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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Nationalism, discrimination and the Tibet Issue

April 30, 2009

Published by the International Campaign for Tibet
on the occasion of the Durban Review Conference
Geneva, April 2009

The situation in Tibet has frequently been raised
at the UN Human Rights Council and by the various
UN Special Procedures, concerned governments and
NGOs. These various actors have noted specific
violations of fundamental human rights, such as
the use of torture, arbitrary detention, use of
force against unarmed civilians and lack of
religious freedom and freedom of speech in Tibet.
However, behind many of these violations lie a
form of ethnic nationalism and discriminatory
practices, which undermine Chinese President Hu’s
efforts to create and maintain a ‘harmonious
society’ that respects ethnic diversity and the
differences of perspective that flow from this.
Discriminatory policies in Tibet with regards to
political participation, language in education,
socio-economic policies and migration have not
shown significant improvement in the past 10
years. For many Tibetans inside China, gains made
are being rolled back, and since unrest in Tibet
following protests last March, Tibetans have
frequently described this period as a return to
the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. They
speak of a deliberate, concerted effort by
Chinese officials and state media to portray
Tibetans as ungrateful, violent and anti-Chinese,
a situation which they argue entrenches mutual
distrust, drives the two populations further
apart and makes a sustainable solution for
Tibetans inside China all the more elusive.

Atmosphere since March 2008 unrest

Following nearly a year of protests across the
Tibetan plateau since March 2008, there is
increasing evidence of ethnic tension and
discrimination of Tibetan and Chinese people, due
at least in part to misinformation and propaganda
by the Chinese authorities that has resulted in
an upsurge of Chinese nationalism and hostility
against Tibetans. An official notice obtained by
ICT from one area of Beijing immediately prior to
the Beijing Olympics required every hotel and
public bathhouse to check on the 'circumstances'
of all Tibetan and Uyghur visitors, and their
presence should be reported to local police.[1]
This official acknowledgement that Tibetans and
Uyghurs are under suspicion simply because of
their ethnicity is supported by numerous
anecdotal and eyewitness reports of new
discrimination against Tibetans and a breakdown
in communications among Chinese and Tibetan
colleagues in different workplaces, including at government meetings.

The Chinese authorities have consistently
represented the uprising in Tibet as a 'violent
riot.' For weeks after March 14, state-run
television showed selective footage of monks
hurling rocks at police, protesters destroying
shop fronts and plumes of black smoke from
burned-out cars in Lhasa. TV newsreaders
presented the official line that the violence was
orchestrated by the "Dalai clique". But in more
than 125 protests across the Tibetan plateau
since March 10, only the events of March 14 in
Lhasa escalated to serious violence against
Chinese civilians, according to ICT's
information. The majority of the protests have been non-violent.

A visitor to Tibet told ICT: "Tibetans now find
themselves under relentless suspicion and
disregard. Even when Tibetans on official
business - by invitation from Beijing or Chengdu
hosts - do travel into mainland China, cabs will
pass them by or order them out when their
ethnicity is discovered by their language; or
'vacant hotels' suddenly have no rooms, one hotel after another."

Participation in Governance
At the root of discriminatory policies in Tibet
lies the lack of participation in governance.
Although Tibetans make up over 50% of government
cadres, they are vastly underrepresented in
decision-making bodies. Over the past decade not
only have heads of counties on a large scale been
replaced by Chinese cadres, but the Lhasa
Communist Party Committee that administers the
region has its lowest proportion of Tibetans
since 1966.[2] The Party Secretary of the Tibet
Autonomous Region, the most influential power
broker of the region, has never been an ethnic
Tibetan since the inception of the TAR. The
Chinese Constitution regulates that most of the
leaders and representatives of an "Autonomous
Region" and the "People’s Congress" should be
derived from the ethnic population of the region.
This, however, does not apply to the Party
Organs, of which the Party Committee is a critical component.

