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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."

Failed Government Policies Sparked Tibet Riots

May 30, 2009

By Austin Ramzy / Beijing
TIME Magazine
May 26, 2009

A new report from a group of Chinese scholars has
for the first time challenged China's official
explanation that the deadly riots that broke out
across Tibet in March, 2008, were inspired by
"overseas forces" — namely the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan government-in-exile. (Read "One Year
After Protests, an Enforced Silence on Tibet.")

The report, which was recently published on a
Chinese website, blames the riots not on
outsiders but on Beijing's policy toward Tibet,
claiming the central government has backed
incompetent local officials, created an economy
that provides few options for young people, and
deprived Tibetans of access to equal justice
under the law. (See pictures of last year's uprising in Tibet.)

While international human rights groups have said
the rioting, in which at least 19 died, was a
predictable response to the repression many
Tibetans experience under Chinese rule, domestic
criticism of the government on the politically
charged subject of Tibet is rare in China.

What's perhaps most unusual about the report is
that it was produced by a group of Chinese
scholars working for a Beijing-based think tank.
The 22-page document is based on research
compiled over a month by four graduate students
from Peking University, one of China's most
prestigious schools. It was released by the Open
Constitution Initiative, a six-year-old NGO run
by Chinese lawyers. The group focuses on issues
such as last year's tainted milk powder scandal
and reform of China's household registration
policy, which limits migration from the countryside to cities.

"We want to help society, and help build rule of
law," says Xu Zhiyong, legal scholar and one of
the group's founders. "We want to be objective.
On questions like Tibet, human rights, and so
forth, the Chinese government has a standpoint,
foreign governments and foreign media have a
standpoint. But it's also important to have an
independent look at the problems."

While the central government says that 50 years
of Communist Party rule of Tibet has led to broad
economic gains, the report argues that few of the
benefits are enjoyed by young people, who made up
a large proportion of the rioters last year. The
researchers found the while young Tibetans had
given up interest in living as herders and
farmers like their elders, a lack of
opportunities for work or higher education meant
that they have little hope of finding a place in
the broader world to which they've been exposed.
(Read "China Watches as Tibetan Talks Begin.")

In Tibet, many of the stores, restaurants and
hotels are owned and run by ethnic Han Chinese,
who are reluctant to hire locals. "In interviews
with many young Tibetans, they all said finding
work was difficult," the report says. "The main
obstacle was language and a lack of fluency in
Mandarin. In Lhasa, those who can speak Mandarin
can't necessarily find jobs. Many employers won't
necessarily hire Tibetans because they are seen as too lazy."

The report's harshest critique of Chinese rule
was that in tearing down the traditional Tibetan
élite, Beijing established a new hierarchy of
local Tibetan officials who have badly managed
the region's affairs. "The government has given
local cadres great power, but shown little
supervision. They have learned to use the goal of
'stable development' as a shield," the report
says. It adds that many officials have learned to
use the threat of "outside forces" promoting
Tibetan independence to conceal their inability to address local problems.

By undercutting the official line that all
grievances in Tibet are inspired by the Dalai
Lama and driven by independence plotters, the
group's report offers hope of a freer debate over
tensions in China's sensitive border regions,
according to Nicholas Bequelin, researcher for
the NGO Human Rights Watch. "This is something
that we've been waiting for a long time," he
says. "Any improvement in Tibet and Xinjiang can
only trickle down from more open areas of China."
(Read "Dalai Lama to Stay Quiet on Tibet's Future.")

Xu says that Tibet shouldn't be considered a
sensitive subject, and that the Open Constitution
Initiative hasn't run into any problems with the
government since releasing its study. But
Bequelin says that the report hasn't caused
trouble because it hasn't been widely distributed
or covered within China. And while he notes that
the group has been able to post the document on
its website, he doubts printed copies will ever
be permitted to circulate on the mainland.
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