The protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas last week were
organized to embarrass the Chinese government ahead of the Olympics.
The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the major Tibetan exile organization
that advocates independence for Tibet and has endorsed the use of
violent methods to achieve it, has said as much. Its head, Tsewang
Rigzin, stated in a March 15 interview with the Chicago Tribune that
since it is likely that Chinese authorities would suppress protests in
Tibet, "With the spotlight on them with the Olympics, we want to test
them. We want them to show their true colors. That's why we're
Several groups of Tibetans were likely involved in the protests,
including in the burning and looting of non-Tibetan businesses and
physical attacks against migrants to Lhasa. The large monasteries have
long been centers of separatism, a stance cultivated by the TYC and
other exile entities. Monks are self-selected to be especially devoted
to the Dalai Lama. However much he may characterize his own position
as seeking only greater autonomy for Tibet, monks know he is unwilling
to recognize that Tibet is legitimately part of China, an act that
China demands of him as a precondition to formal negotiations.
Because the exile regime eschews a separation of politics and
religion, many monks adhere to the Dalai Lama's stance of
non-recognition of the Chinese government's legitimacy in Tibet as a
Reports on the violence have underscored that Tibetan merchants
competing with Han and Hui Chinese are especially antagonistic to the
presence of non-Tibetans. Alongside monks, Tibetan merchants were the
mainstay of protests in Lhasa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This
time around, many Han and Hui-owned shops were torched. Many of those
involved in the arson, looting, and ethnic-based beatings are also
likely to have been unemployed young men. Towns have experienced much
rural-to-urban migration of Tibetans with few skills needed for urban
employment. Videos of the riots in Lhasa showed almost all those
involved to have been males in their teens or twenties. In that
regard, the actions in Lhasa differed sharply from the broad-based
demonstrations of "people power" in places like Southeast Asia.
Tibetans have legitimate grievances about not being sufficiently
helped to compete for jobs and in business with migrants to Tibet.
There is also job discrimination by migrants in favor of family
members and people from their native places. The gaps in education and
living standards between Tibetans and Han are substantial and too slow
in narrowing. Raising these grievances however is a very different
matter from the calls for Tibet's independence that featured in last
week's demonstrations. The grievances have long existed, but the
protests and rioting took place this year because it is an opportune
time for separatists to advance their agenda.
While there is no chance that separatists will succeed in detaching
Tibet from China by rioting, they believe that China will eventually
collapse, like the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and they seek
to establish their claim to rule before that happens. Alternatively,
they think that the United States might intervene, as it has
elsewhere, to foster the breakaway of regions in countries to which
the US is antagonistic, e.g. Kosovo and southern Sudan. The Chinese
government also fears such eventualities, however much they are
unlikely to come to pass. It accordingly acts to suppress separatism,
an action that comports with its rights under international law.
International law also gives the Chinese government the right to
regulate religious institutions to prevent them from being used as
vehicles for separatism.
The separatists know they can count on the automatic sympathy of
Western politicians and media, who view China as a strategic economic
and political competitor. Western elites have thus widely condemned
China for suppressing riots that these elites would never allow to go
unsuppressed in their own countries. Witness, for example, the Los
Angeles riots of 1992, in which 53 people died. Western leaders urge
China to exercise restraint, but neither they, nor the Dalai Lama have
criticized those Tibetans who engaged in ethnic-based attacks and
Western elites give the Chinese government no recognition for
significant improvements in the lives of Tibetans as a result of
subsidies from the China's central government and provinces,
improvements that the Dalai Lama has himself admitted. Western
politicians and media also consistently credit the Dalai Lama's charge
that "cultural genocide" is underway in Tibet, even though the exiles
and their supporters offer no credible evidence of the evisceration of
Tibetan language use, religious practice or art. In fact, more than
90% of Tibetans speak Tibetan as their mother tongue. Tibet has about
150,000 monks and nuns, the highest concentration of full-time
"clergy" in the Buddhist world. Western scholars of Tibetan
literature and art forms have attested that it is flourishing as never
The riots in Tibet have done nothing to advance discussions of a
political settlement between the Chinese government and exiles, yet a
settlement is necessary for the substantial mitigation of Tibetan
grievances. For Tibetan pro-independence forces, a setback to such
efforts may have their very purpose in fostering the riots.
