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China to Seek 'Stability' in Tibet via Development

January 25, 2010

The New York Times
January 23, 2010

BEIJING -- China’s top leaders laid out a
strategy last week for bringing "leapfrog
development and lasting stability" to the Tibetan
regions, the state news agency reported late Friday.

President Hu Jintao and other leaders at a Tibet
planning conference decided that "more efforts
must be made to greatly improve living standards
of the people in Tibet, as well as ethnic unity
and stability," the Xinhua news agency reported.

The emphasis on economic development indicates
that Chinese leaders still see the solution to
the problem of Tibet as one of supplying creature
comforts. If the region can develop fast enough,
the reasoning goes, then Tibetans will buy into Chinese rule.

But a vast uprising among Tibetans in 2008 and
continuing tensions since have shown that even
though the region’s economy has been growing
quickly for years, many Tibetans still feel
economically disadvantaged and culturally
threatened. In private conversations, Tibetans
often express rage over the suppression of
traditional Buddhist practice and over the influx
of ethnic Han migrants to Tibetan areas.

Tibet remains a point of contention between China
and the United States. Tensions are expected to
deepen because President Obama has said he will
meet with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, early this year.

The Chinese government has invested $45.6 billion
in Tibet since 2001, according to Xinhua. Tibet’s
gross domestic product, estimated to be $6.4
billion last year, has increased 170 percent
since 2000, the agency said. Xinhua reported that
the average income of Tibetan farmers and herders
was expected to match the national level by 2020.

Despite those numbers, ethnic nationalism remains
a potent sentiment across almost all Tibetan
areas of China. At the conference, which ran from
Monday to Wednesday, senior leaders not only laid
out policy for central Tibet, the area China
designates as the Tibet Autonomous Region, but
also drew up plans to develop ethnic Tibetan
areas in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai.

Tibetans in those eastern regions also took part
in the 2008 protests. Until then, Chinese
policies there had been more relaxed than those
in central Tibet. But the meeting indicated that
Chinese leaders could now be ready to make those
regions follow the hard-line policies of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Indeed, parts of eastern Tibet have been governed
with an iron grip since the uprising. Last
spring, during the anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan
rebellion, Chinese officials closed off huge
areas to foreigners and flooded rebellious towns
and villages with security forces, effectively
putting those areas under martial law. Centers of
protest in 2008, like the Labrang Monastery in
Xiahe, were locked down for months.

In March 2008, riots and protests broke out first
in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, then throughout other
Tibetan areas, as Tibetans turned on the Han, the
dominant ethnic group in China. At least 19
people were killed in Lhasa, most of them Han,
the Chinese government said; Tibetan rights
groups said scores of Tibetans were killed by
security forces and many more detained. The
uprising was the largest ethnic rebellion in China in decades.

China blamed the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile
in India, for the uprising and accuses him of
being a "splittist." The Dalai Lama has denied
involvement and has said he wants only true
autonomy for Tibet, not independence.

At the meeting last week, Mr. Hu said, "Tibet
faces a special contradiction between people of
all ethnic groups and the separatist forces led
by the Dalai clique," according to Xinhua.

A sign of the importance of the conference was
the attendee list: besides Mr. Hu, it included
Wen Jiabao, the prime minister; Xi Jinping, the
vice president who is the favorite to succeed Mr.
Hu; and Li Keqiang, Mr. Xi’s main rival for the
top leadership position in China.
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