Trouble in Tibet

Published : Apr 11, 2008 00:00 IST

Protestors target army vehicles in Lhasa on March 14.-AFP

Protestors target army vehicles in Lhasa on March 14.-AFP

Lhasa erupts in violence as Tibetan separatists clamour against the Olympic flame passing through the capital city of the autonomous region.

THE agenda had been clear for some time. The Tibetan exile groups based in India and in Western capitals were working overtime to put a spanner in the carefully orchestrated build-up to the Beijing Olympics to be held in October. The exile groups, which are led by their spiritual and political leader Dalai Lama, had vowed to not allow the Olympic flame to pass through Lhasa, the capital of Chinas Tibet Autonomous Region. Small but rowdy groups of Tibetan protestors in New Delhi and other capitals were loudly talking about organising a march to Lhasa to highlight their demands. Almost on cue, Lhasa witnessed an orgy of violence.

The violence, which lasted a couple of days, started after the Chinese authorities arrested 60 monks on March 12. They were part of a volatile group staging a protest to commemorate the anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency-backed insurrection against the Communist government in China in 1959.

On the same day, the Dalai Lama issued a statement: For nearly six decades, Tibetans had to live in a state of constant fear under Chinese repression. This statement added fuel to the fire. A frenzy of looting and destruction followed. State property and the houses and shops of non-Tibetans were specifically targeted. Among the main victims of the violence were the Han Chinese and Hui Muslim minorities.

The protest, which seemed to be well coordinated, erupted simultaneously in the neighbouring Tibetan-dominated regions of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai. The Chinese authorities have said that 16 people lost their lives in the recent incidents. Similar incidents took place in Tibet in March 1989, following the death of the Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader in the Tibetan hierarchy. Chinese President Hu Jintao who was then the Communist Party leader of the region, quickly brought the situation under control. Hu has since then become a hate figure amongst the Tibetan exile community.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, at a press conference on March 19 after the end of the parliamentary session of the National Peoples Congress, strongly condemned the perpetrators of the appalling violence and destruction in Tibet. He squarely put the blame for the disturbances on the Dalai Lama and his followers. Wen Jiabao described the incidents as a blatant attempt to sabotage the forthcoming Beijing Olympic Games. The Communist Party chief of Tibet, Zhang Qingli, went to the extent of describing the Dalai Lama as a jackal in a Buddhist monks robes.

The Tibetan spiritual leader himself seems to have been momentarily taken aback by the sheer scale of violence unleashed by his supporters in his homeland. When his supporters were running amok in Lhasa in the third week of March, the Dalai Lama threatened to quit the leadership of the Tibetan government-in-exile if the violence got out of control. He cautioned his supporters against developing anti-Chinese feelings. But as important Western visitors started queuing up in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama quickly changed his tune. He then reverted to the theme of cultural genocide and the rule of terror being propagated by China in Tibet.

On March 21, days after the trouble in Lhasa and the surrounding areas had subsided, a small group of Tibetans stormed into the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan, Boycott the Olympics. The incident took place on the same day the Speaker of the United States House of Congress, Nancy Pelosi, met with the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government in Exile based in Dharamsala. Pelosi is the third important person in the U.S. administration. Her open support on Indian soil for the secessionist activities of the Dalai Lama has not gone down well with Beijing. The Chinese Ambassador to India, Zhang Yan, said Pelosis meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader and her statements on Tibet amounted to interference in the internal affairs of China.

The Chinese leadership has reiterated that despite the violent protests, the route of the Olympic torch remains unchanged. The torch will pass through Tibet on its way back from Mount Everest. No country, so far, has backed the demand for the boycott of the Olympics. But there is a nascent move being orchestrated by the West to dampen the Olympic festivities. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that the European Union should consider punishing China with a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. On earlier occasions, too, there have been attempts to sabotage the Olympics. The boycott by many Western countries of the 1980 Moscow Olympics when the Cold War was at its height is a notable example.

Kouchner was speaking after a group called the Reporters without Borders demanded a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in response to the actions taken by the Chinese authorities in Tibet. The group is reputed to have strong links with Western intelligence agencies and has focussed its energies on countries such as Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba has accused Robert Meynard, the head of the group, of having CIA links. Meynard has urged the worlds big democracies to find the courage to boycott the Olympics.

The CIAs role in Tibet has been well documented. The CIAs support for clandestine operations on behalf of the Dalai Lama was stopped only after the historic visit by President Richard Nixon to China in 1972. But covert cooperation between Western intelligence agencies and Tibetan separatist groups continues unabated. According to Gary Wilson, an American investigative journalist, the close coordination between the American intelligence agencies and the recent events is evident. He said that the main source of the reports about the activities of the so-called Tibetan liberation struggle and the recent events in Lhasa appearing in the Western media is an individual called John Ackerly. Ackerly happens to be the president of the International Campaign for Tibet. This group works in close coordination with the U.S. government, including the State Department and Congress. During the Cold War, Ackerly worked with dissidents in East Europe.

A conference held in Delhi in June last year by a group that calls itself Friends of Tibet focussed on ways to use the upcoming Olympics to highlight the issue of free Tibet globally. The Beijing Olympics, many participants of the conference emphasised, was the one chance for the Tibetans to come out and protest. A call was issued for worldwide protests and a march of Tibetan exiles in India and Nepal to Lhasa was also announced to coincide with the opening of the Games. Groups close to the Dalai Lama started issuing calls from January this year for an uprising inside Tibet. The Tibetan exile groups also announced the creation of a Tibetan Peoples Uprising Movement on January 25. The uprising was to be on March 10. The U.S. Ambassador to India, David Mulford, was at a meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala at the time the call for a new uprising was issued. U.S. Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky was also in Dharamsala last November to meet with the Dalai Lama. Dobriansky is part of the influential neocon circle in the Bush administration and was involved in the colour revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine.