Ethnically exclusionary growth
Large-scale Development projects in Tibet such as
railways and highways mostly benefit ethnic
Chinese in urban areas with access to government
agencies and business networks in China.[3]
Economic development and growth are urban-biased,
whereas 80% of Tibetans live in rural areas.
Large infrastructure projects contribute to
further ethnic disparity because they
disproportionately benefit members of the largely
Chinese immigrant population, with their
advantages in language and access to officials
and business networks.[4] Tibetans have no equal
say in the exploitation of natural resources on
the Tibetan plateau. Infrastructure development
brings disproportionately low benefits for
Tibetan people, and mainly facilitate resource
extraction, deployment capacity of troops,
domestic and international tourism flows and
movements of migrants into the plateau.[5] State
involvement in direct and indirect migration and
demographic transformation Investments in higher
and professional education in Tibet lag behind
the rest of the PRC. Chinese language
requirements in secondary schools leads to the
domination of Chinese-relevant topics in the
curriculum and contributes to high dropout rates
of Tibetan children and very low levels of
competition for higher education. Poor standards
cause a dependency of the local economy on the
import of highly skilled labour from non-ethnic
communities outside Tibetan areas. Han-dominated
administration and business in return, through
networks and language requirements, contribute to
a further in-migration of non-Tibetans into the
labour market. Economic marginalization
reinvigorates this vicious circle of poorly
funded education and dependency on migration of
labour and expertise. Weak education policies and
a lack of economic development geared towards
capacity building of Tibetan entrepreneurship and
diversification of rural income, leads to further
immigration and ethnic tensions.

Religious policies

China maintains a policy of transforming Tibet
into an atheist region where "Communist spiritual
civilization" will prevail, and now publicly
states that the Communist Party of China is a
"living Buddha" and a "parent" to the Tibetan
people.[6] Obtaining a complete religious
education in Tibet today remains difficult or
impossible, especially in central Tibet. While
Beijing has officially promoted the
reinvigoration of the traditional ‘Geshe’ degree,
the most advanced level of scholarship possible
in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism
(typically requiring 20 years of intense study),
in practice, Beijing has taken measures both to
undermine the degree’s status and accessibility
to teachers and the course of study.[7] The
oppressive atmosphere has been underlined by the
leadership of Tibet Autonomous Region Party chief
Zhang Qingli, who has announced his intention to
intensify strict political control over the
practice of Buddhism. Using harsh rhetoric
against the Dalai Lama reminiscent of Cultural
Revolution jargon, Zhang Qingli has referred to a
"life or death struggle" against the Dalai Lama
and his "clique", and described the Tibetan
religious leader as the "biggest obstacle
hindering Tibetan Buddhism from establishing normal order."[8]

Restrictions on flow of information and expression of Tibetan characteristics

The use of policing, the judicial process, and
sentencing in Tibet all have a distinctly ethnic
character. These institutions are used to target
Tibetans who frame any dissent regarding local or
central government policy in terms of Tibet´s
unique circumstances or separate identity, and
Tibetans are frequently jailed under vaguely
defined laws such as ‘splitting the nation’ or
‘endangering state security’. Expression of
disagreement over issues that in the rest of
China are much more openly debated, such as the
environment and socio-economic issues, are
problematic in Tibet because they are framed
according to the special characteristics of the
situation in Tibet and thus risk especially severe responses from the state.

