|Confrontation in Nagchu (photo TCHRD)|
Nagqu Prefecture is one of the seven prefectures of the Tibet Autonomous Region; it is the largest with an area of 450,537 km2 for a population of 400,000. The prefecture is divided into 11 counties with Nagchu Town as capital.
As Nagqu is located on the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, Beijing plans to make of the prefecture, one of the main economic hubs on the Tibetan plateau.
In the new dispensation in Beijing, Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the CCP's Political Bureau and Chairman of the CPPCC is the Party's strong man for Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.
In May 2013, Yu Zhengsheng chaired his first Central Tibet Work Coordination Small Group (known as Small Group on Tibet) in Beijing. This Group is responsible for implementing Beijing’s Tibet policy.
Apart from the Central officials, the meeting of the Small Group on Tibet is said to have been attended by cadres from Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan, Sichuan and the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Soon after the meeting, the Party Secretaries from these areas went back to their respective provinces and gave speeches on the importance of Yu’s instructions and comments. A few days later, Yu visited Xinjiang; from his declarations, one can guess what Yu told the Party cadres in Beijing. He called for greater efforts for improving people's living conditions, ‘promoting ethnic solidarity’ and ‘social harmony’; he also emphasized 'social stability'.
On his return to Tibet, Chen Quanguo, the TAR's Party Secretary went for an inspection tour of the Nagchu Prefecture; he carried Yu’s message to “bring stability and harmony to Nachu.”
Unfortunately for Secretary Chen, the day he was returning to Lhasa, thousands of Tibetans gathered in Driru county (Chinese: Biru in Nagchu Prefecture). They met at a sacred Tibetan mountain to demonstrate against the Chinese government's planned mining projects in Driru county. The Tibet Post reported: “On May 24, 2013, over 1,000 trucks [probably cars] loaded more than 5,400 Tibetans from the four major areas, including Pekar, Nagshoe Phudha and Tsala gathered in Dathang town, near the sacred mountain in protest of the growing Chinese mining tensions in the county”.
The mountain, called Lhachen Naglha Dzambha, is rich in mineral resources. It was said that the local Tibetans ultimately managed to stop the mining at the holy Mountain, though for days, situation was reported tense in the Driru county, on the protest site where the local authorities deployed a large number of paramilitary personnel, especially after two protesters Gonp and Abu are said to have died in a car accident on their way to the site.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA): "Mining operations in Tibetan regions have led to frequent standoffs with Tibetans who accuse Chinese firms of disrupting sites of spiritual significance and polluting the environment as they extract local wealth. ...Waste from the mines, in operation since 2005, has been dumped in the local river, and mining activities have polluted the air.”
This was bad luck for Mr. Chen who had just come to preach 'stability'. This was however not the first time that such incident has happened.
Last October, two Tibetan cousins Tsepo, 20 and Tenzin, 25, self-immolated in front of a school in Driru. Tibetans in exile told RFA that the cousins shouted slogans calling for freedom in Tibet and the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama before setting themselves alight. They also pleaded for all Tibetans to be ‘united like brothers’.
RFA commented: “Tibetans in Driru have been in the forefront of opposition to Chinese rule in the Tibet Autonomous Region since deadly riots in the region in 2008, with monks and nuns protesting and abandoning monasteries in order to defy 'intrusive' new Chinese regulations.”
At that time, Lobsang Gyaltsen, who since then has become the head of the government in the TAR had stayed 2 weeks in the area to pacify the Tibetans. The Party's senior cadres' exhortations do not seem to work on the local population.
This goes in parallel with the recurring looting of the underground wealth of Tibet. A website, Meltdown in Tibet highlighted the crucial role of the railway line: "Mining and mineral exploration have increased dramatically on the Tibetan Plateau since the 2006 arrival of the Golmud-Lhasa railway link, and due to government programs and promotion. Along with the large government and business controlled mines, small unregulated mining operations are popping up all over the plateau. Due to low salaries, minimal health and safety standards, and weak environmental laws, normally uneconomic mineral deposits can be mined profitably by Chinese companies. Corrupt officials are willing to cut costs even more."
Already in 2007, Xinhua had announced: "Chinese geologists have discovered 16 large copper, iron, lead and zinc ore deposits along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway route since 1999, said the country's top geological surveyor.”
Meng Xianlai, director of the China Geological Survey (CGS) under the Ministry of Land and Resources told the Chinese agency: “Geologists initially found five non-ferrous metal deposits along the 1,956-kilometer railway with total possible reserves of more than 20 million tons of copper and 10 million tons of lead and zinc.”
Zhang Hongtao, deputy director of the CGS asserted: “Estimated reserves of 760 million tons of high-grade iron ore were found in the Kunglun Mountains on the western Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and southern Xinjiang Province, which the Qinghai-Tibet Railway crosses.”
Retrospectively, the Chinese leaders must realize that it was a good investment to 'liberate' Tibet in 1950.
After visiting Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Kham) from January 6 to 8, 2013, Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of Central Working Coordination Small Group on Tibet visited the former Amdo Province in early July 2013.
In Gansu, Yu called "for lasting prosperity and stability in China's Tibetan regions by improving local livelihoods and fighting the 14th Dalai Lama clique."
More importantly, from August 1 to 6, 2013, Yu Zhengsheng conducted an ‘inspection tour’ in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, particularly Lhasa and Ngachu; the most extraordinary was that nothing appeared in the Chinese (or the local) press before Yu was back in Beijing on August 6 evening.
