibet Autonomous Region, the only reports coming out of the Region and disseminated to the Indian public are the despatches of the Chinese State-owned Xinhua news agency carried by “The Hindu” without fail. Even the US-State Department funded Radi Free Asia has been handicapped in getting authentic information from the Tibet Autonomous Region. As a result, practically all its broadcasts during this period were about developments in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan and Qinghai.

5. There were many incidents of peaceful protests in the Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. These were in the form of processions and public prayers by the local monks, distribution of anti-Chinese and pro-Dalai Lama leaflets and at least one incident of attempted self-immolation. . The Chinese did not interfere with such protests so long as they remained peaceful. Most of the widespread peaceful protests in the Sichuan province were reported from Kardze, Lithang, and Nyagrong counties, all of which fall under the Kardze prefecture.Kardze, which the Tibetans call Kham, is the traditional homeland of the Khampas, who rose in revolt against the Chinese in the 1950s. They have remained bitterly anti-Chinese and strong devotees of His Holiness even today. Last year, while the Chinese were able to quell the uprising in the Tibetan Autonomous Region within a couple of weeks of its outbreak, the uprising in the Kardze area continued for about two months—-with Khampas on horse-backs attacking isolated Chinese military posts. The Qinghai province is the birth-place of His Holiness.

6. The observance of these two emotional anniversaries coincided with the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at Beijing from March 3 to 12,2009. Next to the state of the economy, the situation in Tibet received considerable attention. There were many briefings for the media by Tibetan officials and representatives to the NPC session. President Hu Jintao participated in one of the interactions in the margins of the NPC session during which he made observations on Tibet. Prime Minister Wen Jiabo also spoke on Tibet while briefing the media at the conclusion of the session.

7.Hu said on March 9,2009:”We must reinforce the solid Great Wall for combating separatism and safeguarding national unity, so that Tibet, now basically stable, will enjoy lasting peace and stability.The Tibet authorities should implement the central Government’s policies on Tibet, focus on development and stability issues, attain an economic great-leap-forward, safeguard national security and social stability, and keep improving people’s living standard, in order for them to make new progress in the building of a unified, democratic, prosperous and harmonious socialistic new Tibet. Tibet must stick to the development road with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan features so as to strengthen the material foundation for the building of a socialistic new Tibet. Tibet should vigorously advance the program of building socialist new villages, develop industries with distinguished features and strengthen ecological and environmental protection. Tibet should embark on more projects that will directly result in the improvement of people’s life and working conditions, particularly those of farmers and herdsmen.The Government must also give priority to addressing people’s immediate needs, so that people of all ethnic groups in Tibet will be able to share the fruit of development.” He avoided any reference to His Holiness.

8.Wen said on March 13,2009:: “The central Government held three talks last year with the Dalai Lama’s representatives in response to their request. Such talks can continue as long as the Dalai Lama is sincere, otherwise no substantial results can be made.The Dalai Lama is not a simple religious figure, but a political exile.We have full evidence. The so-called government-in-exile situated in Dharamsala is a de facto, theocratic regime and this illegal government is under direct leadership of the Dalai Lama. He has been traveling around the world and is quite capable of misleading some political figures.Some Western countries are also trying to use him. We should not only listen to what he has said but also look what he has done.The current stability and development of Tibet has demonstrated that the Chinese central Government has carried out correct policies in the region.The situation in Tibet on the whole is stable. The Tibetan people hope to live and work in peace and stability.Both China’s Constitution and the Law on Ethnic Regional Autonomy safeguard the freedom and rights of people in Tibet, particularly in religious belief. The central Government has increased fiscal input to Tibet to accelerate the region’s economic development and to improve the well-being of farmers and herdsmen. The Tibet Autonomous Region will continue following the opening-up policy for the sake of its own development.”

9. The Dalai Lama and the radical Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) issued two hard-hitting statements on March 10,2009. In his statement, His Holiness said:”Quite apart from the current process of Sino-Tibetan dialogue having achieved no concrete results, there has been a brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that have shaken the whole of Tibet since March last year. Therefore, in order to solicit public opinion as to what future course of action we should take, the Special Meeting of Tibetan exiles was convened in November 2008. Efforts were made to collect suggestions, as far as possible, from the Tibetans in Tibet as well. The outcome of this whole process was that a majority of Tibetans strongly supported the continuation of the Middle-Way policy. Therefore, we are now pursuing this policy with greater confidence and will continue our efforts towards achieving a meaningful national regional autonomy for all Tibetans. From time immemorial, the Tibetan and Chinese peoples have been neighbours. In future too, we will have to live together. Therefore, it is most important for us to co-exist in friendship with each other. Since the occupation of Tibet, Communist China has been publishing distorted propaganda about Tibet and its people. Consequently, there are, among the Chinese populace, very few people who have a true understanding about Tibet. It is, in fact, very difficult for them to find the truth. There are also ultra-leftist Chinese leaders who have, since last March, been undertaking a huge propaganda effort with the intention of setting the Tibetan and Chinese peoples apart and creating animosity between them. Sadly, as a result, a negative impression of Tibetans has arisen in the minds of some of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Therefore, as I have repeatedly appealed before, I would like once again to urge our Chinese brothers and sisters not to be swayed by such propaganda, but, instead, to try to discover the facts about Tibet impartially, so as to prevent divisions among us. Tibetans should also continue to work for friendship with the Chinese people. Looking back on 50 years in exile, we have witnessed many ups and downs. However, the fact that the Tibet issue is alive and the international community is taking growing interest in it is indeed an achievement. Seen from this perspective, I have no doubt that the justice of Tibet’s cause will prevail, if we continue to tread the path of truth and non-violence.”

10. While the international media,including leading Indian newspapers and TV channels, gave wide publicity to the Dalai Lama’s statement, “The Hindu” of Chennai and the Maoist-controlled media of Nepal blacked it out. However, “The Hindu” carried brief extracts from the Chinese rejoinder to the statement. The Chinese, through Xinhua, hit out very strongly at the statement. However, Wen, in his press briefing, did not comment on it.

11. While the Chinese took strong note of the statement of His Holiness and ridiculed it, they chose to ignore the statement of the TYC, which had said: “TYC as a national movement with the goal of restoring Tibet’s independence is grounded on historical truth. The Chinese Government will not be able to distort this basic truth by propagating against TYC with attempts to label it as a terrorist group. Even under extreme pressure and obstacles directed at TYC by the Chinese Government, we will remain steadfast in our commitment to truth and in our struggle for complete independence. It is our promise that we will one day hoist the Tibetan national flag on top of the Potala Palace and our leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, will sit on his rightful throne.”

12. The Chinese reacted strongly to resolutions on the Tibetan anniversaries moved in the US Congress and in the Europen Parliament. While not hesitating to criticise the Western countries for their interactions with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese have continued to follow a policy of avoiding any criticism of the Government of India for the activities of His Holiness and his supporters from the Indian territory. While strongly countering the activities of His Holiness and his followers on the ground in the Tibetan-inhabited areas and in the international stage, they do not want this issue to become a bone of contention between India and China.

(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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