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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dialogue and policies for the "Tibetan related areas"

February 2, 2010

January 29, 2010

The recent reformulation of the People's Republic
of China's (PRC) policies on Tibetan affairs,
while clearly emphasising continuity as a whole,
acknowledges, probably as a consequence of the
2008 unrest, that large-scale industrial
development alone will not create the
'harmonious' and 'affluent' society that Beijing
desires, and that socio-economic disparities need
to be addressed more directly. The appointment of
Padma Choling as the new governor of the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR) seems linked to these
changes. Beijing has, in effect, moved closer to
the positions of critics of its development
policies in Tibet, in particular the Dalai Lama,
though issues of cultural and political
alienation remain so far unaddressed. The
reverberations of 2008 have also led to Tibetan
affairs being more openly approached in a way
that is inclusive of the whole Tibetan cultural
area - as opposed to just the TAR - a perspective
that also closes the gap between Beijing and its
critics. While such subtle convergences could in
principle open the field for discussion at the
current round of talks between Beijing and the
Dalai Lama's representatives, the crucial issue
of power devolution, that defines autonomy in the
first place, has so far remained an insurmountable divide.

With a string of five consecutive meetings in
less than two weeks, the formulation of
Tibet-related policy went into overdrive in January 2010.

On 08 January a meeting of senior leaders of the
People's Republic of China's (PRC) held in
Beijing discussed the future development of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR);

On 10 January, the third session of the Ninth TAR
People's Congress, the local rubber-stamping
parliament, began in Lhasa, followed by: the 3rd
session of the TAR branch of the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an
advisory chamber, which concluded on 13 January.

On the next day, the TAR United Front Work
Department (UFWD)(1) held a conference in Lhasa;
Finally, the fifth conference of the Tibet Work
Coordination Group (also called the 'Tibet Work
Group' (TWG)) was held in Beijing from 18 to 20 January.

Of these, however, only the former, apparently a
preparatory meeting which dealt mainly with
personnel decisions, and the latter, the highest
political decision-making body on Tibetan affairs
in the PRC(2), were actual policy meetings; the
others were concerned merely with policy
implementation. Details reported by China's
official and semi-official press, though not
comprehensive, allow for a preliminary picture of
the directives issued at these meetings(3).

Development for all

At the TWG meeting, President Hu Jintao hailed
the achievements made in TAR's development, but
remarked that the "principal contradiction" is
still "the ever-growing material and cultural
needs of the people and the backwardness of
social production". Although he was quick to
bring up the responsibility of the "'Tibet
independence' separatists" represented by the
"Dalai clique", he also acknowledged that
"contradictions" have resulted from a broader
range of problems. Under the heading of
"development and stabilisation", he pointed out
that greater efforts should be made to improve
the living standard of farmers and herdsmen,
strengthen the ability for self-development, and
enhance the delivery of public services, as well
as in terms of "equalisation" - a reference to
the extremes between rich and poor in the region.
Issues of livelihood, he said, "Should be
regarded a key point for social and economic
development". Speaking in similar vein, Premier
Wen Jiabao was even more explicit in saying that
improving people's livelihood would involve
"helping them cope with employment problems, and
enable the social guarantee system to cover more
rural people" as well as "speeding up social
undertakings". Preferential polices, like those
related to taxation, will remain in place,
investments from Beijing will be specially
drafted to better fit local conditions and would
be increased, and education emphasised, with free
schooling for children in rural areas.

The conference focused mainly on the TAR but the
same policies were extended to Tibetan regions in
Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces,
thus recognising that the same "contradictions"
exist throughout the whole Tibetan area within
the PRC and suggesting that Beijing is
increasingly dealing with Tibet, if not as a
single polity then at least as a socio-cultural
continuum(4). The website, the main
semi-official web window on the TAR was also
observed as carrying out increasingly reports
about the whole Tibetan inhabited areas,
underlying a similar development. In effect, this
approach converges with demands by the Dalai Lama
for a unified Tibet. Beijing gives itself until
2020 to "solve the most urgent problems
restricting the economic and social development" in "Tibetan related areas".

