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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."

Tibetan unrest puts China in a tight spot

April 8, 2008

Its classic tactics -- restricting the press and blaming the Dalai Lama
-- sit poorly with the outside world and a more informed citizenry.

By Mark Magnier
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
April 6, 2008

BEIJING — As unrest has spread among China's ethnic Tibetan population,
Beijing has found itself caught between its desire to appear reasonable
to the outside world and its tendency to come down hard when feeling
threatened.

In recent days, the government's propaganda has grown shriller and its
security tighter: The London-based Free Tibet Campaign, an activist
group, reported late Friday that police in Sichuan province had fired on
hundreds of Buddhist monks and residents, resulting in eight deaths. The
Chinese government acknowledged unrest in the area and said police had
fired warning shots, but reported no deaths.

Yet too much has changed for the emerging world power and soon-to-be
Olympic host to completely revert to the Communist Party playbook of
old, analysts say.

"China is facing some traditional challenges and new types of
conditions," said Shen Dingli, professor at Shanghai's Fudan University.
"This is forcing it to deal with this mixture and adapt."

On the propaganda front, the crisis sparked by riots on March 14 in
Lhasa that spread rapidly to the nearby provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and
Sichuan provinces has spawned rhetoric reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s.

In apportioning blame, the government has largely ignored the Tibetan
people's underlying economic, religious and cultural grievances. Instead
it has fallen back on a handful of timeworn narratives: that the vast
majority of Tibetans were led astray by a few foreign agents; that the
West is biased; that outsiders are trying to keep China down; and that
the "splittist" Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, is
intent on wrecking the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"There's been such vitriol," said Michael Curtis Davis, a professor at
the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "They've accused the Dalai Lama of
everything on Earth."

This is a harder sell than in bygone days, when Beijing could demand
that the masses adhere to the party line and didn't have to worry much
about the outside world. Pressure is building for some at least symbolic
concession. Some world leaders are threatening to boycott the opening
ceremony for the Aug. 8-24 Games.

China also faces an increasingly informed and skeptical citizenry.

"China really hasn't allowed much reporting on the underlying causes of
all the unrest, so it's a bit hard to tell what's going on," said Wu
Lisheng, 40, a Beijing salesman. "There are surely some bad people
involved, but I really can't be sure if it's the Dalai Lama's fault."

A document released Wednesday by Beijing purportedly proving that the
unrest was "organized, premeditated, masterminded and instigated by the
Dalai clique" amounts to little more than a schedule of international
meetings by foreign Tibet activists -- what would pass for normal
political activity in most countries.

The next day, in the latest of a series of media briefings, Xiao Youcai,
an official of an autonomous region in Sichuan province, said evidence
of the Dalai Lama's involvement "will be produced in due time."

The leadership's sense of crisis has intensified amid reports that civil
unrest has broken out in another restive area, the far western region of
Xinjiang, which is home to the minority Uighur ethnic group. Exile
groups reported last week that 70 Uighurs were arrested amid government
fears that there could be trouble when the Olympic torch passes through
the area. The reports could not be confirmed.

Since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, China has reorganized its forces to
keep the army out of domestic riot work whenever possible, a task
delegated to the police and paramilitary.

Officials have said that units have used "maximum restraint" in putting
down the riots, with Chinese officials putting the death toll at 22 and
Tibetan exile groups pegging it at closer to 140 people. Authorities
also say more than 1,000 people have surrendered or been arrested in the
Tibetan capital.

Yet China's penchant for military secrecy has weakened its case, some
analysts said. By working to hide the identification of units involved
in restoring order, by covering over signs and removing license plates,
it has fanned suspicion of army involvement. And rather than allow
outsiders to observe its police and paramilitary in action, it expelled
foreign media, tourists and businessmen from the affected area.

"Part of the problem is that outsiders have not been able to observe
whether really bad stuff is occurring," said Dennis Blasko, a former
U.S. military attache in Beijing and author of "The Chinese Army Today."

Although part of the leadership has been shutting out the rest of the
world, other parts have been under pressure to convey at least the
appearance of openness, a recognition that China increasingly needs the
outside world for economic growth, diplomatic acceptance and even
domestic political support.

The government hosted a trip to Lhasa for a select group of foreign
reporters within two weeks of the riots -- a quick response for China's
often-lumbering government -- followed shortly by a trip for diplomats.

"The fact they organized these trips means they still care about the
global reputation of China," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based
researcher with Human Rights Watch. "China still needs the world more
than the world needs China."

However, 30 monks burst forth to protest Chinese policies while two
dozen journalists toured Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, one of Tibet's holiest
shrines. "Tibet is not free," yelled one. "They want us to crush the
Dalai Lama and that is not right," said another.

Whereas a quick-thinking government minder might have argued that this
showed China's growing democracy and willingness to tolerate alternate
views, the monks were hustled away. Follow-up requests by reporters and
diplomats to produce the monks and demonstrate that they were not
punished have been turned down.

"China no longer has such ability to manipulate information so easily,"
said Fudan University's Shen. "There's a tremendous opportunity here to
improve and make itself more welcome internationally."

mark.magnier@latimes.com
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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