A 2002 book The CIAs Secret War in Tibet, co-authored by Kenneth Conboy of the Heritage Foundation and James Morrison, a former CIA employee, extensively details how the CIA ran and operated the Tibetan resistance movement. According to the book, the Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA payroll and had given his backing for the CIAs plans to foment an armed uprising in 1959. The Dalai Lamas brother, Gyalo Thodup, was put in charge of the armed attack. A Tibetan contra army was trained in far-flung U.S. bases in Colorado, Okinawa (Japan) and Guam and then dropped by U.S. Air Force planes into Tibet. A secret base in India was used by the CIA to airlift the Tibetan recruits for training in the U.S. This failed attempt was a precursor to the even more disastrous U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion aimed at rolling back the socialist revolution in Cuba.

New Delhi seems to be caught in a dilemma on the Tibet issue. Much of the problems the Indian government faces seem to be self-imposed. The increasingly violent Tibetan exile groups have been repeatedly creating diplomatic problems for New Delhi. On several occasions, they have succeeded in breaching security when high-level Chinese dignitaries visited India. The support political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party extend to the Tibetan separatists has further emboldened them. The Tibetan exile community, numbering over 100,000, has been allowed to reside in India on the condition that they would not carry out anti-China activities or get involved in other political activities.

The Indian government, from available evidence, is not doing much to curtail the activities of the Tibetan dissidents in India. A Tibetan procession to the Chinese border to protest against the Beijing Olympics was allowed to proceed though it is likely to be stopped before it reaches the border. New Delhi has virtually accorded the Dalai Lamas office the status of a government-in-exile. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has permanently stationed an official of the rank of Deputy Secretary at the Dalai Lamas court in Dharamsala.

When the violence had peaked in Lhasa and neighbouring areas, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Parliament that India was distressed by reports of the unsettled situation and violence in Lhasa and by the deaths of innocent people. He urged both sides to remove the causes of such troubles. He was, however, quick to emphasise that India views Tibet as an autonomous region of China. He said that Indias policy on Tibet has remained unchanged since 1959 despite the government at the Centre being under different political parties. Tibet had not figured in the joint communique released during Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to China in January.

A senior official in the Ministry said that the Dalai Lama was our honoured guest and should be allowed to fulfil his spiritual and religious duties. Pranab Mukherjee expressed the hope that the problem would be sorted out through dialogue and non-violent means by the parties concerned. It is obvious, in the light of recent events, that New Delhi refuses to draw a clear line between the political and spiritual activities of the Dalai Lama.

Despite the untoward incidents perpetrated by the Tibetan exiles in Delhi, the Chinese government has signalled its appreciation for New Delhis handling of the situation. Wen Jiabao, while thanking India for the position and steps taken in the handling of the Tibetan independence activities, said that the issue is a very sensitive one in bilateral ties. Since the 1990s, China had given up its pro-Pakistan stance on Kashmir. Before that, it had stopped supporting the various insurgent groups in the northeastern region of India.

The recent events seem to have hardened the Chinese resolve to defeat the separatists in Tibet. Zhang Qingli told officials in Lhasa that they faced a life-or-death struggle on which the stability of the entire country depended. Beijing has rejected the Dalai Lamas renewed offer for talks after the recent events. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Beijing was not convinced by the Dalai Lamas repeated assertions that he does not seek independence for Tibet. We must judge the Dalai Lama not merely by his words but also by his actions. As we have repeatedly pointed out, the Dalai Lama is a political refugee engaged in activities of splitting China under the camouflage of religion, he said in the last week of March.

China and the Dalai Lamas representatives have held six rounds of inconclusive talks since 2002. Wen Jiabao has said that talks with the Dalai Lama were possible only if he gives up the independence position, recognises Tibet as an inseparable part of Chinas sovereign territory and recognises Taiwan as an inseparable part of Chinas sovereign territory. He said the recent events proved that the Dalai Lama was hypocritical about these two key issues. Chinese officials feel that the Dalai Lamas repeated demands for true autonomy is tantamount to the eradication of Chinese sovereignty over Greater Tibet, a region extending to Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. This comprises a quarter of Chinese territory.

Tibet came under Chinese suzerainty in 1720, but whenever power waned at the centre, Tibetan rulers declared independence. The Chinese claim that the presence of a Chinese High Commissioner in Lhasa as far back as 1727 showed that the Tibetans owed their loyalty to Beijing. Tibet was occupied by British troops in 1907. This was the price it had to pay for being a pawn in the Great Game then going on between Czarist Russia and Imperial Britain. A weak China, itself under pressure from the imperialists, was powerless to act against the British occupiers. The Kuomintang government of General Chiang Kai-shek kept on protesting against the British about their occupation of Tibet. After liberation, Mao Zedong ordered the liberation of Tibet in 1950. The struggle to reform the feudal serf-owning society was difficult. The heavy-handed acts of the Red Guards in Tibet did not help matters.

Particular progress was made in the last five years during which the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Tibet has doubled. The opening of the worlds highest railway linking Lhasa to the rest of China was a landmark event for Tibet.

Chinese officials have said that the railway would boost the economic prospects of the region. However, development seems to have brought new anxieties to some Tibetan groups. They fear that the railway would result in an influx of people from other regions and would make the Tibetans a minority in their own land. Migration is said to be the biggest reason for resentment among the Tibetans.

Zhang Qingli has tried to allay the fears of minority groups. Prime Minister Wen has assured the Tibetan people that the government would continue to improve the regions economy and strive to protect Tibetan culture.

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