A visit to Tibet’s regional capital Lhasa by a senior U.S. diplomat this week was highly staged, with all signs of a typically heavy security presence removed from central areas in the city before his delegation’s arrival, according to a source inside Tibet.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke arrived in the normally tense and tightly controlled city, the scene of violent 2008 protests against Chinese rule, on Tuesday afternoon for a four-day visit, a local resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service this week.
“The police posts and armored vehicles stationed in Lhasa city and the [central] Barkhor area were gone,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The police officers with rifles who are always visible on the rooftops of the Barkhor area were also gone, and several body-scanning posts that were placed around the city had been removed.”
“[Lhasa] was suddenly transformed into a peaceful city,” he said.
Though public gatherings for religious teachings are typically banned in Lhasa, “This time a Buddhist teaching session was organized in the Tsomon Ling area [of the city],” the source said.
“Police officers were present dressed as Tibetans from remote rural and nomadic communities and carrying prayer wheels and rosaries in their hands.”
“It is really laughable, but that is what they are staging here,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that during his visit to Tibet, Ambassador Locke met with officials and residents in Lhasa to learn about “local conditions.”
Locke was accompanied on his visit by family members and by U.S. embassy and consulate officials, Ventrell said.
“In his official meetings, Ambassador Locke discussed the importance of opening up access to Tibet for diplomats, foreign journalists, and foreign tourists,” Ventrell said.
“He also emphasized the importance of preserving the Tibetan people’s cultural heritage, including its unique linguistic, religious, and cultural traditions.”
A riot in Lhasa in March 2008 followed the suppression by Chinese police of four days of peaceful protests by Tibetans, and led to the destruction of Han Chinese shops in the city and deadly attacks on Han Chinese residents.
More than a dozen civilians were killed in the clashes, according to various reports.
The riot sparked a wave of mostly peaceful protests against Chinese rule that spread across Tibet and into Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces.
Hundreds of Tibetans were detained, beaten, or shot as Chinese security forces quelled the protests.
Meanwhile, a total of 120 Tibetans to date have self-immolated to challenge Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-populated areas and to call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.