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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 15

Beijing’s Suppression Of Tibetan Unrest

Questions Chinese Leadership Cannot Ignore

Saturday 29 March 2008, by S Nihal Singh


Beyond the spin the Chinese Government has put on the Tibetan unrest and the world’s reaction to it is a central problem: has Beijing the suppleness and wisdom to alter its monolithic view of how China should be governed? Deng Xiaoping had the stature and vision to improvise the Hong Kong experiment of “one country, two systems”. His successors in the shape of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao have failed to measure up to their responsibilities thus far.

For one thing, the Chinese authorities are confusing bringing economic development to Tibet with satisfying the needs, material and spiritual, of the Tibetans. Second, the immense wave of Han Chinese migration, augmented by the marval railway to Lhasa, is seen as the redrawing of the ethnic map, already tampered with by excluding large numbers of Tibetans and designating them to the neighbour-ing provinces.

Above all, the Han Chinese are the main beneficiaries of the billions Beijing has spent on Tibet.

Clearly, the Tibetan uprising was born out of frustration building up over the decades with how Beijing has sought to control every aspect of the lives and actions of the people. There have been monk “re-education” camps through indoctrination classes, novices are whetted and put through their paces for years and the monks’ numbers are deliberately reduced.

A war has been raged against Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Beijing is acutely aware that he is not only the spiritual guide of the Tibetans in Tibet, but is the symbol worldwide of the plight of the people suppressed and oppressed for the greater glory of the unified Chinese state.

The Chinese authorities, therefore, dusted the old communist vocabulary of abuse to damn the Dalai Lama, calling him the mastermind and organiser of the Tibetan unrest, which spread from Lhasa to the adjoining provinces.

It is prohibited to carry a picture of the Dalai Lama in Tibet and the Chinese are no doubt waiting for the day the spiritual leader passes away so that it could break his spell over his people wherever they live in the world, and have already selected a Panchen Lama in place of the Dalai Lama’s choice, who has disappeared with his immediate family.

The Tibetans’ frustrations over their monitored and restricted lives—there was some relaxation in the eighties after the depredations of Mao’s Cultural Revolution—coincided with the anniversary of earlier demonstrations 20 years ago and were undoubtedly influenced by China’s desire to put its best foot forward in hosting the Olympics. What better time to put the Tibetans’ plight before the world?—the Tibetans seem to suggest.

Nor was the response of the Chinese authorities in showing the mailed fist a surprise.

The Chinese leadership has always valued stability, almost to the exclusion of everything else, for historical reasons and to keep in place the sole political primacy of the Communist Party. Even Deng, who helped make China a capitalist nation and invented the Hong Kong formula, was the man who ordered the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Ominously, the latter followed the 1989 Tibetan disturbances.
What of the future? In immediate terms, the Chinese authorities will control the lives of the Tibetans even more tightly.

Such measures do not offer a solution and the leadership abilities of Hu and Wen will be tested by their ability to reverse the policies that have brought about the present unrest. Specifically, will Beijing refrain from running the lives of Buddhist monks and nuns? And will Beijing stem the flow of Han Chinese migrants who have gobbled up all opportunities in moneymaking and employment?

THE world’s reaction to Tibetan events was along expected lines.

President George W. Bush said he would attend the Olympics’ inaugural ceremony regardless, while the third-ranking Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, visited the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in Dharmshala to give him spirited moral support. Tibetans in many world capitals demonstrated against Chinese actions calling for Tibet’s independence and boycott of the Olympics. There were few takers for either demand.
The spotlight was very much on India, it being the exile home of the Dalai Lama and more than 100,000 of his followers.

At the same time, New Delhi was very mindful of managing the prickly and difficult relationship with China, which has been deliberately taking a leisurely route to resolve the long-running border dispute.

In the event, the Manmohan Singh Government resorted to an anodyne statement embarrassingly praised by China. Indeed, it seems to have become India’s practice to indulge in sophistry in reacting to world events—witness its ambiguous statement on such a clear-cut issue as Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence because the United States choreographed it.
On his part, the Dalai Lama is facing his test. His middle path no longer resonates with the youth of the Tibetan community who are tired of treading the non-violent path, which is leading nowhere.

The Chinese authorities brush aside the Dalai Lama’s insistent reiteration that he is in favour of autonomy and is not demanding independence, as insincere. In any case, he told the Chinese one home truth, that they are indulging in “cultural genocide”.

By reverting to the old communist terminology—the offical People’s Daily called for the crushing of Tibetan dissent—the Chinese leadership is giving the world notice that staging a successful Olympics so dear to its heart could be sacrificed to maintain the stability of the nation-state.

But Beijing seems to have won the battle, not the war. Reiteration of wrong polices is no cure for suppressing dissent. Besides, as Beijing has discovered to its cost, modern technology defies state control in disseminating information on a state’s heavy-han-ded imposition of law and order.

And Tibet’s monks, suppressed as they are, now have mobile phones.
After the last Tibetan protests have been suppressed, the questions facing the Chinese leadership are loud and clear: will the Chinese measure up to the demand of the modern world? Do President Hu and Prime Ministrer Wen have the qualities necessary to govern Tibet as the autonomous region it was supposed to be? Will they continue to demonise the Dalai Lama?

(Courtesy : The Asian Age)

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