An even more expanded version has been published here:http://chinaleftreview.org/index.php?id=28
husunzi - Apr 7 2:45 pm
Protests in Tibet and Separatism: the Olympics and Beyond
Recent protests in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas were organized toembarrass the Chinese government ahead of the Olympics. The TibetanYouth Congress (TYC), the major Tibetan exile organization thatadvocates independence for Tibet and has endorsed using violent methodsto achieve it, has said as much. Its head, Tsewang Rigzin, stated in aMarch 15 interview with the Chicago Tribune that since it is likely thatChinese authorities would suppress protests in Tibet, “With thespotlight on them with the Olympics, we want to test them. We want themto show their true colors. That’s why we’re pushing this.” At theJune, 2007 Conference for an Independent Tibet organized in India by“Friends of Tibet,” speakers pointed out that the Olympics present aunique opportunity for protests in Tibet. In January, 2008, exiles inIndia launched a “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” to “act in thespirit” of the violent 1959 uprising against Chinese governmentauthority and focus on the Olympics.
Several groups of Tibetans were likely involved in the protests inLhasa, including in the burning and looting of non-Tibetan businessesand attacks against Han and Hui (Muslim Chinese) migrants to Tibet. Thelarge monasteries have long been centers of separatism, a stancecultivated by the TYC and other exile entities, many of which arefinanced by the US State Department or the US Congress’ NationalEndowment for Democracy. Monks are self-selected to be especiallydevoted to the Dalai Lama. However much he may characterize his ownposition as seeking only greater autonomy for Tibet, monks know he isunwilling to declare that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, an actChina demands of him as a precondition to formal negotiations. Becausethe exile regime eschews a separation of politics and religion, manymonks deem adherence to the Dalai Lama’s stance of non-recognition ofthe Chinese government’s legitimacy in Tibet to be a religiousobligation.
Reports on the violence have underscored that Tibetan merchantscompeting with Han and Hui are especially antagonistic to the presenceof non-Tibetans. Alongside monks, Tibetan merchants were the mainstay ofprotests in Lhasa in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This time around,many Han and Hui-owned shops were torched. Many of those involved inarson, looting, and ethnic-based beatings are also likely to have beenunemployed young men. Towns have experienced much rural-to-urbanmigration of Tibetans with few skills needed for urban employment.Videos from Lhasa showed the vast majority of rioters were males intheir teens or twenties.
The recent actions in Tibetan areas differ from the broad-baseddemonstrations of “people power” movements in several parts of theworld in the last few decades. They hardly show the overwhelmingTibetan anti-Chinese consensus portrayed in the international media.The highest media estimate of Tibetans who participated in protests is20,000 -- by Steve Chao, the Beijing Bureau Chief of CanadianTelevision News, i.e. one of every 300 Tibetans. Compare that to the1986 protests against the Marcos dictatorship by about three million-- one out of every 19 Filipinos.
Tibetans have legitimate grievances about not being sufficiently helpedto compete for jobs and in business with migrants to Tibet. There isalso job discrimination by Han migrants in favor of family members andpeople from their native places. The gaps in education and livingstandards between Tibetans and Han are substantial and too slow innarrowing. The grievances have long existed, but protests and riotingtook place this year because the Olympics make it opportune forseparatists to advance their agenda. Indeed, there was a radicaldisconnect between Tibetan socio-economic grievances and the slogansraised in the protests, such as “Complete Independence for Tibet” and“May the exiles and Tibetans inside Tibet be reunited,” slogans thatnot coincidentally replicate those raised by pro-independence Tibetanexiles.