Migrants from rural Tibetan areas who come to
cities in the hope of benefitting from the
booming cash economy are scheduled to become a
priority for housing and urban-rural development
in 2010. Poorly educated and with low skill
levels, they typically have menial jobs with
miserable salaries - on construction sites in the
suburbs of Lhasa, for example - but often end up
facing unemployment and a life of squalor. Rural
migrants were the main actors in the violence
that shook the Tibetan capital on 14 March 2008.
A report quoted by Tibet Daily said that higher
expectations within the labour market, that have
yet to be met, have become "a major retarder in
rural economic growth" and an "urgent problem".
This lack of availability of skilled workers in
the TAR also triggers further migration of
Chinese workers, thus creating additional
tensions. The Chinese authorities have now
acknowledged that existing short-term and
seasonal training programmes do not in themselves
create long-term employment. A 572 million Yuan
(UK£25.2m; US$40.3m; EUR€29m) plan was drafted
for training TAR farmers and herders (running
until 2015) in practical techniques, as well as
providing education in science and technology
related to farming and herding, while at the same
time preparing them for employment beyond the
agriculture sector(5). 6.5 million Yuan
(UK£595,000; US$952,000; EUR€685,00) was
allocated to compile training textbooks in
Chinese and Tibetan. In addition, the authorities
have pledged that some 2,000 low-rent apartments,
with 13 square metres per person, will be built
in the TAR for low-income families as well as
employees of state-run enterprises. Finally, the
minimum monthly income for urban residents will
rise from 310 Yuan (UK£28; US$45; EUR€32) to 330
Yuan (UK£30; US$48; EUR€34), and the yearly
subsidy for rural households will increase from
1,800 Yuan (UK£164; US$263; EUR€190) to 2,000
Yuan (UK£183; US$292; EUR€211). It is noteworthy
that the unexpected promotion of Padma Choling
aka Pema Thinley(6) to TAR governor earlier in
January 2010 is probably linked to this new
priority(7), since he has been dealing with the
management of the migrant workforce at least since summer 2008(8).

Ultimately, the drive to improve the quality of
the local workforce is linked to projected
industrial development, which remains the main
objective. The establishment and development of
brands in domestic and foreign markets, in
particular for Tibetan medicine and for tourism
is an objective of the immediate future. Two
enterprise groups in these areas are to be
established during 2010. The TAR government has
also been requested to forward a proposal on how
to "revitalise" these key "local characteristic industries".

A further focus is on mining and the creation in
December 2009 of the Tibet Mineral Development
Co. Ltd. is expected to serve as "a major
platform" for restructuring the TAR's domestic
mining industry and bringing it up to
international standards. Tibet Mineral
Development's interests include chromium iron,
and copper mining. Lithium will be its next major
focus, through operations at Zhabuye Salt Lake,
which is estimated to be a repository for 2.4
million tons of lithium carbonate. There are also
plans to introduce ten projects in 2010, with an
investment of 600 million Yuan (UK£55m; US$88m;
EUR 63m) to the Lhasa Economic and Technological
Development. The TAR will showcase its industrial
development with its own pavilion at the World expo 2010 in Shanghai.

In relation to Tibet's fragile environment,
protection bureaus will be established in 73
counties across the seven prefectures in the TAR.
A ban on production, selling and use of
disposable plastic cutlery and plastic bags will
be imposed in 73 townships and around major
tourist centres. Restrictions on disposable
plastic bags were introduced in 2004, but appear to have had little effect(9).

In order to support the authorities' plans, 980
cadres from the Mainland will be sent to the TAR
as part of the Tibet Aid Group programme. They
will reach Tibet after the current group of 850
finish their three-year service in July 2010. The
new group will include more cadres from the
United Front, and from political and legal
spheres, as well as more professional and
technical personnel. It also underlines the fact
that the Chinese authorities still feel more
comfortable with bringing leadership into Tibet,
rather than grooming a local one.