In the wake of last year’s protests, sentencing
of Tibetans has been particularly harsh where it
involves the sharing of information through
internet and mobile phone use. The Chinese
authorities have imposed a virtual information
blackout, with increasingly systematic measures
to block information flow. Not only have Tibetan
areas been closed to all foreigners for many
months in 2008 and in the run up to the 10 March
anniversary in 2009, but the trickle of
information from the region is severely
restricted and monitored and the transmitting of
all information about political unrest is
criminalized.[9] Compared with restrictions on
Han Chinese, Tibetans receive a markedly
different treatment when it comes to their
ability to raise concerns, question policies,
suggest alternative methods or communicate with the outside world.[10]

Re-education drives and targeting of the Dalai Lama

Patriotic education campaigns in Tibet have
intensified over the past year and have been
combined with unprecedented waves of pre-emptive
detentions over the 2008-2009 Winter as part of
an extensive "Strike Hard" campaign. The space
for Tibetans to express their discontent is
narrowed to the extent that the mere expression
of hope in mediation of their exiled spiritual
leader or an expression of trust in the Dalai
Lama as a ‘root lama’, can lead to imprisonment
and sentencing.[11] ICT has details of over 650
detainees of whom more than 110 have received
sentences. A further 1200 Tibetans are still
unaccounted for since the widespread, mostly
peaceful demonstrations inside Tibet.[12]

1. Urgent Notice: To all hostelries and public
baths in the jurisdiction: According to the
demands of the [Public Security Bureau] branch
office, from now onwards hostelries and public
baths under the jurisdiction of Haidian District
[in central Beijing] should conduct checks on the
circumstances of all Tibetans and Uyghurs staying
on business premises. Efforts should be
strengthened to verify the identification of all
such people who check in, and at the same time
[their presence] reported to the police station.
Note, all hostelries and public bathhouses should
carefully check and correctly record information
on guests' ethnicity. All hostelries receiving
Tibetans and Uyghurs should immediately report to the police station.

2. Human Rights Watch, 7 November 2006: China:
Fewer Tibetans on Lhasa’s Key Ruling Body.

3. See ICT, 2007: Tracking the Steel Dragon

4. Fisher, A.M. 2005: Close encounters of an
Inner-Asian kind: Tibetan-Muslim coexistence
through the case of Tibet, Development Studies
Institute, working papers series.

5. Asia scholar Jogn W. Garver writes in Tracking
the Steel Dragon, ICT, 2007: ..."New lies of new
lines of transportation will be bearers of
China’s influence. Railways and better roads will
bring Chinese goods, businessmen and businesses,
investment and cultural influences. Trade flows
and inter-dependencies will develop. [...]
distant natural resources will increasingly be
plugged into China’s industry [...] China’s
influence will increase, in regions where it was
historically limited by the tyranny of distance and terrain."


7. Official China Xinhuanet, 2 March 2007

8. The Communist Party as Living Buddha-The
Crisis Facing Tibetan Religion Under Chinese Control:

9. Ahead of the 10th march anniversary this year
once more all these areas were closed to
foreigners. The monitoring of the phone calls of
Tibetans has been identified by TAR Party
Secretary Zhang Qingli as he said that there was
a need to focus: "people's stand, to investigate
telephone communication¡±. In an apparent
adaptation of a nation wide anti-porn drive, XZTV
reported on November 3, 2008 about a new
nation-wide campaign on the theme of people
talking about events, called "smash mischievous
rumours and correct wrong views". Also the
"listening to rumours" had to be stopped.

10. According to a November 8, 2008 article in
the state-run Lhasa Evening News, Migmar
Dondrub  (Mima Dunzhu) and Wangdu (Wangdui) were
sentenced to 14 year and life sentence
respectively for accused of collecting
"intelligence concerning the security and
interests of the state and provid[ing] it to the
Dalai clique¡­ prior to and following the 'March 14' incident".

11. Andrew Fisher says: "Lack of tolerance [to an
evolving nationalist discourse and response to
ethnic exclusion] adds force to feelings of
resentment and alienation among many Tibetans,
even if the material situation of some slowly
improves with the annual addition of motorcycles,
mobile phones and other consumer durables to
their stock of goods. In this way, the government
strategy of winning over the harts and minds of
Tibetans with a dazzling display of subsidies is
sabotaged by its own internal contradictions."

12. ICT, 2009: A Great Mountain Burned by Fire
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