XI JINPING'S TIBET CHALLENGE: ONE YEAR ON - Pillars of Control
China's stranglehold occupation in Tibet is maintained by Three Pillars of Coercive Control In recent years there has been a surge of resistance by Tibetans in Tibet
Tibet is comprised of the three provinces of Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang. Amdo is now split by China into the provinces of Qinghai and part of Gansu. Kham is largely incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, and U-Tsang, together with western Kham, is today referred to by China as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Tibet's traditional territory accounts for one quarter of the landmass of today's People's Republic of China.
How has Xi performed...
Xi Jinping's first year at the helm of China's Communist Party has seen a tightening of restrictions in occupied Tibet, Tibet campaigners said on the anniversary of China's 5th generation Politburo Standing Committee being unveiled. Xi and his colleagues have shown no sign of changing course in Tibet, instead they are continuing down the same failed path as previous generations of Chinese leaders; implementing a harsh military crackdown, which - far from bringing about the stability they seek - serve to exacerbate Tibetan grievances and create widespread resistance right across Tibet.
Numerous known incidents of security forces opening fire on unarmed Tibetans. These include:
- 6 July 2013 in Tawu, eastern Tibet: People’s Armed Police opened fire on a gathering of unarmed Tibetans who were holding a picnic to mark the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday.
- 6 August, Dzatoe, central Tibet: Chinese security forces broke up a peaceful sit-down protest against mining, despite demonstrators having erected posters of Xi Jinping and quoted a speech he had made on protection of the environment - at least 14 Tibetans were injured.
- 6 October 2013, Driru, central Tibet: Chinese security forces shot and injured at least 60 Tibetans who had gathered to call for the release of a local villager,detained for objecting to official orders to fly the Chinese flag and demonstrate loyalty to the Communist Party.
Continued Self-immolation Protests
Tibetans from all walks of life have continued to self-immolate in protest against China's occupation of Tibet. Since 15 November 2013 there have been 49 such instances, the most recent on 11 November 2013 by Tibetan monk Tsering Gyal in Golok, eastern Tibet. At least 123 instances of self-immolation protest have been recorded to date with over 100 protesters have died since the wave began in 2009.
Heightened crackdown and criminilization of relatives of Tibetan self-immolation protesters
A heightened security presence is indicative of China’s more systematic and aggressive response to the Tibetan self-immolations, a response that ignores the root causes of the self-immolations. This includes the criminalization of the self-immolations and retributive actions against families, relatives, or monasteries associated with Tibetans who have self-immolated. Heavy prison sentences have been handed down to numerous Tibetans for alleged connections with self-immolators, including Lobsang Kunchok, sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, and Lobsang Tsering who received a 10-year sentence in January 2013 for "intentional homicide". On 16 August 2013 Dolma Kyab was sentenced to death for "homicide", accused of "killing his wife [Kunchok Wangmo] and burning her body to make it look as if she had self-immolated", according to Xinhua. The sentences, ranging from three to 13 years, are part of an official campaign to demonise and criminalise association with self-immolators and self-immolation protests.
Further isolation of Tibet
Communication restrictions in Tibet, with a tightening control of the internet and detaining Tibetan writers, has further isolated the Tibetan people. In early November 2013, Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo vowed to "ensure that the voices of hostile forces and the Dalai group are not seen or heard".
During October 2013 three writers who were frequent information sources for external observers were arrested on the pretext that they carried out "political activities aimed at destroying social stability and dividing the Chinese homeland". Reporters without Borders wrote: "Every arrest of a Tibetan who tried to inform his peers and the outside world about the dramatic situation in Tibet plunges the region further into isolation."
Escalation of the policy to remove Tibet's nomads from their ancestral home
Xi Jinping's government continues to subject millions of Tibetans to a policy of mass rehousing and relocation that radically changes their way of life, and about which they have no say. Since 2006, under plans to "Build a New Socialist Countryside" in Tibetan areas, over two million Tibetans have already been "rehoused" – through government-ordered renovation or construction of new houses – in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), while hundreds of thousands of nomadic herders in the eastern part of the Tibetan plateau have been relocated or settled in "New Socialist Villages."
After 60 years China is still reliant on its military and paramilitary forces to maintain control of Tibet, with estimates of between 150,000 - 500,000 PLA troops stationed on the Tibetan Plateau. The visible presence of security forces is stepped up around sensitive anniversaries and periods of unrest (1o), but China has been unable to entirely suppress mass demonstrations, notably in 1959, in the late 1980s (when Tibet was placed under martial law) and in 2008, when more than 150 separate incidents of protest were recorded across the plateau. Despite the crackdown that followed the 2008 Uprisings, public protests have continued and take place regularly, especially in eastern Tibet, often in conjunction with self-immolations by Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople (1p), demonstrating that China's military occupation cannot suppress the Tibetan people's will to be free.