Outside China, it is difficult to believe that the official responsible for a region at the highest level of the government can stay for nearly one week in this region and the world would only know about it when he has left.
Xinhua said that for Yu Zhengsheng, development remains 'fundamental and the key' to addressing all issues related to Tibet.
The Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was keen “to promote efforts to rule Tibet by law and seek a regional development path with Chinese and local characteristics.”
Like Xi Jinping when he addressed the Tibetan delegation in March in Beijing, Yu spoke of “achieving leapfrog economic and social development in Tibet and long-term stability”.
Yu referred to (and rejected) the Dalai Lama's proposal for 'high-degree autonomy in Greater Tibet'; he said that it “runs counter to China's Constitution, the law, and the fundamental interests of Tibetan Buddhism.”
Yu asked the monks to “have a clear understanding of the secessionist nature of the Dalai Lama clique and resolutely safeguard national unification, ethnic unity and Tibet's harmony and stability, ...and comprehensively implement the ethnic and religious policies of the Communist Party of China and actively guide religions so they adapt to a socialist society.”
Nothing new, except that his words did not help calming down the situation.
The 'secret' visit was however unusually long (6 days) and seemed to have focused on the way "to scientifically develop ideas for the development of Tibet, strengthen infrastructure construction and cultivate industries."
In this context, it is interesting to have a look at the officials who accompanied Yu to understand the true objectives of this long visit.
- Zhang Yijiong, the Executive Vice Minister of the United Front Department. He stepped into the shoes of Zhu Weiqun and is ‘responsible for any future dialogue with Dharamsala.
- Du Ying, a Deputy Director of the State Development and Reform Commission, in other words, the Planning Commission.
- Sithar, a German-speaking Tibetan earlier posted in Europe, now working for the United Front Department.
- Weng Mengyong, a Vice Minister from the Transportation Ministry. His boss and minister, Yang Chuantang, used to be vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Government.
- Shuai Junqing, Vice-President of the State Grid Corporation of China who obviously accompanied Yu to study the feasibility of harnessing Tibet’s hydropower potential.
Early October 2013, The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) reported that the People’s Armed Police had beaten and detained 40 Tibetans. The local government apparently used threats and intimidation tactics to enforce the ‘mass-line’ policy, a brain child of President Xi Jinping.
The TCHRD says: “Touted by the Chinese government as a means to bring the party leadership closer to the needs and concerns of the masses, the reality is the policy is aimed at bringing every Tibetan under the direct surveillance of the party’s human and technological surveillance machinery.”
The human rights organization mentions: “A host of highly-intrusive mass surveillance campaigns such as the ‘Benefit the Masses, Solidify the Foundation’, ‘The Grid Management’ system, ‘New Socialist Villages’ and the recently-announced ‘Advanced Joint Household’ system are now being implemented in TAR. The official justification behind all these campaigns is that these campaigns would benefit the Tibetans in two ways: by providing long term stability and prosperity.”
Those who do not comply with these regulations are severally punished. According to the TCHRD, on 28 September 2013, a serious confrontation occurred between the Chinese security forces and the local Tibetans in Mowa Village in Diru County. The Tibetans rebelled against the compulsory order (under the ‘Nine Must Haves’ campaign) to fly the five-starred red flags during the National Day celebrations.
TCHRD explains: “Local Tibetans in Mowa had refused to fly Chinese flags on their rooftops, a space traditionally reserved for sacred prayer flags; instead they threw the flags into a nearby river to express their disapproval. Armed police and the military arrived later to rein in the Tibetans.”
This led to an inevitable confrontation. The local authorities in Diru County announced that the Tibetans who refuse to comply with official rules would be punished; Tibetan protesters would have their children expelled from schools; their sick relatives would not receive medical care in hospitals; and they would not get licenses to harvest the famous Ophiocordyceps sinensis, an pricey caterpillar fungus used as an aphrodisiac in China.
Since 10 September 2013, the Tibetan Autonomous Region authorities have sent some 18,000 Chinese cadres to Diru to intensify the party’s ‘mass line’ policy. These cadres have been conducting ‘patriotic education’ campaigns among local Tibetans, demanding them to pledge their ‘love and gratitude’ to the Party and the nation.
The same day, Wu Yingjie, a TAR Deputy Party Secretary, who has been camping for weeks in Nagchu and Dortho, a Chinese born in Tibet who is Nagchu Prefecture Party Secretary (and TAR’s Standing Committee member) ordered the release of the 40 arrested Tibetans; they are however said to have sustained serious injuries after being severally beaten up.
On September 29, 2013, another protest took place with 4,000 students of County Primary and Middle schools after they were informed about the threat to expel their classmates whose parents had participated in the earlier protests. The County Middle School has later been closed indefinitely.
A day after the National Day (on October 2), local Tibetans in Diru County once again defied the security forces by putting up human blockades along the major highways which have been occupied by the security forces. They demonstrated against the annihilation of the Tibetan identity.
To give an idea of the scale of the ‘monitoring’ of Tibetan activities, Xinhua recently admitted that 60,000 cadres had been stationed in ,5459 villages and 1,877 monastic institutions in TAR. According to TCHRD: “These cadres will either work as village level party secretary or as ‘work team’ cadres running political education campaigns and espionage activities under another controversial campaign known as ‘The Six Ones.
It reminds many of the black day of the Cultural Revolution.
What is strange is the despite the visits of so many dignitaries (including Yu Zhengsheng) the situation remains extremely volatile.