While separatists will not succeed in detaching Tibet from China byrioting, they believe that China will eventually collapse, like theformer Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and they seek to establish theirclaim to rule before that happens. Alternatively, they think that theUnited States may intervene, as it has elsewhere, to foster thebreakaway of regions in countries to which the US is antagonistic, e.g.Kosovo and southern Sudan. The Chinese government also fears sucheventualities, however unlikely they are to come to pass. Itaccordingly acts to suppress separatism, an action that comports withits rights under international law.
Separatists know they can count on the automatic sympathy of Westernpoliticians and media, who view China as a strategic economic andpolitical competitor. Western elites have thus widely condemned Chinafor suppressing riots that these elites would never allow to gounsuppressed in their own countries. They demand that China berestrained in its response; yet, during the Los Angeles uprising orriots of 1992 -- which spread to a score of other major cities --President George H.W. Bush stated when he send in thousands of soldiers,that “There can be no excuse for the murder, arson, theft or vandalismthat have terrorized the people of Los Angeles . . . Let me assure youthat I will use whatever force is necessary to restore order.” NeitherWestern politicians nor mainstream media attacked him on this score,while neither Western leaders nor the Dalai Lama have criticized thoseTibetans who recently engaged in ethnic-based attacks and arsons.
Western elites give the Chinese government no recognition forsignificant improvements in the lives of Tibetans as a result ofsubsidies from the China’s central government and provinces,improvements that the Dalai Lama has himself admitted. Westernpoliticians and media also consistently credit the Dalai Lama’s chargethat “cultural genocide” is underway in Tibet, even though the exilesand their supporters offer no credible evidence of the evisceration ofTibetan language use, religious practice or art. In fact, more than90% of Tibetans speak Tibetan as their mother tongue. Tibet has about150,000 monks and nuns, the highest concentration of full-time “clergy”in the Buddhist world. Western scholars of Tibetan literature and artforms have attested that it is flourishing.
Ethnic contradictions in Tibet arise from the demography, economy andpolitics of the Tibetan areas. Separatists and their supporters claimthat Han Chinese have been “flooding” into Tibet, “swamping” Tibetansdemographically. In fact, between the national censuses of 1990 and2000 (which count everyone who has lived in an area for six months ormore), the percentage of Tibetans in the Tibetan areas as a wholeincreased somewhat and Han were about one-fifth of the population. Apreliminary analysis of the 2005 mini-census shows that from 2000-2005there was a small increase in the proportion of Han in thecentral-western parts of Tibet (the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR)and little change in eastern Tibet. Pro-independence forces want theTibetan areas cleansed of Han (as happened in 1912 and 1949); theDalai Lama has said he will accept a three-to-one Tibetan to non-Tibetpopulation ratio, but he consistently misrepresents the presentsituation as one of a Han majority. Given his status as not merelythe top Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, but as an emanation ofBuddha, most Tibetans credit whatever he says on this or other topics.
The Tibetan countryside, where three-fourths of the population lives,has very few non-Tibetans. The vast majority of Han migrants toTibetan towns are poor or near-poor. They are not personallysubsidized by the state; although like urban Tibetans, they areindirectly subsidized by infrastructure development that favors thetowns. Some 85% of Han who migrate to Tibet to establish businessesfail; they generally leave within two to three years. Those whosurvive economically offer competition to local Tibetan businesspeople, but a comprehensive study in Lhasa has shown that non-Tibetanshave pioneered small and medium enterprise sectors that some Tibetanshave later entered and made use of their local knowledge to prosper.
Tibetans are not simply an underclass; there is a substantial Tibetanmiddle class, based in government service, tourism, commerce, andsmall-scale manufacturing/ transportation. There are also manyunemployed or under-employed Tibetans, but almost no unemployed orunderemployed Han because those who cannot find work leave. Many Hanmigrants have racist attitudes toward Tibetans, mostly notions thatTibetans are lazy, dirty, and obsessed with religion. Many Tibetansreciprocate with representations of Han as rich, money-obsessed andconspiring to exploit Tibetans. Long-resident urban Tibetans absorbaspects of Han culture in much the same way that ethnic minorities dowith ethnic majority cultures the world over. Tibetans are not howeverbeing forcibly “Sincized.” Most Tibetans speak little or no Chinese.They begin to learn it in the higher primary grades and, in manyTibetan areas, must study in it if they go on to secondary education.Chinese, however, is one of the two most important languages in theworld and considerable advantages accrue to those who learn it, just asthey do to non-native English speakers.
