CTA's Response IV
A Gift to the Minority Nationalities on the PRC's 60th Birthday: A white paper and two executions
The Military March and the Message
On 1 October, Beijing celebrated the People's Republic of China's 60th anniversary. The celebration was awe-inspiring. Military hardware rolled past Chinese leaders, who stood tall with pride and stiff with emotion. This display of China's military muscle was watched by governments around the world with bated breath. Salivating at this potential market were foreign companies who do business in the weapons industry. They were bitterly disappointed. Almost 5000 pieces of impressive range of sophisticated weapons were on display. Every piece was made in China. To the merchants of death, the message is clear. There is no China market for China's military arsenal. In this vital area, China wants to be absolutely independent and wholly self-reliant.
A Gift from Heaven: A White Paper
A few days earlier on 27 September, Beijing gave its 55 minorities a gift: a white paper. It is called China's Ethnic Policy and Common Prosperity and Development of All Ethnic Groupsreleased by the Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China.
Outside observers might not see a link between these two developments. However, the minorities would have clearly gotten the message. The white paper on their rights is the carrot. If they are not pleased with the carrot, they will get the stick of the military hardware so blatantly displayed on the anniversary day.
The 3-9 October issue of The Economist magazine, which put China on its cover, had some perspective comments on the reasons why Beijing put up this stupendous display. It says, "China's leaders rightly point out that theirs is still a poor country which will naturally give priority to lifting its economic development. And this in one sense answers the question about the message conveyed by the National Day parade: its main audience was not the outside world, but China's own people. With no popular mandate, the government's legitimacy relies on its record in making China richer and stronger. The display of strength, showing how well it has done in this, hints at its lack of confidence. For those worried about where China's rise might lead, that the government is so insecure is not a comforting thought."
Willy Lam, that wiliest of China hands, comments, "And the unprecedentedly large-scale military parade on Oct. 1 was a show of force aimed as much at the Party's myriad domestic enemies, (dissidents as well as Tibetan and Uighur splittists) as at China's foreign foes."
The 12 October issue of Newsweek agrees that the message was for the domestic audience. But it has a different take on it. The magazine says that the parade was to reassure the Chinese people that they are safe at home and abroad. This argument does not ring true in the circumstances created by the authorities that shrouded the parade in secrecy and foreboding. If this was the case, except for the hand-picked crowd, why was the rest of China told to stay indoors and watch the parade on TV that day? Question of safety covers the safety of both the ruled and the rulers. If the rulers do not feel safe from those whom they rule, what justification is there for the ruled to feel safe from their rulers?
The questions for both the parade and the white paper are as follows. If the key message of the parade is to reassure the Chinese and the minorities that they are safe, why would the authorities need to put up this staggering show at such astronomical expenses?
There must be other candidates for the post of the world's safest country. But for arguments sake, we will consider Switzerland as one of the most civil and peaceful countries in the world. However, the Swiss authorities do not see the need to put up a grand muscle-flexing parade to reassure their people that they are safe and in safe hands.
The same question goes for the white paper. If the minorities enjoy common prosperity and development, there is no earthly reason to put this on paper and in ink. The truth of this accomplishment will be self-evident and applauded by all, not the least the minorities who will repay Beijing for this improbable service with their undying loyalty.
Unfortunately, common prosperity and development for the minorities never catches up with Beijing's claims. Issuing such a white paper and making such tall claims against the background reality of the eruption of the most sustained and widespread unrest in Tibet last year and the most violent protests in Xinjiang this July and the brutal way both were crushed either indicates Beijing's supreme confidence that its current economic clout will make these claims acceptable to the world or that it desperately wants to hide a terrible secret in a whitewash of a white paper.
The secret is this. We have no access to all the details on the full range of death and devastation the authorities visited upon the Tibetan people, following the peaceful protests that shook Tibet and the world last year. However, according to the information available to us as of 27 October 2009, there have been a total of 228 Tibetan dead since March 2008. We have all the relevant details for 118 of them. 371 Tibetans have been sentenced. 4,657 Tibetans have been either arrested or detained. 990 Tibetans have disappeared. 1,294 Tibetans have been injured. These are the facts that we know. Who knows how many more Tibetans have died and the exact number of Tibetans who are still in prison, subjected to torture?
The Latest Gift for the Tibetans: Executions
On 20 October, the Chinese authorities in Lhasa executed several Tibetans for their involvement in the 2008 protests. Two have been confirmed by the Chinese authorities. Not a word of these executions was mentioned in the official Chinese press. The news of these executions spread in the Tibetan world because the bodies of the executed were returned to their families. That was how the world came to know about this official murder of Tibetans who dared to speak up for the rights of their people. The latest white paper cannot whitewash these executions of Tibetans who exercised their right of freedom of expression.