Difficult talks

In accordance with practices introduced during
the crisis of 2008, the Chinese authorities
reported the arrival of the delegation led by the
Dalai Lama's envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang
Gyaltsen on 26 January(10). The envoys, an
official said, are expected to visit Beijing "to
meet with the central government". The formula is
somewhat surprising; up till now talks did not
actually take place with the Chinese government,
but with representatives of the United Front Work
Department, which is a Party organ(11). It is not
currently clear whether the envoys will speak to
new interlocutors or whether the odd wording of
the announcement is a result of confusion on the
Chinese side. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma
Zhaoxu said that talks take place with the
"relevant department of the Chinese Central
Government" at the request of the Dalai Lama.
According to the quasi-official Global Times,
they "will cover issues not fully addressed in
the previous meeting". Ma added that, despite
"serious divergences", China would "keep open the
door for future discussions", and hoped "The
Dalai Lama will cherish this opportunity and
respond positively to the requests by the central
government", referring to Beijing's position that
he should "renounce his separatist activities".

The meeting, the first since November 2008, comes
after Zhu Weiqun, vice-minister of the United
Front Work Department and representative at the
talks, made public statements that the Dalai Lama
and not Beijing had discontinued the talks
(September 2009). He also accused the Dalai Lama
of lying after Tibetan leaders said in December
2009 that the Chinese side knew very well that he
is not seeking independence. While it has been
suggested that Zhu's remarks delayed the current
talks, which were originally planed for late
2009, another possible explanation is that
Beijing preferred the talks to take place after
the recent policy meetings. In any case, although
appearing to quibble or be dogmatic, the remarks
by Zhu, (who was oddly referred to by the Global
Times in December as a "top negotiator", although
China categorically denies 'negotiating' (as
opposed to talking) with the Dalai Lama), were
apparently aimed at maintaining the position that
any devolution of power, the essence of autonomy,
is unacceptable to Beijing. This raises the
question about what topics can be discussed
during the current meeting, apart from symbolic,
goodwill gestures and perhaps development. The
Dalai Lama seems to consider the former as an
option. Meeting ethnic Chinese followers of
Tibetan Buddhism in Bodh Gaya, India, in early
January, he expressed the hope that he could
visit Mount Wutai Shan in China for a pilgrimage in the near future.

1: The UFWD is the organ of the Communist Party
of China (CPC/CCP) devoted to forming 'broad
alliances' and co-opting the 'patriotic upper
strata' of non-Party and ethnic sectors of
society. In the TAR, it is headed by Losang
Gyaltsen, a fierce supporter of the Shugden cult,
which is at odds with the Dalai Lama. (See:
Sowing dissent and undermining the Dalai Lama, 21
May 2008;
2: Tibet Work (Coordination) Group meetings are
rare - the last one took place in 2001. Between
the meetings, however, Tibetan affairs are dealt
through a coordination mechanism that includes,
next to the highest politburo leadership (Jia
Qinglin), the Public Security Minister and the
head of the United Front (see footnote 1),
representatives of the State Development and
Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance, and
the State Religious Affairs Bureau. The
coordinating group meets regularly. One of its
main tasks is to coordinate policies and their
implementation in the five provinces among which ethnic Tibet is divided.
3: TibetInfoNet has already reported in broad
terms about these meetings on 19 January 2010.
(See: More of the same; This
Update is intended to present a more detailed
account and analysis of the new, known elements of the PRC's Tibet policies.
4: Although the openness about it is new, the
approach as such is not. For years already, the
Chinese authorities, while acknowledging only the
TAR as 'Tibet' and maintaining publicly a
territory-based approach to Tibetan affairs,
internally dealt with those through diverse
committees applying a 'nationality'-based approach.
5: The plan was in fact initiated in 2008, which
underlines the link to the unrest of that year.
It appears it will be pursued more assiduously now.
6: See: More of the same, 19 January 2010;
7: Whereas a link to his military career which
already ended in 1986 appears more speculative.
8: See: Managing and servicing the floating
population a "key issue for security and
development in the TAR", 26 September 2008;
9: Restrictions on disposable plastic products
implemented for a decade in many regions of the
Indian Himalayas and partly in Nepal appear to
have triggered similar measures in the TAR.
10: Previously, the Dalai Lamas representatives
were not acknowledged to be envoys, but private
individuals, and it was denied that official discussions were taking place.
11: See above footnote 1.
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