Friday, June 21, 2013

Tibet: nets in the sky and traps on the ground

Party Chief Chen Quanguo visits
a 'convenience police-post'
It was to happen on a redwood bench at the luxurious desert estate known as Sunnylands in southern California.
President Xi Jinping of China had agreed to meet US President Barack Obama for a ‘relaxed’ week-end but a righteous Obama had planned to blast his Chinese counterpart on a hot topic in Washington, Chinese hackers visiting the Pentagon’s and other US government Internet servers and taking away American military secrets. This was deeply irritating for the Obama Administration and the President had decided to corner Xi on the subject.
In his opening remarks, Xi denied any wrong doing from China’s side and said that the cybersecurity issue needed to be resolved in a ‘pragmatic way’.
He probably had a smile, because the night before the tide had changed.
The Guardian had reported that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US Internet giants. The British newspaper quoted from a top secret document showing that the NSA had been using a previously undisclosed programme called PRISM, allowing US officials to collect personal information including search history, content of emails, file transfers and live chats.
Suddenly, it was the pot calling the kettle black.
Not really. China is still far 'in advance' in surveillance, take the example of Tibet.
The Human Right Watch (HRW) reported in March on a new system had been put in place in Tibet to watch the 'masses'. HRW's report, titled: "China: Alarming New Surveillance, Security in Tibet - Restrictions Tightened on Tibetans Despite Lack of Threat" described a 'grid' system to catch the flies and the tigers (these are not in the HRW report, but Xi Jinping used them while talking about corruption).
Sophie Richardson, China Director of the HRW explained: "Chinese authorities should dismantle this Orwellian ‘grid’ system, which has been imposed while the government continues to avoid addressing popular grievances. Its purpose appears to be surveillance and control, and it encroaches on Tibetans’ rights to freedom of expression, belief, and association."
The human rights organization goes into detail about the infamous 'grid':
Official documents describe the new system, known as 'grid' (Tib.: drwa ba, Ch.: wangge) management, as designed to improve public access to basic services. But the system also significantly increases surveillance and monitoring, particularly of 'special groups' in the region – former prisoners and those who have returned from the exile community in India, among others. Expansion of the grid system, alongside the construction across Tibet of over 600 convenience police-posts' with high-tech equipment to monitor daily life, and increasingly active volunteer security groups known as 'Red Armband Patrols' (Tib.: dpung rtag dmar po) in 2012, means that surveillance is now a pervasive part of life across the region.
Are these 'Red Armband Patrols' not reminiscent of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its millions of victims.
What greatly surprises me is the return of the Cultural Revolution's methods under Xi Jinping who suffered the most of Mao's follies.
You can read the report on the HRW website.
This was in March.
Since then further 'progresses' have been made in the repressive system.
President Obama may be right when he termed the US surveillance a ‘modest encroachment on privacy’. Indeed, 'modest' compared to the Chinese 'grid' surveillance on the Roof of the World.
Yesterday, Xinhua reported that all Internet, fixed line and mobile phone users "in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region" have provided service operators with their real names, "as required by a 2011 local regulation".
The Chinese official news agency says: "By the end of 2012, 2.76 million fixed line and mobile phone users and 1.47 million web users in Tibet had registered for services under their real identities, according to data from the regional communications administration."
Xinhua defends the drastic measures (which means that thereafter all the Tibetans' phone conversations or email exchanges will be monitored): "The real-name registration is conducive to protecting citizens' personal information and curbing the spread of detrimental information, said Nyima Doje, deputy director of the administration."
The Communist propaganda has started justifying the new move: "Thanks to the rules, I feel less bothered by disturbing messages and calls," said one man called Zhang who lives in the regional capital of Lhasa.
Dai Jianguo, a member of the commission of legal affairs under Tibet People's Congress explained: "The growing popularity of the Internet and mobile phones has brought about social problems, including the rampant circulation of online rumors, pornography and spam messages."
Apparently, the regional legislators passed the regulation on real-name registration, a year before the country's top legislature approved similar rules.
It was in November 2011.
But monitoring Lhasa and the large cities was not enough, sometime in 2011, Beijing decided to also target the countryside.