China now spends more on public security than it does on international defence (1q). A Human Rights Watch study in 2011 found that security spending in the Ngaba region of eastern Tibet [Chinese: Aba, Sichuan Province] - at the epicentre of the current wave of self-immolations - has been outstripping that of non-Tibetan areas of Sichuan Province since 2002.
Like other oppressed people around the world whose freedom movements have recently toppled authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, the Tibetan people are pushing for their own freedom. Tibetan resistance within Tibet has become increasingly diverse, with a renewed determination to promote the Tibetan national identity through the spread of a home-grown movement called Lhakar, or "White Wednesday", in which Tibetans consciously engage in and promote uniquely Tibetan activities.
CHINA'S COLONIAL RULE
China's rule of Tibet is one of the last remaining remnants of the 20th century-style of colonialism that was overthrown and denounced by the global community. China's goal since 1950, as first expressed by Mao Zedong, has been to integrate Tibet with China. But whilst four generations of colonial policies have created social exclusion, deprivation and disparities between poor rural Tibetans and wealthy urban Chinese in Tibet, Tibetans continue to assert their distinct national identity.
Colonial exploitation of Tibet accelerated when Hu Jintao became Party Secretary of the TAR in the late 1980s. Hu's policy of "grasping with both hands", which sought to use economic development as a tool in the "struggle against separatism", was consolidated with the launch of China's Western Development Strategy (WDS) in 1999 and is still visible today. Designed to reduce the economic disparity between the richer eastern seaboard of China and poorer western provinces, the political objectives of the WDS were articulated by then President Jiang Zemin, who said it "will help develop China's economy, stabilise local society and contribute to China's unity" (18 September 2000). Yulu Dawa Tsering, the revered Tibetan lama and independence campaigner who died in 2002, said the WDS represented "a period of emergency and darkness" (2a).
China's financial investment in Tibet is substantial (193.1 billion yuan from 2011 to 2015), but the emphasis on large infrastructure rather than community-led projects has delivered patchy development that seldom benefits the poorest Tibetans; indeed much of the revenue generated in Tibet goes back into mainland China's pockets (2b). The Gormo-Lhasa Railway, by far the largest project, was completed in 2006 at a cost of 33 billion yuan. The International Campaign for Tibet reports that the railway has triggered a "second invasion" of Chinese into Tibet, facilitating both the swift deployment of military and the exploitation of Tibet's natural resources (2c). Figures from China's most recently available census in 2000 give the population of the entire Tibetan Plateau - including 150 Tibetan autonomous counties - as at least 10 million, excluding military and migrant workers. 5.4 million are listed as Tibetan; the remainder Han or other Chinese people (2d). As long ago as 2002, officials in the TAR admitted to foreign journalists that Tibetans would soon be in a minority in Lhasa (2e).
Tourism is a major beneficiary of state investment, with tourists expected to number 15 million by 2015 (2f) - the vast majority of which will be Chinese. In 2012 China announced further heavy investment in tourism infrastructure within Tibet, including a new theme park near Lhasa. However Tibet is routinely closed to foreign tourists. The TAR is closed during sensitive political anniversaries and when any large protest takes place: parts of Amdo and Kham, where most of the Tibetan self-immolations have taken place, have also been closed. Even when Tibet is open, the authorities attempt to tightly control what tourists see and understand. Tour guides and hoteliers have been suspended and imprisoned for perceived indiscretions. Despite the fact that occupation is no vacation, several international hotel companies, including Starwood (2g) and InterContinental Hotels, are operating or plan to operate luxury hotels in Lhasa.
Chinese migration onto the Tibetan plateau coupled with Tibetan economic marginalisation - poor education and training preventing Tibetans from competing for business and employment opportunities - were among the driving forces behind protests in Lhasa in 2008 (2h). Since then China has intensified efforts to marginalize the Tibetan language in favour of Chinese (2j). In October 2010 over 10,000 Tibetan students and teachers protested against proposed education reforms by Qinghai Province, which aimed to change the primary language of instruction from Tibetan to Chinese (2k). Street signs are in Chinese, official documents generally only available in Chinese and letters addressed in Tibetan are not delivered. But in spite of China's efforts, a resurgence of the Tibetan language as an expression of identity is underway in Tibet (2m).
