China’s Crackdown On Tibet
Since 1951, when Chinese rule over Tibet was established, Beijing has tried hard to stifle Tibetan culture, religion, and language (Demick, 2008a). In 1959, Chinese troops brutally suppressed a failed Tibetan uprising against China which resulted in the flight of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, and tens of thousands of Tibetans to India where they proclaimed a government-in-exile (Demick, 2008b).
Despite the central government’s heavy investments in Tibet’s infrastructure and support of the region’s tourism industry for the last decade which led to a 14% GDP growth rate in 2007 and the emergence of a new middle class in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, the recent economic achievements failed to win Tibetans’ loyalty to Beijing.
More and more Han Chinese, the country’s majority population, have come to the region in recent years making up approximately 50% of Lhasa population and being the true beneficiaries of economic growth.
Tibetans also oppose the hardline policies adopted by the local party leader, Zhang Qingli, aiming at restricting religious influence on the population and undermining the authority of the Dalai Lama who is revered in Tibet (Trashing the Beijing Road). Mid-March protests in Tibet The last month protests in Tibet were sparked on March 10th by three hundred or so monks in Lhasa staging a peaceful demonstration to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule and urging the government to set free imprisoned colleagues.
Protests continued on March 14th shortly after two monks had been beaten by police officers. These demonstrations by hundreds of Buddhist monks and local Tibetan residents turned violent and resulted in clashes with the police forces and burning of shops owned by Han Chinese residents. Protests quickly spread to the monasteries of Ganden, Drepung, and Sera, “Page # 2” and also took place in Amdo province where the Dalai Lama had been born (Magnier, 2008a).
Thousands of people also attacked a local police station, vandalized several police cars, and raised Tibet’s national flag, banned by the Chinese government. At least ten people were reported to be killed in Lhasa as a result of rioting and clashes there. On March 15th, the rebellion erupted also in the holy city of Xiahe. (Magnier, 2008b). The police forces surrounded the area and ordered foreigners to evacuate the region. The demonstrations were dispersed, many Tibetan monks and residents beaten and arrested.
By March 17th, despite the presence of Chinese security forces deployed to the region, the rioting spread to Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai provinces, areas with considerable ethnic Tibetan populations, and resulted in eighty deaths (Demick, 2008b). The government selected media images and stories for broadcasting in order to describe Tibetans and Buddhist monks as the aggressors and the Chinese state as a victim and, thus, succeeded in winning sympathy and support among the Han Chinese.
Beijing accused the Dalai Lama and his self-proclaimed government-in-exile of being the mastermind behind the riots in Tibet and portrayed the protests as a conflict between the Chinese and the Tibetans stirring up feelings of anger and fear among the former and appealing to their nationalist sentiments (Magnier, 2008c). The Dalai Lama, by contrast, called for nonviolence but he admitted at a conference in Dharamsala, India, attended by many foreign journalists that he was powerless to stop the riots as Tibetans, being fed up with Beijing repressive regime, have became more and more violent and radicalized (Demick, 2008b).
Methods such as telephone tapping, Internet filtering, and travel restrictions were used by the security units to block any information or news about the rioting and its suppression. Chinese press also criticized foreign journalists accusing them of distorting the facts about the rioting in Tibet and of exaggerating the brutality with which they were suppressed. On March “Page # 3” 26th, Beijing officials selected some two dozen foreign journalists that were allowed to visit Lhasa for the first time after the events there to show the damage caused by Tibetans (Welcome to the Olympics). Beijing’s dilemma
Tibet has been a restive area in China for decades and its current uprising, apart from being the most dangerous one since 1959, also takes place at the most inconvenient moment when Beijing prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics next August. The violent riots in Tibet and the brutality with which Beijing responded have attracted the attention of the world’s leaders as well as human rights groups many of whom now call for a boycott of the Olympics (Demick, 2008b). The 72-year old Dalai Lama, by contrast, said that the Chinese people deserve to host the 2008 Summer Olympics emphasizing that he opposes their boycotting (Magnier, 2008c).
Sympathy demonstrations have been held around the world whose participants have tried to disrupt the passage of the Olympic Games torch in Europe, the USA, and Asia demanding that Beijing start the negotiations with the Dalai Lama to resolve the conflict peacefully and ease control over Tibet (Torch song trilogy). France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk have already announced they may not attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics scheduled for August 8th if China does not resume its talks with the Dalai Lama (Elegant, 2008).
Obama and Clinton, the Democratic candidates for the US presidency, believe Bush should boycott it, too. With the protests spreading further in Tibet, more critics of China will be galvanized around the world and more western leaders will be pressed to ignore the Beijing’s opening ceremony (Torch song trilogy). The way China deals with the current riots in Tibet is brutal, but not as brutal, however, as it was in 1989 when the last big protests erupted in Lhasa.
Beijing has to show relative restraint because of the forthcoming Olympics and the reaction of the international “Page # 4” community to the events in Tibet. On the one hand, the government top-ranking officials are aware of the fact that for Tibetans the Games are a perfect chance to bring the attention of foreign governments to their situation under Beijing’s rule and with the help of other Tibetans living abroad to put more pressure on the government to give them religious and political freedom.
So Beijing is forced to forbear from any harsh suppression of the rioting it preferred to use in the past. On the other hand, the government can’t ease the crackdown as it worries that ethnic minorities in other parts of China may get emboldened to revolt, too, if the Tibetan dissident movement is not suppressed. It concerns in particular the far region of Xinjiang in western China which is populated by restive Muslim Uighurs (Trashing the Beijing Road).
Besides, any compromise with or concession to the Dalai Lama and Tibetans may undermine Beijing’s authority inside China now that government leaders succeeded in fueling nationalist sentiments among its citizens who believe that Tibetan territory belongs to China (Elegant, 2008). The US stance on China-Tibet conflict After the telephone conversation between President Bush and China’s president Hu Jintao on March 26th, Bush said China was ready to hold talks with the Dalai Lama (Welcome to the Olympics).
For the Bush administration abuse of human rights in Tibet is undoubtedly an important issue. However, the administration is opposed to any boycotting of the 2008 Summer Olympics as some European leaders propose because it is aware that such steps will publicly humiliate the entire Chinese society, not just its government, and will not resolve the problem. The fact is that the list of the US issues with China includes also North Korea and Iran and their nuclear weapons. These are the countries on which Beijing has influence and can persuade them to give up their WMD programs.
Chinese cooperation on Darfur is also desperately needed. So instead of shaming China, the Bush administration has chosen to “Page # 5” follow a wiser policy and urged Beijing to start serious talks with the Dalai Lama persuading the Chinese that he can help pacify the region and that this move is in China’s interest as well. Besides, the Dalai Lama who has an enormous influence on Tibetans has said on several occasions that he seeks only cultural autonomy, not independence (Boycott opening ceremonies).
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