Agam's Gecko
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Tibet on Everest
Jordanian mountaineer Mostafa Salameh carried the Tibetan national flag to the top of Chomolangma (Mount Everest) on May 25.
Photo: Phayul

hina's political re-education campaign is causing religious institutions to be emptied out, while sporadic demonstrations of Tibetan aspirations to freedom continue to be carried out by citizens and clergy alike. The Chinese strategy of "political warfare" and "patriotic struggle" is not having the desired effect. Or is it?

Arrests are still being made in Serthar County, Kardze Prefecture (Ch: Sichuan) of people suspected of protesting in March. Three people who were on the wanted list of demonstrators were arrested on May 16, and two others on May 24.

Two more monks from Kirti Monastery, Ngaba County, (Ch: Sichuan) were arrested on May 23 at the monastery, for having "disrespected" the "patriotic" re-education campaign.

CTA confirms the arrests of 12 monks from Shelkar Choedhe Monastery in Tingri County, Shigatse Prefecture, Tibetan "Autonomous" Region (reported here on Sunday), with the added information that four of the monks are detained at the county detention centre, while the other eight are held at the Shigatse detention centre. One more member of the monastery's "Democratic Management Committee" (the Party's control mechanism for monasteries) was also arrested later, for having links with the re-education-resisting monks. Which means in this case, two of those arrested are DMC members.

There is now separate confirmation of a public demonstration in Lhasa on May 24 (reported here May 29). The Tibet Solidarity Committee has it from "a few confirmed sources."
Around past noon that day, three Tibetan youths appeared in the Tromzikhar market and yelled at the Tibetan shop owners, "don't you have enough tsampa (Tibet’s most staple foodstuff, barley flour) to eat that you choose to open your shops when whole of Tibet is enduring such suffering", and proposed they close their shops as a mark of solidarity to the Tibetan people's suffering. Thereafter, the three youths started to shout slogans. The Chinese security forces, both in uniform and undercover, immediately overwhelmed them but the youths resisted the arrest and a brief melee ensued leading to commotion and people running around. Some even heard sounds of explosions, but could not confirm whether it was of gunshot or teargas fires. This led to the closure of all the shops in and around Barkor and Tromzikhar market, and reinforcement of People's Armed Police personnel who carried out search operations.
There is no information on the outcome, or of the fate of the young protestors. Of course there should also be sympathy for the shop owners, who are only trying to survive. Tibetans are a minority in the shop-owner field as well, and even among the street vendors, according to reports by Lhasa visitors. Perhaps the protesters could have chosen a more appropriate target, but with the complete blanket over information imposed by the government, we really have little idea of the true conditions in Lhasa.

Some monks and nuns of Phenpo Lundrup County were released in May after around two months' detention, yet the Chinese authorities have tried to bar them from returning to their institutions. Released monks from Gaden Choekhor Monastery and nuns from Shar Bhumpa Nunnery, as well as local people, strongly resisted this action by the authorities, and returned to their institutions in any case. They can likely expect a much stricter political re-education class as a result.

Another young woman has been beaten and arrested after mounting a solo peaceful protest at the Kardze County government headquarters, in Kardze Prefecture (Ch: Sichuan). Jampa Dekyi, 20, began shouting freedom slogans at the office around noon on May 31.
Public Security Bureau (PSB) and People's Armed Police (PAP) personnel had immediately appeared on the scene and beat her so severely that she bled profusely from her head. She was later taken away by the PSB and PAP personnel.
The clampdown on Tibetans has been particularly harsh in Kardze County since the middle of March, yet demonstrations there have continued until present. In fact, it should be obvious to authorities that their ridiculous intolerance of expression does nothing but fuel more resentment, resulting in continuing resistance. These "social engineers" should have learned by now that this is practically a law of nature, and their policy is achieving exactly the opposite of its stated purpose.

Dorjee Tashi, an 18 year-old boy, staged a similar solo demonstration at the same Kardze County headquarters on May 15. He was immediately arrested. Ugyen Tashi, an 18 year-old monk from Tse-tsang Monastery in Kardze County, was arrested on May 22 for carrying a large portrait of Dalai Lama in public.

The Chinese authorities have staged another one of their "media tours" to Tibet. Previous ones haven't gone so well for them, so the solution is apparently to restrict even more tightly who is allowed to join -- in this case selected journalists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. They arrived in Lhasa on June 2, and were also given an excursion to Lhoka Prefecture (adjacent to Lhasa Municipality's south side) during a three day visit.

Official media stated that the journalists would be allowed to report freely and meet whom they wish, yet official media also stated that the places to be visited and the people to be met have all been pre-selected by the Chinese government. Do they think they're fooling anyone? Maybe they do, and maybe they are. But Tibet is far from "returning to normal," as stated by the vice chairman of the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region.

The Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County (Ch: Sichuan) has also taken a prominent role since the beginning, and was the site of one of the first shootings of peaceful protesters in mid-March, where around 23 Tibetans are known to have died. The monastery has been raided multiple times, with a senselessly destructive Cultural Revolution ferocity (the Cultural Revolution has never really ended in Tibet, apart from a few very brief periods).

Political re-education is weighing down the spirits of the Kirti monks, who reliable sources say have been split into eight groups for this purpose. They are despondent over their treatment yet refuse to accept the indoctrination, walking out of their "classes" on June 1. Over the next two days, all monks except for the elderly ones have left their monastery.

This is becoming a common story. Cultural revolutionary treatment -- demanding that people denounce their deepest love -- becomes intolerable, and the monks or nuns simply desert their institution. It's beginning to look like this may be the objective of the authorities. Could we not have a little more attention to this by the international media? Isn't a modern Cultural Revolution newsworthy enough?

What about extra armed reinforcements to manage an ancient religious festival -- could that get anybody's attention? June 4 was not only a delicate anniversary in China, where any mention of the state massacre of idealistic students and citizens in 1989 is a punishable offense, but this year the month-long Tibetan Saga Dawa festival also began on that date. It seems to be the Tibetan equivalent of Visakha Bucha (as we call it in Thailand), marking the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha.

Only in China would this be looked upon as a threat, and ironically the CCP makes it that way by their own behaviour. For those to whom religious observance is something dangerous and scary, the answer is to point more guns at it, just in case. A "government spokesman" told AFP that "remarks" from "Tibetan separatists" necessitated the high security operation, yet he refused to identify the "remarks" in any way.
State press reports also cited the deputy chairman of the Tibet region, Pelma Trilek, calling Tuesday for a heightened security presence in Lhasa and around Tibet to rein in any potential unrest.

The government spokesman, who refused to give his name, denied that security was being stepped up because the Tibet leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay is scheduled to go through Lhasa on June 19.
How about that? A "government spokesman" makes unsubstantiated charges to justify an ever-tighter military clampdown on the city, and won't even identify himself. Let us not forget that the organisers of the big celebration in Lhasa for her majestically harmonious flamey-ness have stated that Tibetans are not welcome to participate. It's to be a Han-only extravaganza.

Tibetan solidarity with China
Tibetan monks in exile in Kathmandu express solidarity and condolences for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in China.
Photo: AFP / Prakash Mathema
A few journalists have been paying a little attention to the ongoing social crisis situation, like John Ruwitch of Reuters. Reporting the many dozens of political arrests made in recent weeks, he sees no moderating of the hardline policy. Hong Kong reporters on the latest media jaunt have reported armed troops in Lhasa's streets.
What is clear, however, is that the ruling Communist Party is not letting up and is preparing for a prolonged struggle, vowing to strengthen management of monasteries and promote ethnic unity through propaganda and indoctrination.

Late last week, Tibet's Communist Party leadership set the tone in its first major meeting since the Lhasa unrest. In a keynote speech the region's hardline party boss, Zhang Qingli, said the return to relative normalcy was a "partial victory".

"This is just the beginning of a new round of struggle against the Dalai clique and the hostile Western forces that support it," the Tibet Daily's website quoted Zhang as saying.

"A more arduous, complicated and intense struggle is yet to come. The situation is still serious ... and we must maintain clear heads at all times and be prepared to handle even more serious challenges at any time."
The legal system is stacked against the Tibetans. Chinese lawyers who had offered to provide defence counsel to those detained people, are now refused the right to renew their license to practice law. Judges are in the control of the Communist Party. There is no escape from this system.

Ruwitch quotes the one expert with probably the best understanding of the dynamics currently playing out, Prof. Robert Barnett of Columbia University. The denunciation campaigns, the political re-education sessions, all serve only to increase anger and resentment, and sow the seeds for future problems, he says. The peoples' actions over the past month have not been about the Chinese presence or other broad issues, but about the immediate issue of the security forces' responses to popular expression.
"They have all been protesting against the Chinese government's crackdown and its response to the previous protests. It's just creating a cycle of more protest."
How about framing some Buddhist monks for terrorism, would that make the cycle spin any faster? Here's a caveat: As long as independent journalists are strictly kept away -- and there is no other way to reliably know what is really going on, as long as that's the case -- I will believe every account received by the Tibetan exile organizations, and none of what the Chinese state-controlled media reports. That policy will change the minute Tibet is opened up for independent reporting.

So, Buddhist clergy terrorism: they are being framed. The ball is in China's court to permit real journalists to prove me wrong. Sixteen monks have "confessed" to attempting to carry out three bombing incidents in April, says the same state-run media which labels Dalai Lama as a terrorist.
The monks, who were arrested between May 12 and 13 for the bombings that took place in April in Mangkang county in Tibet's Chamdo region, have confessed to their involvement, the report said.
That's Markham County in Tibetan language (roughly, but that's the real name), in the south eastern part of Chamdo Prefecture, Tibetan "Autonomous" Region. The New York Times also spoke to a government spokesman, who refused to identify himself. And a "press officer" who had no idea about any of this. What is it with these guys?
"We have no confidence that these people get due process, and in particular the issue of confession is always tricky, because of the use of pretrial torture and coercion in China," [Nicolas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch] said.

