Monday, March 17, 2008

Tibet: Lhasa may be out of bounds, China should note: power will not flow the barrel of the gun

Tibet: Lhasa may be out of bounds, China should note: power will not flow the barrel of the gun

Two articles: one by Claude Arpi and another by B. Raman


Brute force won't work

Claude Arpi

The Chinese Government and the CPC can try to suppress dissent in Tibet, but they will fail to silence the cry for freedom

Several years ago, I recorded the memoirs of some old Tibetan officials who had witnessed independent Tibet before 1950. Among them was Kundeling, who had dutifully served the Dalai Lama's Government in Tibet and later in exile. After spending several hours remembering a Tibet which no longer exists, the dignified old man told me about his return to Tibet in 1984. He headed the Fourth Fact-finding Delegation sent by the Dalai Lama to investigate the changes wrought on the 'Roof of the World' by what the CPC called the "Liberation of Tibet".

The rapprochement process between Beijing and Dharamsala started in 1979 when Deng Xiaoping, who had come to the helm in Beijing after Mao's death, called Gyalo Dhondup, the Dalai Lama's brother, and told him that he was ready to discuss everything except Tibet's independence. This meeting was followed by the setting up of four fact-finding delegations that visited Lhasa and several remote places in Tibet between 1979 and 1984.

Kundeling recalled the circumstances around his visit to Tibet. Before the First Delegation's arrival in Lhasa, the Chinese authorities were under the impression that they had 'liberated' Tibet or at least 'pacified' it. They truly believed that the people were immensely grateful to the Communist Party of China for having brought the 'revolution' to the 'Land of Snows'. The local authorities briefed the Tibetan population in Lhasa and everywhere in Tibet that the Dalai Lama's delegates would soon be visiting them. They instructed the people: "You should not resent this visit. You should not insult the delegates. You should not spit on them. Just receive them as your own countrymen."

It did not turn out this way. Kundeling explained, "When the first three delegations went to Tibet (between 1979 and 1982), there were riots (wherever they went); the Tibetans tried even to tear the chubas (Tibetan dress) of the delegates to keep them as relics." The entire Lhasa population was in the streets; everybody wanted a darshan of the Dalai Lama's envoys. They received a reception worthy of the highest reincarnated lamas.

By the time the Kundeling delegation - the fourth one - reached Tibet in 1984, the Communist authorities had learnt their lesson. Spies infiltrated the crowds everywhere. "At first Tibetans came forward to speak to us. But one discovered that some of the Chinese dressed in the Tibetan chuba, were spying (on us) with a small walkman in the chuba sleeves. People became nervous; they knew they were being taped and would be interrogated later. When the word spread that this was happening, people became more cautious."

The Tibetans, however, found a way to get around the tricky situation: "Because we were sent by His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) to get something touched by us was a blessing... when our cars would leave, the Tibetans would collect the soil out of the prints of the tyres of our cars and keep it as prasad to eat or preserve it."

This anecdote shows that the Chinese Communist regime has never been able to understand the aspirations of the Tibetan people and their deep resentment against Chinese colonial rule. The incident occurred after 30 years of 'liberation'. In a different way, the same thing is happening today in Lhasa and several places of Tibet where the most serious riots since 1989 erupted on March 10.

During the recent 11th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, President Hu Jintao met a few 'Tibetan' delegates and told them: "Tibet's stability has to do with the entire country's stability, Tibet's safety has to do with the entire country's safety."

More worrisome for Tibetans, Mr Hu Jinato told the delegates that the party "fully trusts" the Han Chinese cadre in Tibet. The party will continue to "tremendously support their work and warmly care about their lives". Analysts read in his words of praise for the hard work of the Han cadre in Tibet, a sign that Tibetans will not be given any say in their own affairs. The genuine autonomy demanded by the Dalai Lama is still decades away.

That is precisely the problem: Tibetans do not have a say in their lives, or their future in today's Tibet. With the arrival of the railway line (3.8 million Chinese travelled by train to Lhasa last year) and the influx of new Han settlers, the resentment has increased.

