Xi Jinping Visits US While Tibet Burns by Wangchuk Shakabpa

Xi Jinping Visits US While Tibet Burns by Wangchuk Shakabpa

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping is currently in the U.S. and will be visiting Washington, DC, Iowa, and Los Angeles.  China analysts expect Xi will be selected later this year as the next President of China and Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  In DC, Xi will formally meet with President Obama on February 14.  The US and China have many important items on their agenda, including yuan currency evaluation, China’s support to North Korea and Iran, and China’s veto of a UN resolution for sanctions on Syria.  However, Tibetans and Tibet supporters are hoping the US, and in particular Obama, will also raise the issue of Tibet directly with Xi Jinping, especially given the 23 self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet since 2009 who were protesting China’s human rights violations and occupation of Tibet.

In light of the recent self-immolations by mostly young Tibetan monks and nuns in Ngaba and Kandze regions of Eastern Tibet (Chi: Aba and Ganzi, Sichuan Province), and the increased Western media attention to China’s crackdown on protests in Tibetan areas (which have resulted in the deaths and wounding of dozens of Tibetans shot by Chinese police), I took a look at some of China’s claims about the unrest on the Tibetan Plateau.

China has admitted some of the Tibetan self-immolations and protests in these regions. China has characterized the protestors as violent mobs with sticks and stones attacking Chinese police, who responded in self-defense with guns.  China has admitted at least two deaths as a result of those protests.  However, China never asks why so many Tibetans have self-immolated?  Or why are Tibetans so angry they would allegedly attack a police station and risk being shot?

As usual, China blamed His Holiness for the recent unrest but provided no details as to how the Dalai Lama was able to cause these protests in Tibetan areas.  China’s claim that His Holiness has the ability to influence Tibetans inside Tibet, where the Dalai Lama has no access, is completely inconsistent with its other statements that the Dalai Lama is “irrelevant” to Tibet and is a “political orphan.”  If His Holiness is so irrelevant to modern Tibetans, how does He have the ability to persuade Tibetans to risk even their own lives to protest against China?  Moreover, if the Dalai Lama were truly responsible for instigating Tibetans, there would certainly be some evidence of this, but China has not disclosed any evidence directly or indirectly linking His Holiness to the unrest in Tibet.

China has also warned local officials in Tibetan areas that if they “walk away from their duties, chicken out of actions at crucial times, or defy stability-maintaining policies” they will be removed and punished.  China had admitted at least two cases of local officials “neglecting their duties” but did not provide any details.  But China never asks why local officials are not supporting Beijing’s policies or what prompted two officials to disobey the CCP?  At the very least this warning and admission suggests even Tibetan Party members may not be as loyal as Beijing would prefer.

Most alarming is that China has also recently told its officials to “prepare for war” against Tibetan protestors.   These comments come several months after China celebrated the anniversary of the signing of the 1951 17-Point Agreement that purportedly “liberated” Tibet.  During that occasion, China claimed Tibet had become a socialist paradise, went to great lengths to point out how much progress has been achieved in Tibet, and described how happy Tibetans were under the leadership of the CCP (while at the same time closing off Tibet to foreigners during these “celebrations”).

In response to the protests, China had admitted that it has heightened security in Tibetan areas and called for tightening control over Tibetan society, particularly monasteries.  Chinese officials also said they’ll be visiting herding families as well as monks and will maintain rapid economic development in Tibetan areas.  The Lhasa Party Secretary, Qi Zala, said there will be increased border security to defend against “separatists” and require all people entering Tibet to carry ID.  And China has closed off Ngaba and Kandze areas to all foreigners (combined an area of over 235,000 square km).  Foreign journalists who have attempted to enter these areas have been turned away by police road blocks.

China claims its police actions in Ngaba and Kandze are normal police procedures and any country would act the same way when faced with violent protests.  However, when London experienced violent protests last year, British police did not fire indiscriminately into the crowd.  Nor did Britain close off all London or the surrounding areas to all foreigners or foreign journalists.

Even when violent riots occur in mainland China, the Chinese police usually respond without lethal force.  They do often use tear gas and riot batons, but Chinese police rarely fire into a crowd of Chinese protestors.  When the villagers of Wukan ousted the local Party officials, the Chinese police did not storm Wukan and shoot villagers, nor did China close off the entire region to foreigners.  We can see that China’s reaction to the Tibetan protests is not consistent with normal law enforcement procedures and is not even consistent with Chinese police procedures when Han Chinese protest.  One can only conclude that racial discrimination plays a part in how China handles unrest in Tibetan areas.

What we have seen from Chinese propaganda and statements about Tibet is that they usually blame His Holiness for all problems in Tibet, even though the Dalai Lama has not been in Tibet since 1959, while never accepting any responsibility for any discontent among Tibetans.  And while China admits there is unrest and protests in Tibetan areas, they never provide more than superficial details and never ask fundamental questions like why Tibetans are so unhappy with Chinese policies or why Tibetans are so loyal to His Holiness even after more than 50 years of “socialist development” and the exile of the Dalai Lama from Tibet.  Don’t expect China to ask such questions any time soon.

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