China braces for heightened tension in restive Tibet

By Jayadeva Ranade

As Tibetans prepare to celebrate Losar, or Tibetan New Year, on February 22, the Chinese authorities are bracing for an extended period of heightened tension.
Deployment of security forces around Lhasa and in the Tibet Autonomous Region has visibly increased. Security has been enhanced in Tibetan areas in adjacent provinces as well, especially Aba Prefecture in Sichuan where the security budget was doubled last year.

Visits by foreigners, including journalists, to TAR and Tibetan areas have been prohibited and internet connections have been snapped.
This year, punitive measures have also been taken against many Tibetans who visited Bodh Gaya to attend the Kalachakra teachings. At least 700 Tibetans were detained on their return and are held for questioning.

Meanwhile, China’s Tibetan regions continue to be restive. The incidence of self-immolation by young Tibetan monks and nuns is rising with 22 instances reported so far and five in the first week of February alone. The instance involving a school child has particularly reverberated across the Tibetan community.

A new development this year is the concern expressed by Buddhist religious personages on events in Tibetan areas in China, and especially the self-immolation since September last year.

Ughyen Thinley Dorje, recognised by both Beijing and the Dalai Lama as the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa, issued a message on February 6, from Bodh Gaya, which is unusually critical of the Chinese authorities.

He regretted that Chinese authorities have responded with ‘increasing force and repression’ instead of trying to understand the circumstances that led to the self-immolations.

He asserted that if Tibetans are given a ‘genuine opportunity to lead their lives as they wished, preserving their language, religion and culture, they would neither be demonstrating nor sacrificing their lives.’ He asked Chinese authorities to take ‘full responsibility’ for what is happening in Tibet and urged Tibetans to ‘remain focused on the long term’.

Thich Quang Do, Patriarch of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who is under house arrest in Saigon, similarly expressed support in a letter addressed to the Dalai Lama on February 11. Pointing out that cases of self-immolation had occurred not only inside TAR but also in Tibetan-dominated counties in the adjoining Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, he accused the Chinese authorities of not investigating the instances of self-immolation, but cracking down with ‘intolerable brutality’.

He concluded by declaring his full support to the ‘Tibetan people’s courageous struggle for survival’.

Reflecting Beijing’s stance, Xu Zhitao, Bureau Director General of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, told the official Global Times on February 10, that ‘secessionists led by the Dalai Lama appeared more determined to plot conspiracies’ in the days ahead. He warned ‘irresponsible officials’ who failed to maintain stability that they would be removed from their posts and punished. TAR Party Secretary Chen Quango described the ‘fight against the Dalai Lama clique’ as ‘long-term, complicated and sometimes even acute.’

Beijing has taken other measures to try and co-opt Tibetan monks and exercise control over monasteries. Last November, it announced that monks and nuns would receive pensions. Earlier, in August 2010, the composition of the Democratic Management Committees, which manage Tibetan monasteries and nunneries, was altered to include officials as deputy directors. Later, Monastic Government Work Units with ‘monastic government cadres’ were established. These cadres have a promotion track that can reach the equivalent in pay and power of the deputy director of a provincial government department. This January, the TAR government announced that government cadres would be stationed in monasteries permanently. A regional conference is to be held this April to confer awards on patriotic and law-abiding monasteries and monks.

Tibet was also raised in his key note speech in Washington on February 16, by China’s Vice President Xi Jinping, who is tipped to succeed China’s President Hu Jintao this October.

Xi Jinping urged the US to heed Beijing’s demands on contentious ‘core interests’ and hoped ‘the US will truly implement its recognition that Tibet is part of China and its vow to oppose Tibetan independence, acting prudently in issues concerning Tibet.’

Possibly keeping in view China’s third World Buddhist Conference planned to be held in Hong Kong this April, Beijing simultaneously sought to assuage Tibetans. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met Gyancain Norbu, the Beijing-nominated Panchen Lama, in Beijing on February 11, when he assured that ‘greater efforts’ would be made by the government to protect the cultural traditions and religious freedom of Tibetans. He urged Gyancain Norbu to ‘play an even greater and more positive role in safeguarding the national unification and unity of all ethnic groups’ and to ‘lead the Buddhists lamas and followers in loving the country, abiding by laws and abiding by Buddhism commandments.’

NOTE--The author is a former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India

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