More than a year ago, I had mentioned the deep cause for resentment of the Tibetan masses against the Communist Party. I then wrote:
Today, the hardcore leftists are still at the helm, trying to impose policies reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
For example, during the 5th Tibet Work Forum in January 2010 (Tibet Work Forums are large meetings 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, United Front Work Department officials, regional leaders, etc.), it was apparently decided to send 21,000 Han and Tibetan Party officials in teams of four to each of the TAR’s 5,453 administrative villages; they had to remain there for a period of 4 years. Each team member could rotate to a new location after 12 months only; they were assigned to a particular village for at least 25 days in a month.
A new report of the Human Rights Watch give more details about the scheme which has been 'working' for the past 18 months.
The title of HRW report is 'benefiting the masses'.
Like the phone tapping, the 'grid' surveillance, the countryside monitoring will ultimately be for the benefit of the masses, says Beijing.
Once the 5th Tibet Work Forum had decided (in January 2010) the general lines how best to 'benefit the masses' and perhaps more importantly, how to avoid the recurrence of the 2008 unrest, it was the job of the Central Working Coordination Small Group on Tibet or Small Group on Tibet to implement the policies.
Apparently, the secretive Group had a meeting on October 18, 2012 under the Chairmanship of Jia Qinglin, the CPPCC's Chairman. It was attended amongst others by Ma Kai, Meng Jianzhu, Ling Jihua, and Du Qinglin and 'local' officials (like Chen Quanguo) .  At that time, Ma, Meng and Du were the Vice Chairmen of the Small Group.
After the 18th Party Congress' leadership change, all these leaders have secured good jobs. Ma Kai and Meng Jianzhu are part of the Politburo, (Meng will take the mantle of Zhang Yongkang as the boss of the Security apparatus). Du Qinglin shifts from the United Front Work Department to the Party Central Secretariat while Ling Jihua takes Du's seat in the United Front.
It is said that the reconstituted Small Group under the chairmanship of You Zhengsheng had a meeting last month.
Interestingly, as mentioned earlier, the Nagchu incident occurred when Chen Quanguo, the TAR Party Chief was returning from Beijing where he had attended the meeting.
Indeed, Mr. Obama's surveillance is mild compared to Mr. Xi's grids.
But should not the United States give the good example to their Chinese friends?

China: ‘Benefit the Masses’ Campaign Surveilling Tibetans
Cadre Teams in Villages Collecting Political Information, Monitoring Opinions
June 19, 2013
Human Rights Watch
It’s hard to see the ‘benefit’ to Tibetans of thousands of political education sessions, partisan quasi-police force operations, and scrutiny of their political views. In a region where people are already subjected to extraordinary monitoring, this village-level drive, alongside similar efforts directed at towns and monasteries, effectively means that Tibetans cannot avoid state surveillance.
Sophie Richardson, China director
(New York) – The Chinese government, under the rationale of a campaign to improve rural living standards, has sent more than 20,000 officials and communist party cadres to Tibetan villages to undertake intrusive surveillance of people, carry out widespread political re-education, and establish partisan security units, said Human Rights Watch today. These tactics discriminate against those perceived as potentially disloyal, and restrict their freedom of religion and opinion.
Over 5,000 teams of officials and communist party cadres have been stationed in Tibetan villages under a government campaign called “Solidify the Foundations, Benefit the Masses” (qianji huimin). The campaign, launched by the party leadership in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) on October 10, 2011, is now halfway through its planned three-year duration. It is described in state media reports as improving living conditions and prosperity for people living in rural areas of the TAR, but research by Human Rights Watch shows that the teams are also categorizing Tibetans according to their religious and political thinking, and establishing institutions to monitor their behavior and opinions.
“It’s hard to see the ‘benefit’ to Tibetans of  thousands of political education sessions, partisan quasi-police force operations, and scrutiny of their political views,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “In a region where people are already subjected to extraordinary monitoring, this village-level drive, alongside similar efforts directed at towns and monasteries, effectively means that Tibetans cannot avoid state surveillance.”
The campaign is one of three major new systems of social organization and control introduced in the TAR since 2011. An urban administrative network that includes significantly increased surveillance and monitoring known as the grid system was introduced in the TAR in 2012, and a new system of information gathering known as the “Six Ones” was introduced to monitor monks and nuns in Tibetan monasteries in November 2011.
The three systems are officially described as measures to promote “stability maintenance,” a drive which was described by the TAR party secretary in March 2013 as “the number one priority exceeding all else” in the TAR. The “Benefit the Masses” campaign aims to achieve “the three non-occurrences,” meaning no protests or expression of dissent.