The Ministry of Truth
However, Beijing tries to drown all these atrocities in the barrage of propaganda it fires, salvo after salvo. The white paper was followed by an extensive interview of Zhu Weiqun, the vice-minister of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China. The interview, 11 pages, was splashed on Xinhua's web site on 16 October. This longish interview was reprinted from the original source, a German magazine called Focus, which published it on 22 September, a month earlier. Perhaps the motivation behind recycling an old interview on old and worn-out themes was that reprinting it from a foreign publication might make the interview seem less Newspeak than Xinhua itself doing an original interview of the boss of the Ministry of Truth. And in the interview, the Zhu Weiqun, as it comes naturally to him, said that truth is on his side and the Tibetan side is all wrapped up in lies and sealed by a huge falsehood.
Zhu Weiqun's real message is clear. He says there is no need to change or improve the autonomous arrangement that is set in place for the Tibetan people. He says, "What China's regional ethnic autonomy should be like, to put it more simply, is exactly what it is right now."
What Chinese Civil Society Says
China's civil society, as small and as battered it is, bravely disagrees with this hardline approach. In one of the most courageous acts that came in the aftermath of the widespread and sustained protests that engulfed Tibet in the spring and summer of last year, the Beijing-based Gongmeng Law Research Centre dispatched researchers to three areas in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas outside of it to find out the causes of these protests. The researchers spent one whole month interviewing people. Their findings were published in May as An Investigative Report into the Social and Economic Causes of the 3.14 Incident in Tibetan Areas.The report says that the upsurge of Tibetan nationalism was largely triggered by conditions in Tibet, including the pervasive corruption that spawns what the report calls the "new aristocracy," which feeds on Beijing's largess but immediately blames the "separatists" for their own total incompetence and mis-rule.
The report lists nine recommendations to Beijing to resolve the issue of Tibet. The first suggestions says, "Earnestly listen to the voices of ordinary Tibetans and on the basis of respecting and protecting each of the Tibetan people's rights and interests, adjust policy and thinking in Tibetan areas to formulate development policies which are suited to the characteristics of Tibetan areas, and which accord with the wishes of the Tibetan people.
The third suggestion says, "Increase effective supervision over local structures in the implementation of regional ethnic autonomy policies, and speed up the process of democraticizing power structures. End tolerance of corruption, poor administrative abilities and dereliction of duty which is apparent in government in Tibetan areas, and in particular of those officials who suppress social problems in the name of "anti-splittism."
The report also recommends Beijing to "Promote the rule of law in governance processes in Tibetan areas."
In his lengthy interview as reprinted by Xinhua, Zhu Weiqun is quoted as saying, "As far as religion is concerned, we implement the same policy of freedom of religious belief in Tibet and the rest of the country. The freedom of religious belief is fully respected and protected in China, and there are no obstacles."
This is not the case is made clear by the investigative report which urges central authorities to "Fully respect and protect the Tibetan people's freedom of religious belief, resuming and supporting normal religious lives and activities. Fully recognize the important significance of religion and a religious life to Tibetan areas and the Tibetan people."
Domestic Angle of China's Propaganda
On China's propaganda, the same issue of The Economist has this to say. "But the image that it would like to cultivate, as a responsible, un-threatening, emergent superpower, is constantly being undercut by two of its leaders' habits. One is the knee-jerk resort to hysterical propaganda and reprisals when a foreign country displeases it by criticising its appalling treatment of political dissidents, or accepts a visit from the Dalai Lama or other objects of the Communist Party's venom."
The Communist Party considers its image important, not because of the foreigners but because of its own people. With the rest of the world, Beijing can buy, bribe and bully. According to Beijing's recent experience, this tactic seems to be working. However, the same tactic, long tried on its own people, now seems to be wearing thin. Take the case of the Gongmeng Law Research Centre, which despite all odds stacked against it courageously challenged Beijing's assumptions and propaganda on Tibet. For its pains, the law firm was closed and its director detained, although he was released sometime later.
These Chinese voices of sanity and common sense are growing. From 6 to 8 August this year, a conference was held in Geneva between Chinese scholars and human rights advocates and Tibetan exiles. The Finding Common Ground conference produced a document, which says, "The root cause of the Tibetan issue is not a conflict between the Chinese people and the Tibetan people, but rather the autocratic rule of the People's Republic of China in Tibet and its cultural genocide. The Beijing government's claim that 'Tibet has always been a part of China' is factually incorrect."
