Sunday, March 11, 2012
Autonomy vs Repression
The Beijing-sponsored site, China Tibet Online gives several purported Internet postings attributed to Chinese Netizens: "If the Dalai Lama could hire others to set themselves on fire, why doesn’t he burn himself? The Dalai Lama, do you dare to set an example by burning yourself?” Or “How disgusting those guys are by asking people to burn themselves! …All Chinese netizens suggest the Dalai Lama set himself on fire. Dalai, please burn yourself right away.”
Will this atrocious propaganda help dissolve the Tibetan’s resentment against repressive policies? Nobody seems to be asking this question in China.
At the yearly National People's Congress (NPC) held in Beijing, Padma Choling, the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region spoke about the recent spate of self-immolations: "The Chinese government respects freedom of religion and normal religious activities of the Tibetan people …whoever commits self-immolation is wrong and immoral” adding: “Everyone enjoys the freedom of speech nowadays, and it is not necessary to take extreme and aggressive behaviour.”
If this were true, why would these young monks and nuns set themselves on fire?
Zhao Qizheng, the spokesman for the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), squarely blamed the Dalai Lama: "According to what I have heard, he [the Dalai Lama] publicly applauded the courage of these people who set fire to themselves."
It is untrue. To my knowledge, the Dalai Lama expressed himself only once on the subject. A couple of months ago, he declared in Tokyo: "These incidents of self-immolation are very very sad. The leadership in Beijing should look into the ultimate cause of these tragic incidents. These Tibetans have faced a tremendously desperate situation, otherwise nobody will commit such drastic acts."
However, The China Daily affirmed: "Evidence showed that the riots and assaults were planned beforehand and instigated by trained separatists."
During a press conference at the NPC, Wu Zegang, the Deputy Party Chief of Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) tried to defame the victims: “Some of the suicides are committed by clerics returning to lay life, and they all have criminal records or suspicious activities. They have a very bad reputation in society.”
Wu added, the fact that those who had immolated themselves in Aba were shouting pro-independence slogans, was the proof that the movement was "orchestrated and supported by Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence forces".
What the Chinese leaders fail to mention is the oppressive policies reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution put in place after the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in February 2010.
Tibet Work Forums are large gatherings called every 5 or 10 years to discuss the CCP’s Tibet policies. They are attended by all the members of the powerful Politburo's Standing Committee, senior PLA generals, regional leaders, etc. During the last one, it was decided to send 21,000 Han and Tibetan Party officials in teams of four to each of the TAR’s 5,453 administrative villages as well as in monasteries.
According to The Tibet Daily, the United Front Department started to promote the “Nine Haves Monasteries” (Have a poster of the four national leaders, Have a national PRC flag, Have a motorable road to the monastery, Have a good source of water, Have electricity, Have a broadcast TV set, Have the capacity to show films, Have a reading room for books, Have The People’s Daily and The Tibet Daily newspapers).
The Party added that all expenses would be met by the TAR Government.
Another scheme, “The Six Ones” was also initiated with slogans such as: “Make one friend. Each temple management official [Read Party members] should try to be soul-mates with one or several monks/nuns to understand their difficulties in life and what's going on in their mind.” Or “Build one file. Establish a file for every monk/nun to document in a detailed fashion their personal and family situation. This will aid in preparedness, understanding and management.”
The Nine Haves, the Six Ones are a mixture of good policies with dreadful ones; the objective of this goebbelsian system is said to ‘develop a mechanism for building harmonious model temples’, but it has had the opposite effect: Tibetans are becoming more and more desperate suffocating with these Cultural Revolution-type of policies.
Interestingly, most of the young monks or nuns, who today react to the oppressive and repressive system, have not witnessed the Tibetan uprising of 1959, the Martial Law in Tibet in 1988/89 or the riots of the early 1990's.
Ultimately, the stability of the region will depend on the degree of autonomy that the Tibetans can enjoy. This was promised long ago.
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek even spoke of ‘independence of Tibet’ (though it was already independent). In 1945, Chiang stated in the Chinese Parliament that he desired to allow the ‘frontier racial groups’ to attain independence, if capable of doing so. He also affirmed: “I solemnly declare that if the Tibetans should at this time express a wish for self-government our Government would, in conformity with our sincere traditions, accord it a very high degree of autonomy. If in the future, they fulfill economic requirement of independence, the nation’s Government will, as in the case of Outer Mongolia, help them to attain this status”.
Since then China’s Central Government has only gone backward on its promises.
To give another example, Zhu Weiqun, the deputy director of the United Front Work Department which ‘negotiates’ with the Dalai Lama’s Envoys since 2002, has recently suggested abolishing special privileges and preferential policies offered to minority nationalities, taking the nationality name off all IDs cards and passports.
It would obliterate the uniqueness (guaranteed by the Constitution of China) of ‘minority nationalities’ such as the Tibetans, the Uyghurs and the Mongols in the name of ‘national cohesion’.
The policies have not always been such. During a party meeting in Lhasa in May 1980, CCP’s General Secretary, Hu Yaobang (not related with Hu Jintao) gave a powerful political speech to some 5,000 cadres in Lhasa. Hu frankly admitted: “Our present situation is less than wonderful because the Tibetan people's lives have not been much improved. There are some improvements in some parts, but in general, Tibetans still live in relative poverty.”
Hu said: “[with] comrades in the Central Committee, we were very upset when we heard about this situation. We feel that our party has let the Tibetan people down. We feel very bad! The sole purpose of our Communist Party is to work for the happiness of people, to do good things for them. We have worked nearly thirty years, but the life of the Tibetan people has not been notably improved”.
Unfortunately, Hu Yaobang was eased out a few years later.
Can India help to ease the situation?
Speaking about India’s security, the recent report, Non-Alignment 2.0: a Foreign and Strategic policy for India in the 21st Century written by eminent India strategic thinkers, asserts: “Our Tibet policy needs to be reassessed and readjusted. Persuading China to seek reconciliation with the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community may contribute to easing India-China tensions. The initial soundings must be discreet and exploratory. …The Dalai Lama’s popular legitimacy among his own people is a fact that the Chinese government must acknowledge.”
China has to understand that the Dalai Lama is their best bet, not their enemy. The faster the leadership understands this, the better it will be for China, Tibet …and India.
Let us hope that 2012 will see radical changes.