By Tenzin Tsering
Dharamsala, August 19: China’s repressive approach to anything political is not surprising. But latest clampdown on influential Tibetans, including sentencing of two eminent businessmen who have synced well with its policies, has left Tibet observers questioning China's intention.
After noted antique dealer Karma Samdup’s imprisonment it was Dorjee Tashi, a Tibetan tycoon who ran a chain of hotels and real estate business. Both have been honored by the Chinese government in the past.
Dorjee Tashi is the second influential Tibetan, after environmentalist and philanthropist Karma Samdup, to be targetted by China. The two have kept their distance from political activities and were understood as part of and working within the Chinese system.
“He is famously known as ‘Yak Tashi’ in Tibet by Tibetans, Chinese and inji (foreigner) tourists. He is the pride of Tibetans, an incredibly successful Tibetan businessman with strong consciousness of his Tibetan identity, ” said Jamyang Lhamo, a Tibetan exile from Dorjee Tashi’s hometown Labrang county, in Amdo.
Dorjee Tashi, popularly known as Yak Tashi, a leading Tibetan businessman with an estimated property of 450 million pounds was arrested by Chinese authorities in the wake of 2008 uprising in Lhasa, which soon spread to other parts of the restive Himalayan region. The young businessman was held incommunicado since his arrest in March 2008. He is 37.
On June 26 2010, the Lhasa Municipality Intermediate People’s Court convicted Dorjee Tashi for “illegal business operations” in a secret trial that lasted three days, details of which are not available.
Dorjee Tashi is a communist party member, who has been awarded myriad of recognitions by the Chinese government itself including "Outstanding Private Business Award" by Tibet Autonomous Region Party Committee, "Poverty Alleviation Special Contribution Award" by Shigatse Prefecture, "Contribution to the Public Economy Development of Gannan Award" by Gansu Provincial Committee and provincial government.
Recognition and admiration such as "Youth Civilization Individual Achievement Award”, announced every ten years by Communist Youth League Committee of Shigatse was given to him in 2005. His ‘Tibet Manasarovar Group’ consisting of luxury hotels, travel agencies and real estate, was also attributed the "Youth Civilization" Group Achievement Award.
“Dorjee Tashi is from Sa-kar area, which is 3 kms away from Labrang monastery, from a humble family,” said Jamyang.
Dorjee Tashi studied at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) school in Suja, near Dharamsala. He returned to Tibet and started Yak Hotel in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and generated tremendous success, followed by his other business ventures.
“ In Lhasa, most of the transportations and the flourishing travel agencies are owned by him and I could say he contributes almost 80% of tourism income in the region,” Jamyang told phayul.
Asked if he could have been invloved in political activities or “splittism” as referred to by Chinese government, Jamyang said, “ he is not an idiot to not know of the consequences of being involved in Tibetan politicalmovement inside Tibet.”
Dorjee Tashi’s elder brother was arrested a few months after him and given 6 years of imprisonment. Jamyang also said Tashi’s cousin Dukar Tashi was also sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment.
In 2005, Dorjee Tashi had met Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
“I heard that it was not the local Chinese security officers but plain cothes police from Beijing who arrested him in Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province,” said Jamyang.
It is speculated that Dorjee Tashi was arrested for funding Tibetan nongovernmental groups in exile and the Dalai Lama. Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University said, “Tibetan exile community raises money from its own members or in the West, not from inside China. It would make no sense for him to take such risks either.”
“Yak Tashi is a Tibetan who takes pride in being Tibetan and made equal efforts in maintaining the Tibetan identity and dignity in a land now outnumbered by Han Chinese settlers. May be the Chinese authorities didn’t like a Tibetan being so succesful, though he didn’t take part in political activities.” said Jamyang.