In 1998 China announced its final solution - the elimination of the Tibetan nomadic way of life, which for millennia has been an intrinsic part of Tibetan society. In 1998 China's Agriculture vice-minister Qi Jingfa, said "All herdsmen are expected to end the nomadic life by the end of the century" (2n). Although China missed its own deadline, by January 2011 officials said 1.43 million farmers and herders had permanent homes (2o). Efforts to force Tibetans into ghetto-style housing blocks have now intensified and in May 2012 the State Council announced plans to resettle the remaining nomad population 246,000 households or 1.157 million nomads across the PRC by 2015 (2p). For thousands of years, Tibetan nomads have lived sustainably on the grasslands; now China's policy of 'converting rangelands to pastures' is leading to overgrazing in fenced-in areas and exacerbating desertification (2q). Land, seized under false claims of 'environmental protection' in the age of climate change, is cleared, often to make way for dams and mining operations. Coercive settlement is also causing economic and social problems (2r), likely to fuel greater unrest. In June 2012, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton publicly recognized this problem for the first time, saying "...the EU questions whether the objective of environmental protection can only be reached by eliminating the traditional way of life of Tibetans who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. The EU is concerned that compulsory resettlement of all nomads has the potential to destroy the distinctive Tibetan culture and identity" (2s).
2a. Tibet Information Network, 'China's Great Leap West', 2000
2b. Tibet Watch Special Report, 'Perversities of Extreme Dependence and Unequal Growth in the TAR', Andrew M Fischer, August 2007
2c. International Campaign for Tibet, 'Tracking the Steel Dragon'
2d. China Data 2010 census is intended to count the floating migrant population. See here
2e. New York Times, 8 August 2002
2f. Padma Choling, 16 January 2011
2g. Zhang Qingli, 7 March 2011
2h. Gongmeng Law Research Center, 'An investigative report into the social and economic causes of the 3.14 incident in Tibetan areas', 2009
2j. Tsering Woeser's Blog, 'When Tibetan Students fight for the Tibetan language', 2010, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth
2k. BBC report, 20 October 2010
2m. Tsering Shakya, 'The Politics of Language', December 2007
2n. Qin Jingfa, Vice Minister or Agriculture, quoted in Xinhua 18 March 1998. Available from here
2o. Padma Choling, 16 January 2011
2p. Southern Mongonlian Human Rights Center
2q. Oliver W Frauenfeld and Tingjun Zhang, 'Is Climate Change on the Tibetan Plateau Driven by Land Use/Cover Change?' 2005
2r. Feng Yongfeng, 'The Tibetan Plateau: the plight of ecological migrants', 2008
2s. Catherine Ashton, 'Speech on the situation in Tibet', 12 June 2012
FEAR AND INTIMIDATION
China has used repression as a means to breed fear among Tibetans and consolidate its control in Tibet over the last 60 years. In "Worst of the Worst 2012: The World's Most Repressive Societies", a report by renowned think-tank for democracy Freedom House, Tibet (which is classified as a disputed territory within the report) receives the lowest score, ranking it "least free" alongside Syria, North Korea and Sudan. (3a).
China's control is most pervasive in the religious sphere, with a series of especially harsh policies. As an integral part of Tibetan national identity, Tibetan Buddhism is perceived as a direct challenge to China's authorities; and a distinct threat to the unity of the country.
Since the beginning of the invasion China has attacked Tibetan Buddhism, intensifying the crackdown over the past decade. In May 2006 former TAR Party Secretary Zhang Qingli called for the intensification of the "patriotic education" campaigns (3b), a policy characterised by denunciations of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (3c) reported that use of the "patriotic education" campaign has become "systematic, protracted and enforced with new-found vigour and zeal"; individuals failing to denounce the Dalai Lama and praise Communist leaders are subjected to torture and imprisonment.
There are currently at least 527 known political prisoners in Tibet (3d) according to the US State Department, but the true number is likely to be considerably higher. In January 2012 several hundred Tibetans returning from India, where they had traveled on legitimate papers to attend Kalachakra Teachings given by the Dalai Lama, were arbitrarily detained and subjected to patriotic education at various centres around Lhasa. Human Rights Watch believes it was the first time since the late 1970s that authorities had detained Tibetan laypeople in such large numbers (3e).
China's vilification of the Dalai Lama has been ramped up in recent years. The pre-eminent representative of the Tibetan people and a global icon of peace, the 14th Dalai Lama is viewed by Beijing as enemy number one, described as a "wolf in monk's robes" and "a monster with a human face". His image is banned in Tibet, yet protesters - especially those who have self-immolated - most of whom were not born when the Dalai Lama was forced to escape from Tibet, have consistently appealed for his return. China blames the Dalai Lama for masterminding the wave of Tibetan self-immolations, calling his prayers for those who have died through self-immolation "terrorism in disguise" (3f).
