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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China steps up PR blitz for Tibet anniversary

March 11, 2009

Marianne Barriaux
AFP
March 9, 2009

The nation's capital Beijing has in recent days hosted several plays and dance shows, as well as a large exhibition, celebrating what authorities say has been the improvement of Tibetan lives under Chinese rule.

A stream of articles in the state-run press have also painted a picture of happy calm in Tibet, while a 43-page government document was released hailing "momentous democratic reform" in the Himalayan region in the past 50 years.

In contrast, Chinese officials and media have stuck by a long-time policy and refused to acknowledge claims by Tibetan exiles and activist groups of a myriad of problems in Tibet, chiefly religious and political repression.

"Much of this is designed with Chinese public opinion in mind, not that of Tibetans... nor in the West where the Dalai Lama has long won the PR battle," said Andrew Fischer, who is a lecturer at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands.

The anniversary marks 50 years since a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 that led to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, escaping into exile in India.

Every year, Tibetan exiles and many others living in the Himalayan region commemorate the date, angering China which maintains that 1959 was the year it liberated Tibetans from serfdom and started reforms.

Last year, peaceful protests that began on the 49th anniversary escalated four days later into deadly rioting in Tibet's capital, Lhasa -- unrest which quickly spread across the Tibetan plateau.

The subsequent crackdown was widely condemned abroad, and for weeks Tibet was propelled to the top of the international news agenda.

China blamed the unrest on the Dalai Lama, whom it accused of trying to win Tibet's independence, and top officials have repeated those charges in recent days.

Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, said Beijing was mobilising nationalistic feelings in case unrest occurs again.

"This is a more achievable objective because the ordinary Chinese people are quite receptive to this kind of propaganda," he said.

An example of this is an exhibition in Beijing "to explain that Tibet is an inalienable part of China since ancient times."

In January, China announced that every March 28, Tibet would celebrate the "liberation of million of serfs" and advent of democracy there.

Fischer, who has studied Tibetan areas of western China, said the scale of the current PR blitz could be a sign of tensions within the ruling Communist Party after last year's unrest.

"The shrillness of the government propaganda is a sign of insecurity from a side... within the party that has been running the government's Tibet policy for the last 20 years," he said.

"It is quite possible many of these people have come under severe criticism from within the party, and all of this might be happening while maintaining an outward appearance of stoic intransigence."

But as China's public relations machine continues to lambast the Dalai Lama as a "wolf" and accuses him of fomenting deadly unrest, many around the world find the accusations hard to believe.

While government leaders recognise Tibet as undoubtedly part of China they also continue to meet the Dalai Lama.

Then-US President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were among those who last year met the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent campaigning.

Some Western governments remain critical of China's treatment of Tibetans, disagreeing with its official line that its rule has brought only benefits.

"The government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas," the US State Department said in a report last month alleging torture, detentions and abuse.
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