Judges in Tibet have also been outspoken in saying that their goal is to try cases as quickly as possible and preserve the territorial integrity of China. "They don’t pretend that they’re giving people a fair trial, they say they are fighting separatism," Mr. Bequelin said.
No reporters other than China's propagandists working on the story? I won't believe what they write. Let some independents into the area, then we'll see what they turn up.

The United Nations' new Human Rights Council opened its session this week in Geneva. Hundreds of Tibetans living in that part of Europe staged a rally on the Place des Nations on the opening day, and will maintain a vigil through next week. Tibet is not on the official agenda of the Council's meetings.

But at least one prominent Tibetan hero was able to speak to at least some of the international community represented there. Takna Jigme Sangpo is 82 years old, and spent 32 of those years in Chinese prisons. He had been a teacher in 1964, with the temerity to teach Tibetan language, history and culture. Be sure to read this short interview in which he describes his life as a prisoner of conscience. This is what is happening to thousands of innocent Tibetans right at this moment.

Pema Tashi
Pema Tashi was a member of the Tibetan marchers heading from India back to their homeland. On May 10, Pema died tragically by drowning in the Kosi River, in Uttarakhand. Click the image for remembrance.
Photo: Tibetan People's Uprising Movement
Undoubtedly there is a lot of resentment among Tibetans for what the Chinese Communist Party has done and is continuing to do to their countrymen and women. But as I've pointed out here time and again, this doesn't translate into resentment toward the people of China. The aggressive Chinese nationalists we saw on display around the world in recent months have it completely wrong, and I think at some level most of them know it. The attention focused on their country's totalitarian leaders is not "anti-Chinese." It just makes them feel all tingly and victimized to scream it out that way.

True patriots who love China would also love and honour the Tiananmen Heroes, who were remembered and honoured yesterday in Dharamsala. Honouring them in Beijing is extremely dangerous, nineteen years after their sacrifice for their country.

The Tibetan Satyagraha marchers for truth have been having a difficult time of it from the Indian authorities too. Halted by police about 2 weeks ago on their road home, their few foreign supporters rounded up and deported, cut off from their food supply line, they attempted to resume the procession on Wednesday. They made 16 more kilometres, and just 180 more to reach the India - Tibet border, when police moved in and arrested 259 marchers and six more of the organizing committee (committee leaders had been arrested earlier). A group of around fifty have remained in their campsite, determined to continue to evade arrest and make it to their homeland. Those arrested employed classic peaceful resistance methods when they were blocked, locking arms and sitting on truth. Gandhi-ji would be proud of them.

At some distance to the east of that drama, the Tibetan flag flew at the top of Mount Everest. Jordanian climber Mostafa Salameh reached the summit on May 25 from the Nepal side. He had been looking in the markets at Namche Bazar for a Tibetan flag to take up with him, when shop owner Sonam gave him one. He had to smuggle the flag through a number of security checks, and took that (top) photo on the summit. When he returned to Namche on the 29th, he visited Sonam "with a surprise," and showed him the picture. In April, Norwegian adventurer Inge Solheim had flown a full sized Tibetan flag at the North Pole (picture published here on April 16).

It has just been revealed that the government of Norway has been using top-secret diplomacy in an effort to get the CCP and the Tibetan exile authorities together, and resolve the half century old problem once and for all. These efforts are said to have been going on for years.
Chinese authorities have reportedly demanded the secrecy, because they otherwise have publicly taken a hard line against Tibet and repeatedly claimed that it's always been a part of China. The government in Beijing therefore has taken the stand that there's nothing to negotiate.
Officials of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry have been driving the efforts, which are known to only a handful of people, and meetings with Chinese and Tibetan officials have taken place in Norway and abroad. The Norwegian and Chinese foreign ministers have held confidential talks on the issue, but the process has involved some diplomatic cover.
In another case, a special position allegedly was created for a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Oslo. The university wasn't aware, however, that the position was actually a cover for the scholar's real mission in Norway, which was to advise Norwegian diplomats based on his contacts in Beijing and his knowledge of Tibet and its culture.
The Tibetan and Chinese sides met together in Shenzhen, China on May 4. That meeting was marred by continuing recriminations by Chinese state-run media before, during and after it occurred, with shrill attacks on Dalai Lama and Tibetan officials.

A proper continuation of earlier rounds of discussions had been slated for next week, but Chinese officials have recently said they might be too busy to make the appointment. A Tibetan government spokesman has categorically denied the secret efforts of Norway, which the Chinese side should appreciate very much.

It would be very nice of them to reciprocate.

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