Further extreme measures to intimidate Tibetans by consolidating control over Tibetan Buddhism include new regulations ruling that only Chinese authorities can approve the recognition of reincarnated lamas, tight restrictions on religious gatherings and practices, and the permanent stationing of government officials, in some cases armed security, in monasteries. The US State Department's most recent annual report on religious freedom observes that "CCP control over religious practice and the day-to-day management of monasteries and other religious institutions has tightened" and "official interference in the practice of Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions generated profound grievances and contributed to a series of self-immolations by Tibetans" (3g).
No section of Tibetan society is free of repressive policies. Yet since 2008, despite China strategically targeting Tibetan cultural expression, writers, musicians and educators have emerged at the forefront of a cultural renaissance, with their assertions of Tibetan identity challenging dominant narratives of the Chinese government's policies in Tibet. The threat to 'stability' posed by these young, educated Tibetans, who have been brought up under the communist system, puts them at great risk of arrest and subsequently torture - over 80 Tibetan intellectuals have been either imprisoned, disappeared or faced torture due to expressing their views (3h).
In March 2012 a new Chinese government directive was issued calling on the public to "expose and report on anyone committing illegal activities harming social stability", offering a reward of 5,000 yuan (about US $796) to "anyone who reports such criminal activities to public security organs" (3j). The directive, posted publicly throughout Amdo, eastern Tibet where numerous protests including self-immolations have taken place, threatened to "severely crack down" on Tibetans who engage in "splittist activities".
Reporters Without Borders recently expressed alarm at the continuing media blackout in Tibet, noting "not only are foreign media organisations prevented from covering these events, but the authorities have also organized a veritable disinformation campaign, using pro-government media such as the Global Times, which play down the disturbances and accuse the international community of interfering" (3k). In addition to restricting the flow of information from Tibet to the outside world, China recently stepped up control of the flow of information into Tibet (3m). Tightened restrictions on the use of communication tools including internet and telephones were added to new measures described by TAR Party Secretary Chen Quanguo as necessary "to ensure the absolute security of Tibet's ideological and cultural realm". Further restrictions on the publication of literature, including photocopying, and music publishing have been increased and government propaganda heightened via new TV channels, village education sessions, film showings and distribution of official books.
In addition to imposing a media blackout, China has refused all requests from foreign diplomats for access to Tibet in recent months. In response to the increasing self-immolations in eastern Tibet, the European Union, Australia and other governments have sought permission to investigate the situation on the ground, so far without success.
3a. Freedom House, 'Worse of the Worse 2012: The Most Repressive Societies'
3b. Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, May 2006
3c. Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Annual Report 2009
3d. US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011
3e. Human Rights Watch, 'China: End Crackdown on Tibetans Who Visited India'
3f. The Guardian, 19 October 2011
3g. US State Department, 'International Religious Freedom Report 2011'
3h. International Campaign for Tibet, 'A Raging Storm: The Crackdown on Tibetan Writers and Artists after Tibets Spring 2008 Protests'
3j. International Campaign for Tibet, 'Chinese government adresses unrest with threats and cash to informants', March 2012
3k. Reporters Without Borders, 'Authorities Tighten Grip, Isolating Even More From The Outside World', March 2012
3m. Human Rights Watch, 'China: Attempts to Seal off Tibet from Outside Information', July 2012
GROWING TIBETAN RESISTANCE
In the last five years there has been a surge of resistance by Tibetans in Tibet; notably the Uprisings in 2008, which were of a scale previously not witnessed since 1959, but increasing again in recent months. Since January 2012 more than 20 mass protests have taken place with demonstrators calling for freedom in Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama (4a). China's response to such protests has been often brutal, with reports of armed police attacking and beating demonstrators and, in a number of cases, opening fire, killing peaceful protesters and seriously injuring many more.
On 8 February 2012 at least 2,000 Tibetans in two different areas of Yulshul in Amdo [Chinese: Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province] took part in protests despite the intense security crackdown. In Tridu around 1,400 Tibetans took part in a "solidarity" march, instigated initially by 400 monks from from Sekhar monastery. The peaceful protesters carried banners calling on authorities to respect Tibetans and the Tibetan language and demanded freedom in Tibet, the return of the Dalai Lama, and the release of political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. In Nangchen hundreds of Tibetans, mainly young lay people, gathered for an all-day prayer vigil during which they chanted long-life prayers and slogans in support of the Dalai Lama.