The Tibetan exiles argue that religious practice is sharply restrictedin Tibetan areas. The Chinese government has the right underinternational law to regulate religious institutions to prevent themfrom being used as vehicles for separatism and the control of religionis in fact mostly a function of the state’s (overly-developed) concernabout separatism and secondarily about how the hyper-development ofreligious institutions counteracts “development” among ethnic Tibetans.Certain state policies do infringe on freedom of religion; for example,the forbidding, in the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region), of state employeesand university students to participate in religious rites. The lesserdegree of control over religion in the eastern Tibetan areas beyond theTAR-- at least before the events of March, 2008 -- indicate however thatthe Chinese government calibrates its control according to the perceiveddegree of separatist sentiment in the monasteries.
The Dalai Lama’s regime was of course itself a theocracy that closelyregulated the monasteries, including the politics, hierarchy and numberof monks. The exile authorities today circumscribe by fiat thosereligious practices they oppose, such as the propitiation of a “deity”known as Dorje Shugden. The cult of the Dalai Lama, which is evenstronger among monks than it is among Hollywood stars, neverthelessmandates acceptance of his claim that restrictions on religiousmanagement and practice in Tibet arise solely from the Chinese state’ssupposed anti-religious animus. Similarly, the cult requires theconviction that the Dalai Lama is a pacifist, even though he hasexplicitly or implicitly endorsed all wars waged by the US.
The development of the “market economy” has had much the same effect inTibetan areas as in the rest of China, i.e. increased exploitation,exacerbated income and wealth differentials, and rampant corruption.The degree to which this involves an “ethnic division of labor” thatdisadvantages Tibetans is however exaggerated by separatists in orderto foster ethnic antagonism. For example, Tibet is not the poorestarea of China, as is often claimed. It is better off than severalother ethnic minority areas and even than some Han areas, in largemeasure due to heavy government subsidies. Rural Tibetans as wellreceive more state subsidies than other minorities. The exile leadersemploy hyperbole not only in terms of the degree of empiricaldifference, but also concerning the more fundamental ethnicrelationship in Tibet: in contrast to, say, Israel/Palestine, Tibetanshave the same rights as Han, they enjoy certain preferential economicand social policies, and about half the top party leaders in the TARhave been ethnic Tibetans.
Tibet has none of the indicia of a colony or occupied territory and thushas no relationship to self-determination, a concept that in recentdecades has often been misused, especially by the US, to foster thebreakup of states and consequent emiseration of their populations. Asettlement between the Chinese government and Tibetan exile elites is apre-condition for the mitigation of Tibetan grievances because absent asettlement, ethnic politics will continue to subsume every issue inTibet, as it does for example, in Taiwan and Kosovo, where ethnicbinaries are constructed by “ethnic political entrepreneurs,” who seekto outbid each other for support.
The riots in Tibet have done nothing to advance discussions of apolitical settlement between the Chinese government and exiles, yet asettlement is necessary for the substantial mitigation of Tibetangrievances. For Tibetan pro-independence forces, a setback to suchefforts may have been their very purpose in fostering the riots. Tibetanpro-independence forces, like separatists everywhere, seek to counterany view of the world that is not ethnic-based and to thwart all effortsto resolve ethnic contradictions, in order to boost the mobilizationneeded to sustain their ethnic nationalist projects. They have claimedthat China will soon collapse and the US will thereafter increase itspatronage of a Tibetan state elite, to the benefit of ordinary Tibetans. One only has to look round the world at the many humanitariancatastrophes that have resulted from such thinking to project whatconsequences are likely to follow for ordinary Tibetans if theseparatist fantasy were fulfilled.
--Barrry SAUTMAN, JD, LLM, PhDAssociate ProfessorDivision of Social ScienceHong Kong University of Science & Technology
husunzi - Mar 24 8:41 am