In Tibetan areas, particularly since a wave of unrest in spring 2008, dissent is viewed by the Chinese authorities as the result of “splittist sabotage by hostile forces and the Dalai Clique.” In a major policy speech on February 14, 2013, Yu Zhengsheng, China’s top official in charge of minority and religious affairs, called for forces supporting the Dalai Lama to be “resolutely ground into dust.” As a result, hundreds of arrests, sentences, and punitive measures have been carried out in Tibetan areas since 2008 involving Tibetans suspected of support for the Dalai Lama.
“Beijing’s obsession with so-called ‘stability maintenance’ is a recipe for abuses,” Richardson said. “It is intended to suppress Tibetan citizens’ basic rights to free expression and to instill fear.”
While facilities have been upgraded by the cadre teams in some villages, “benefiting the masses” is only the last of the five objectives of the drive. The instructions given to the teams state that their first priority is to expand the role and size of the party in Tibetan villages, while the second is to “maintain stability” by “carrying out activities against the Dalai clique.”Implementation of these measures, which are also reported to be taking place in some Tibetan areas outside the TAR, have led to curbs on freedom of expression and religious practice.
For example, according to a villager interviewed by Human Rights Watch, a resident village work cadre team (zhucun gongzuodui) in Taktse (Dazi) county in Lhasa prefecture questioned all the inhabitants of his village, including young children, and classified them into three categories: those who want wealth and support the current system, those who secretly pray to and support the Dalai Lama but do not protest openly, and those who “do not accept re-education and do not have faith in motherland and party.” The classification led to about 135 people from the third category being “taken to the county seat and kept there for 45 days to be given re-education” in March 2013, according to the interviewee, who also claimed that up to 500 villagers from Nagchu (Naqu) prefecture had been detained for re-education during the same period. Another interviewee reported that 73 villagers had been sent from Meldro Gungkar (Mozhugongka) county for re-education at the same time.
An official report on the operations of a cadre team in a village in Chamdo (Changdu), one of the seven prefectures in the TAR, confirmed claims by interviewees that teams are tasked with identifying the social network of each villager. The team was also required to register “key personnel” in the village and maintain “close vigilance over them.” The term “key personnel” typically refers to people considered likely to cause political unrest.
Official documents about the campaign state that its first objective is to build the strength and numbers of the communist party in rural areas of the TAR. Each cadre team has been required to turn each village into “a fortress” in the struggle against separatism by setting up a new party committee in each village and by persuading “those who are good at getting rich” to become party members and village leaders.
The second objective of the drive, according to official reports, has three elements: to increase “social stability maintenance;” to “deepen the struggle” against followers of the Dalai Lama; and to “strengthen the management and education of monks and nuns.” Interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch show that these directives have led to a sharp increase in information gathering by cadre teams about support for the Dalai Lama among rural families, and a setting up of security operations and surveillance mechanisms aimed at eradicating support for the Dalai Lama.
On February 28, 2013, the official in charge of stability maintenance in the TAR, Hao Peng, told paramilitary forces that that they must “thoroughly ensure no shadows, no gaps, no cracks, not giving hostile forces even the slightest opportunity” and must “strengthen surveillance and secret intelligence.”
The campaign is unprecedented in its scope, size, and cost. Some 21,000 cadres – the largest proportion of a provincial-level cadre force to have been sent to the countryside since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, according to an official report – have been stationed in groups of four or more in each of the 5,451 villages in the TAR as part of the three-year drive. The campaign costs 1.48 billion yuan (approximately US$227 million) a year, more than 25% of the regional government’s budget, with an additional 10 billion yuan (approximately US$1.5 billion) allocated for infrastructure construction in the villages.
Cadre teams in the villages are also tasked with “solving difficulties” and promoting economic development, and media reports have described the teams helping villagers with snow clearance, access to water, road building, solar energy supplies, literacy classes, and the purchase of entertainment or communications systems, besides other forms of practical and economic support. Each team has been allocated at least 100,000 yuan (approximately US$16,000) per year to spend on their village.
“If the government and the party are serious about improving everyday life of Tibetans, they must begin with addressing ongoing human rights violations, including restrictions on religious freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information,” said Richardson.  “That’s likely to be a far more successful approach to ‘solidifying foundations.’”
Click here to continue reading the HRW report ...

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