The conference determined that "Tibetan culture is a precious treasure among the many cultures of humanity. Without freedom for Tibet, there will be no freedom for China."
No amount of white papers will be able to stem the growing tide of public opinion in China. And the public opinion in China demands that the Chinese government becomes more transparent and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the Chinese people themselves and the minorities whose capacity to live with dignity and freedom will constitute a solid foundation for a stable and prosperous China.
This is what the government in Beijing should be working on. Issuing white papers and, on the other hand, executing people is not the way to go about in providing good governance. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can buy, bribe and bully some people all the time but you cannot buy, bribe and bully all the people all the time.
Using a 'Separatist' to Oppose a 'Separatist'
Beijing realises that it cannot buy, bribe and bully its way to stability and legitimacy. Because of this realisation and in calculated frustration, Beijing is increasing the volume of its shrill diatribe on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. At the moment, its pet pique is the democratic system the Tibetans have established in exile. Beijing says this form of Tibetan democracy is a sham. It argues that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is still the real power.
The latest Chinese government blast at Tibetan democracy was carried in the CCP's newspaper, People's Daily on 28 October 2009. The article is titled Dalai's Democracy Practices are Laughing Stock. All the proceedings of the Tibetan parliament are broadcast live and the reporter of the People's Daily for this particular news item would not have much of a problem in knowing what was going on and the context in which the walk-out took place.
However, to feign surprise and shock at the parliamentarians' walk-out is, at best, being disingenuous, but at worst, an exposure of the reporter's total ignorance of the basis of democracy, which is having the freedom to choose. However, to argue that the walk-out indicates the hollowness of Tibetan democracy is an outright distortion of democracy as practised by Tibetan exiles. This walk-out, after a frank and heated discussion, reinforces the vitality of Tibetan democracy, something which every Tibetan is proud of.
No reporter from the People's Daily came to Dharamsala to cover the session of the Tibetan Parliament, as testified by the parliamentary secretariat, which registers all reporters who wish to cover the proceedings. In fact, we learn that China-Tibet Information Centre contributed the laughing stock article. This piece of reporting is a case of arm-chair journalism, and the source of this piece of creative writing is Chinese. For example, the name of the speaker of the Tibetan parliament Penpa Tsering is spelled as Bianba Cering. Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche is rendered as Sangdong. The Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu is transformed into Jia Yangnuobu. Flinging accuracy and fact-checking out of the propaganda door, the People's Daily refers to Voice of Tibet as Tibetan Sound in Norway. As a matter of curiosity, we would like to know what is the Tibetan Sound doing in Norway and whose sound is it?
In view of such flagrant carelessness and irresponsible reporting, it is no wonder when the Chinese people are asked whether anything in the People's Daily is true, they reply, "just the dates."
There is another article called Tibetan Separatist Exposes Dalai Lama's 'democracy myth'. This is available on http://chinatibet.people.com.cn/6789022.html. The article uses extensive quotes from a lengthy essay by Jamyang Norbu entitled “Waiting for Mangtso.” This essay is available on www.phayul.com.
What is surprising is the tactic of quoting one 'separatist' to oppose another 'separatist.' During the Cultural Revolution some Chinese were accused of carrying the red flag to oppose the red flag. This meant that one faction was using the name of Mao to oppose Mao himself. That China, a fast-rising great power, resorts to using quotes from Jamyang Norbu, who along with the Tibetan Youth Congress had been earlier contemptuously dismissed by Beijing as 'a fly flapping its wings against the king of mountains,' is a sure sign of desperation. Jamyang Norbu is an advocate of Tibetan independence and is loudly proud of it. To use his article to condemn and belittle the enormous achievements of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in democratising his administration and his community means that Beijing is losing the battle to win the hearts and minds of people in Tibet and China.
Democracy and the right to choose is His Holiness the Dalai Lama's gift to the Tibetan people. This gift has empowered the Tibetan refugees and has fundamentally changed the nature of the community and has given it enormous vitality. It has unleashed the talent and energy of the young to pursue their dreams and fulfill their potential and in the process contribute to the cohesion of the community in exile. This freedom is actively denied to the Chinese people by their leaders who see democracy as a menace. This explains Beijing's tireless barking at this stranger called democracy.
The above is the response paper by the Central Tibetan Administration. Its publication on this site does not necessarily imply its endorsement by the site.