Though the reports of the riots are sketchy, Chinese sources speak of "a tumultuous day (March 14) that saw windows smashed, shops robbed, a mosque burnt down and reportedly many casualties." China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported: "Witnesses said the unrest started around 1:10 pm on Friday, several people clashed with and stoned the local police around Ramogia Monastery in downtown Lhasa."

Ramogia Monastery was earlier called Ramoche Monastery. However, the Chinese have used their own phonetic spellings to Sinicise Tibetan names: 'Ramoche' thus became 'Ramogia'. Each and every old colonial trick is being used in Tibet today; even Lhasa time is Beijing Standard Time. Lord Macaulay would have had to admit that the Chinese are far superior to the British in forcing their 'culture' on indigenous people.

Trouble started on March 10 when 300 monks from Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa started a peaceful protest march towards Barkhor Street in central Lhasa. A few monks were arrested by Public Security Bureau officials and a large deployment of force was immediately seen around Drepung Monastery.

People's Armed Police personnel, including plain-clothed police, were reportedly present around Central Cathedral in Lhasa. The next day, Sera Monastery got involved in peaceful demonstrations. Again, some monks were arrested, and severely beaten and manhandled by PSB officials.

The following day, about 2,000 Chinese troops fired teargas to disperse hundreds of Sera Monastery monks, calling for the release of their fellow monks while shouting pro-Tibet slogans. The situation further deteriorated in the following days with the use of brutal force against the demonstrators.

Beijing immediately put the blame on the Dalai Lama. A Government official in Lhasa told Xinhua that there was evidence to prove that the "sabotage" in Lhasa was "organised, premeditated and masterminded" by the Dalai Lama clique. Xinhua admitted that the authorities "were forced to use a limited amount of teargas and fired warning shots to disperse the desperate crowds".

The 'limited' use of force mentioned by the Chinese Government nevertheless took the lives of 16 people, according to Chinese sources. The Dalai Lama has spoken of at least 100 dead.

According to the Dalai Lama, "These protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people under the present governance." He said that "unity and stability under brute force is at best a temporary solution. Force is not conducive to finding a peaceful and lasting solution." While urging his fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence, he said that "the protest in Lhasa is borne out of China carrying out a sort of cultural genocide in Tibet, intentionally or unintentionally".

Today, like 24 years ago at the time of Kundeling's visit (or later during the 1987 and 1989 demonstrations), the problem is that China prefers to ignore the aspirations of Tibetans and the need for a larger say in their own affairs.

Unless, Mr Hu Jintao and his colleagues understand this, the Tibet issue will remain alive.

All roads to Lhasa closed

B Raman

All the monasteries in Lhasa have been sealed and their monks placed under house arrest. Barred from seeking alms, the monks are being supplied with Army rations. All religious and social interactions, too, have been banned. It's a total and brutal clampdown in Tibet

Despite measures like incapacitating Internet servers, blocking foreign websites reporting on the situation in Tibet, jamming the broadcasts of Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America and blocking overseas telephone calls, the Chinese have not yet been able to enforce a total isolation of Tibet.

It is still possible to make telephone calls between Tibet and the rest of China, including Hong Kong. Pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong have been helping the Tibetans in disseminating abroad their accounts of the situation in Tibet. Information continues to flow out through Hong Kong, but the flow is much reduced as compared to the flow till March 14.

Lhasa continues to be a closed city with all shops shut down on the orders of the Chinese troops on March 15 and 16. To meet the resulting shortages of essential supplies for the people such as meat, vegetables, bread, etc, Chinese troops have been distributing them at selected points.

The Chinese have sealed off all the monasteries in Lhasa, keeping their monks under virtual house arrest. They are not allowed to go out for seeking alms and are being supplied rations by the Army. All religious and social interactions between the monks and the general population have been cut off.

