China keeps Tibetan chaos at bay
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - Tibetans in exile and their supporters around the world
gathered on March 10 to mark the 50th anniversary of a failed armed uprising
against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region, while China upgraded security in
Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas, with some scattered protests reported.
People's Armed Police soldiers, fully armed with anti-riot weapons, were seen
patrolling the streets.
China will maintain tight security in Tibetan areas at least for the rest of
this month as some other sensitive dates are approaching such as March 14
(riots in Lhasa last year) and the March 28 "Tibetan Serf Emancipation Day"
(the defeat of the armed Tibetan
uprising which led the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet for India).
Apparently having drawn a lesson from its lousy handing of Tibetan protests
around the anniversary last year, China has also launched diplomatic and
tit-for-tat propaganda campaigns rebuffing any outside criticism and what it
regards as "foreign interference" in the Tibet issue. Foreign journalists have
already been asked to leave these sensitive areas.
In his speech marking the anniversary, the Dalai Lama accused the Chinese
Communist Party of turning Tibet into "hell on earth". China's state-run Xinhua
News Agency immediately issued commentaries, in both Chinese and English,
saying it was under the Dalai Lama's rule that Tibetan serfs were living in
"hell on earth". Internet services in Lhasa and other places were cut off ahead
of the uprising anniversary.
At a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC)
annual session, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged foreign governments
"not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit their countries", adding that refusing
the Dalai Lama's visit should be written into "the basic norms of international
relations" of any country "interested in preserving its ties with China".
In Nepal, the Maoist-led government said that it had arrested 140 supporters of
the Dalai Lama trying to sneak into Tibet on March 9. The government report
also said that the Tibetan monks had reserved three public vehicles and were
heading towards the closest Nepal-Tibet Border, in Sindupalchowk District,
according to the Telegraph Weekly.
"We must build up a Great Wall in our fight against separatism and safeguard
the unity of the motherland," Chinese President Hu Jintao said Monday at an NPC
group discussion panel attended by Tibetan delegates.
Under such water-tight security and a high-profile propaganda campaign, no
protest was reported in Tibet or other Tibetan regions inside China. Attending
the NPC session, senior officials of Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan province, where
Tibetan protests occurred a year ago, said they are confident that the
situation this year would be fully under control so there would be no "big
Still there could be some disturbances. As reported by Xinhua, in Qinghai's
Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on March 9 two police vehicles in a timber
farm were hit by minor explosions shortly after 2am. There were no fatalities
in the incident.
But outside China, Tibetans in exile and Free Tibet supporters around the world
staged public demonstrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the failed
In Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in
exile, thousands of Tibetan monks and youths marched through the streets,
shouting pro-Tibet slogans and praying for the Dalai Lama. The demonstrators,
including those who followed the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet and their
offspring, all pledged support to their spiritual leader. The events climaxed
in a candlelight vigil, with participants holding banners with slogans like
"Stop tortures in Tibet" and "China stole my land, my voice and my freedom".
Young radical groups shouted anti-China slogans and called for Rangzen - or
full independence - of Tibet.
Much to the surprise of many, a few Han Chinese nationals participated in this
sensitive ceremony in Dharamsala, Free Tibet supporters expressing their
solidarity with the Tibetan people who even spoke on this big day against the
harsh policies of the Chinese government.
At the main temple in Dharamsala the Dalai Lama addressed his mass followers,
criticizing the Chinese rule of Tibet. "The Tibetan people are regarded like
criminals deserving to be put to death," he said. "The religion, culture,
language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered
more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction."
Despite his harsh criticism of China and expressions of frustration with
fruitless talks with Beijing, the Dalai Lama reiterated the need to stick to
his "middle road" in seeking genuine autonomy for Tibet. The Dalai Lama also
spoke of his escape from Tibet five decades ago.
"I constantly look back at the last 50 years - I always feel I made the right
decision," he said. But the Dalai Lama did add that he still wishes to return
to his homeland. And he expressed his optimism of this possibility, despite the
upheavals in the past half a century. The Tibet issue remains alive and the
international community is showing a growing concern with Tibet, which he
called an achievement. "Seen from this perspective, I have no doubt that the
justice of Tibet's cause will prevail, if we continue to tread the path of
truth and non-violence."
There also were protests and gatherings on March 10 by Tibetans in exile and
their supporters in other Indian cities as well as Nepal, South Korea, New
York, London, Berlin, Vienna, Switzerland, Taiwan, Australia and the United
Compared with protests on the uprising day last year, this year's activities
inside and outside China were quite peaceful. Last year's protests in Lhasa,
the capital of Tibet, turned into riots, which resulted in a harsh crackdown
inside Tibet and the loss of perhaps dozens of lives, according to the Tibetan
government in exile in Dharamsala. Because of that, this time the Dalai Lama
made a strong appeal to Tibetans not to give China an excuse for a crackdown,
so that the lives of many Tibetans would not be sacrificed.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising, the US State
Department issued a statement expressing deep concern about human rights in
Tibet and accused China of harming its religion, culture and livelihood.
But Beijing showed no sign that it would make any concessions. Chinese foreign
ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu immediately rejected the US criticism and accused
Washington of interfering in China's affairs, saying the Obama administration
was confusing the facts and jeopardizing US-China relations.
Analysts believe that with lessons learned from last year and its all-out
efforts this year, Beijing could bring the situation in Tibet under tighter
control. Wang Hongwei, research professor with the Institute of Asia-Pacific
Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "From China's
perspective, this is a sensitive year in regard to the Tibet issue … But China
is well prepared and can deal with it better [than last year]."
Zhou Jianming, director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the
Shanghai Municipal Academy of Social Sciences, said the Tibet issue is a card
played by Western countries to pressure China and they are expected to continue
playing it. "But it is not a good time right now as everyone is concentrating
on dealing with the global financial crisis," he told Taiwan's Central News
But in the long run, analysts say, holding talks with the Dalai Lama is
essential to prevent unrest in Tibet since the Tibetan spiritual leader is the
only one who can stop violence and unrest in the Himalayan region.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at[email protected]