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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

The truth about Tibet

March 26, 2008

Lindsey Hilsum
New Statesman
Issue of March 24 2008, published 19 March 2008

The last thing China wanted, in the year it is to host the Olympic
Games, was the world watching its army brutally suppressing protesters

Things are not going as planned. The emblematic images of China in 2008
were supposed to be the magnificent "Bird's Nest" sports stadium, and
millions of proud Chinese applauding their country's success in hosting
the Olympic Games. Instead, the world is seeing gangs of angry Tibetan
rioters attacking their Han Chinese neighbours, and Buddhist monks
demonstrating against Chinese rule.

Since the 1989 unrest, which centred on Tiananmen Square but spread to
Tibet, any protest has been suppressed quickly and effectively. But this
time, initially, the Chinese hesitated. The government knew that nothing
could be worse for China's reputation in this Olympic year than
Tiananmen-type images of the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army
firing on Tibetan demonstrators. So it flooded the streets with armour,
in the hope that intimidation would do the trick. By Monday, Beijing had
moved troops and paramilitary riot police into all sensitive areas,
hoping to quash protest with a show of strength.

On Tuesday, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, accused the Dalai Lama of
orchestrating the unrest, saying that the protesters wanted "to incite
the sabotage of the Olympic Games in order to achieve their unspeakable
goal". That goal is independence for Tibet, but it is the social rather
than the political motivation that has disturbed the Chinese authorities.

They have been surprised by the ferocity with which ethnic Tibetans
attacked Han Chinese and Hui Muslims. These two groups have settled in
Tibet in recent decades, starting up businesses and benefiting more than
local people from the upturn in the Tibetan economy. Yet never before
has resentment turned to such widespread violence: one eyewitness in
Lhasa described the riots as "an orgy of racist violence".

The Huis, who control the meat trade and other essential commercial
sectors, have long been the target of Tibetan anger. Last month,
fighting broke out in Qinghai, which borders Tibet, during New Year
celebrations. The point of contention was, apparently, the price of a
balloon that a Hui trader had sold to a Tibetan. After the police
arrested several Tibetans, overseas activists said demonstrations were
calling for the return of the Dalai Lama. But the spark for the protests
was the tension between the two communities.

One of the central myths the Chinese government propagates is the unity
of the state and the happiness of the 55 ethnic minorities within it.
During the week, at the National People's Congress, the annual gathering
of China's rubber-stamp parliament, women in aluminium headdresses and
other exotic gear were paraded as the acceptable face of diversity.

"This is a planned, plotted activity that aims at splitting the country,
sabotaging the union and damaging the harmony and social stability of
Tibet," said Champa Phuntsok, governor of Tibet, an ethnic Tibetan whom
many people regard as a collaborator. In an example of the overblown
rhetoric that characterises Chinese statements on Tibet, the government
proclaimed "a people's war against splittism" - the term used to
describe the movement for Tibetan autonomy - and said it would "expose
the hideous face of the Dalai Lama's clique".

To the shock of the Chinese authorities, the unrest rapidly spread to
the provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan, which have significant
Tibetan minorities. The Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala claims
all these provinces as part of "historical Tibet" - one reason for the
failure of talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.

In Xiahe, in Gansu, the main street was lined with shuttered shops whose
upstairs windows had been shattered by protesters. Here, Tibetans had
targeted the Han Chinese who own most of the businesses. Knots of youths
hung about at dusk, while riot police lurked at street corners, banging
their riot shields menacingly. Most Tibetans still follow the Dalai
Lama, but his entreaties that protest should be peaceful seem to have
little resonance among the younger Tibetans. Speaking from Dharamsala,
he said he had no power to call off the protests.

Monks from Labrang Monastery marched through the streets of Xiahe waving
the banned Tibetan flag. "People in Lhasa and us are the same people. We
have the same ideas," said a monk. "Today's young people think more of
human rights. We want the Dalai Lama back."

Many westerners, who see justice in the Tibetan cause and nobility in
the Dalai Lama's position, regard the Tibetans as a peaceful and
oppressed people. That view, however, is not shared by all of the Han
Chinese who live there. Many of them believe that China brought the
chance of prosperity and modern isation to a backward area.

"Our party and government spend so much every year to support the
development of Tibet.

"We don't wish for any reward, but those people controlled by Dalai
still continue with separatism. They should go to hell," read one blog
on the popular site

As communism has faded away, the ideological void has been filled by
nationalism. The intention behind this year's Olympic extravaganza is to
celebrate how great China is as a historical nation and as a modern
state. Even those who dislike the government in Beijing may regard
Tibetan nationalists as unpatriotic and ungrateful. A chat-room comment
on reprimanded them: "We do not have to love the government
and the party, but we must love China." Another said: "Those separatist
trash should all be killed. It is not a good idea to just talk about it.
Even if some day there is democracy, I will support a nationalist party
to power."

Racism is usual. One blogger addressed Tibetans, writing: "If you behave
well, we'll protect your culture and benefits. But if you behave badly,
we'll still take care of your culture . . . by putting it in a museum. I
believe in the Han people!"

None acknowledged that harsh policies in Tibet have provoked the unrest.
It's easier to keep blaming the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese government had hoped to have a display of traditional
Tibetan dancing at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. If it
now moves to suppress the protests with force, it faces the possibility
of an Olympic boycott. But if it lets the protests continue, the world
will see how widespread is the unhappiness and resentment of China's
Tibetan people.

Lindsey Hilsum is international editor for Channel 4 News

Tibetan Times

October 1950  Chinese People's Liberation Army marches into Tibet
March 1959  Tibetans attempt uprising; thousands killed. Dalai Lama
flees to India with 80,000 followers
September 1965  Tibet Autonomous Region formally established
1966          China's Cultural Revolution begins; Tibetan Red Guards smash
statues of Buddha and close monasteries
1972          Richard Nixon visits China and ends CIA programme of training
Tibetans to fight guerrilla war against Chinese
1989          Martial law imposed in Lhasa. Brutal suppression of Tiananmen
Square student protests
May 1990  Martial law lifted. Dalai Lama disbands government-in-exile
1994          Dalai Lama suspends dialogue with China due to lack of progress
March 1999  China says its doors are open to Dalai Lama, provided he
recognises Tibet as part of China
December 1999  Dalai Lama says Tibet would be satisfied with self-rule
but accuses China of cultural genocide
July 2006  Tibet groups accuse China of accelerating influx of Han Chinese
March 2008  Anti-China riots in Lhasa

Source: Reuters
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