The Chinese troops are emulating the methods followed by the military junta in Burma last year to suppress the agitation by the monks. As happened in Burma last year, in Lhasa the younger monks were in the forefront of the agitation. The older monks were peaceful and refrained from participating in acts of violence. About 80 monks have so far been rounded up by the Army and are being questioned.

The Chinese troops have been going slow on their action against students and other sections of the Tibetan youth, who allegedly participated in acts of violence, including in targeted attacks on shops and other property owned by Han settlers from outside Tibet. There was large-scale destruction of such property. The Chinese suspect that preparations for the revolt must have been going on for some days, if not weeks. It is alleged that on March 14, when large-scale attacks on Han-owned shops took place, many Tibetan-owned shops exhibited outside scarfs of a particular colour to enable the protesting youth distinguish them and refrain from attacking them.

The Chinese have been bringing in reinforcements from other parts of China. Till the reinforcements are in position by March 17, they are withholding their action against the students and other sections of the general population. They have been given an ultimatum till the evening of March 17 to surrender to the police on their own. They have been promised a lenient treatment if they did so, provided they had not indulged in acts of murder. Those failing to surrender have been warned of severe action. While Lhasa has been relatively calm on last Saturday and Sunday, it remains to be seen whether it would remain calm on March 17, when some of the shops are expected to be allowed to re-open and the Chinese start house-to-house searches for those who participated in acts of violence.

Incidents of protest demonstrations by monks have been reported from the interior parts of Tibet and from Sichuan. There have been no reports of the participation of students and other sections of the youth in the interior areas, where the protests have been confined to the monks.

According to the Tibetan refugees abroad, there was a major demonstration by more than 1,000 monks on March 16, in Amdo Ngaba Kirti Monastery located in the Ngaba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the Sichuan province. They shouted slogans for independence and praised the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama under detention in China.

Nervous of similar revolts by the general Tibetan population in the Sichuan province and by the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province, the Chinese Army has rushed reinforcements to those provinces too and blocked all Internet connections in anticipation of trouble. All travel to and from Pakistan from Xinjiang has been stopped and border posts on the Pakistani border have been reinforced. Official Chinese accounts of the March 14 disturbances alleged that the Tibetan demonstrators attacked a mosque in Lhasa frequented by Uighurs. This has been denied by Tibetan refugees.

The Nepalese authorities are reported to have succumbed to pressure from Beijing and agreed to stop all movements to the base camp of Mount Everest till the Olympic flame is taken by the Chinese mountaineers on the Chinese side of the Everest to the top of the Everest, brought down and then taken out of Tibet. Similar restrictions have already been enforced on the Chinese side.

Even before the trouble broke out in Tibet on March 10, a joint team of Chinese security officials had gone to Pakistan for discussions with their Pakistani counterparts regarding the security arrangements for the Olympic flame, which is expected to transit Islamabad on April 16 on its way to New Delhi. According to Pakistani police sources, not only the Chinese but even Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence apprehend that the Uighurs in the North Waziristan area as well as the students of the madarsas of Lal Masjid might stage an act of suicide terrorism to express their resentment over the role of China in pressurising President Pervez Musharraf to order commando action in the masjid in July 2007. This happened after the activities of the mullahs and students of the madarsas took an anti-China turn with the kidnapping of some Chinese women working in the beauty parlours of Islamabad, who were accused by the mullahs of being prostitutes.

The revolt in Tibet and the incidents in Lhasa underline the total failure of the Chinese Intelligence. They not only failed to detect in time the preparations being made for the revolt, but were also oblivious of the penetration of Lhasa Police by pro-independence recruits. There have been many desertions of Tibetan policemen from the force. Heads are expected to roll in the Ministries of Public and State Security not only in their offices in Tibet, but also their headquarters in Beijing. Well-informed Hong Kong sources say that even the position of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao may become shaky.

The equestrian events of the Olympics are to be held in Hong Kong. The Chinese are now worried that Falun Gong and pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong might create a diversion there.

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