China Hardens Tibet Policy Along Ethnic Lines


Aug. 2, 2006: A Tibetan rider competes in an endurance race during the annual Lithang Horse Racing Festival in the Tibetan county of Lithang in China's southwestern province of Sichuan. Photo: AFP/Liu Jin

WASHINGTON—China is intensifying its crackdown on supporters of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence out of fear that Tibetan cadres will turn against the Communist Party amid a growing wave of protests and civil disobedience.

“There still exists a small number of dissident elements within our Party whose commitment to its ideals, beliefs, and political standpoint is a wavering one,” an internal memo of the Chinese Communist Party’s Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), leaked to RFA’s Tibetan service, said.

It accused internal dissidents of “suckling at the breast of the Chinese Communist Party, while calling the Dalai Lama mother,” implying that some Tibetans were simply using the Party while secretly following the Dalai Lama.

The memo, which experts say highlights a tougher line in Tibet since a change of leadership in the Himalayan region a year ago, reported in detail the case of Phuntsok Gyaltsen, a dissident Party member, and Lhadon “the Younger,” a schoolteacher.

According to Document No. 2, 2007, of the TAR Commission for Discipline Inspection, Phuntsok Gyaltsen, 33, deputy head of Phurbu township and a special agent of the Palgon (in Chinese, Bange) county police department, was expelled from the Party and arrested for shouting “reactionary slogans” in public.

Lhadon “the Younger,” 31, a middle-school teacher in Khangmar county, was dismissed and arrested for telling his class that the 11th Panchen Lama selected by Beijing was a fake.

Tibetans in Party targeted

We certainly shouldn’t rule out the possibility that this indicates a really potentially very big security sweep or ideological re-training.

“If we cannot eliminate dissidents like Phuntsok Gyaltsen and Lhadon 'the Younger,' it will be very dangerous. It could be a major hidden danger threatening the stability and harmony of our society,” the memo said.

The memo called on Party members to keep a “clear political head” and step up vigilance against pro-independence sentiment among Tibetan Party members.

The document, dated Sept. 4, comes after a year of escalating protests in Tibetan areas of China following the appointment of a new regional Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, in 2006.

“I think that we are seeing, since early last year under Zhang Qingli, a really different way of dealing with these kind of problems,” Robbie Barnett, who teaches contemporary Tibetan studies at Columbia University in New York, said.

Barnett said the new clampdown was “very aggressive and very much in the Party tradition, where you use a small incident, you magnify its significance...and you make this a reason to enforce Party discipline amongst your Party members.”

“This suggests that Zhang Qingli is very, very nervous about the loyalty of Tibetan Party members in Tibet.”

The document shed light on an atmosphere within the Tibetan Party of intense suspicion divided along ethnic lines, he said. “I think [the Party has] become increasingly worried that it can never know what is really in the hearts of these people,” Barnett said.

“[Since 1994, there has been] a huge increase in income for Tibetan officials working for the government and Party members—a massive increase in their personal wealth and their family conditions—but they still cannot know what these people really think and where their loyalties really lie. So this is a preoccupation for the Chinese leadership, which I would have to say is almost at a pathological level.”

According to the memo obtained by RFA, Phuntsok Gyaltsen was born in Riwoche county in Chamdo prefecture, was college-educated, and joined the Communist Party in 2002. On April 19, 2007, he shouted “Independence for Tibet!” and “Long live the Dalai Lama!”

He was subsequently expelled from the Party, dismissed from public service, and arrested.

Lhadon “the Younger” was born in Khangmar county and was also college-educated. He told his class of 44 students on April 3, 2007: “The 11th Panchen Lama recognized by the central government is a fake one. The real 11th Panchen Lama was reincarnated in India. The central government Panchen Lama went to India to meet the real Panchen Lama.” He was expelled from public service June 14 and then arrested.

Similar campaigns in Sichuan

Similar campaigns are under way in the separately administered region of Lithang, in China’s southwestern province of Sichuan. Lithang is home to a high proportion of Tibetans, especially nomads, and saw a mass protest during a horse-racing festival in mid-August following a call for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet.

A source in Lithang told RFA’s Tibetan service: “[A] patriotic re-education campaign was formally launched in the Lithang nomadic area on Sept. 7. It was launched by a company commander of the People’s Armed Police, who arrived in the area with a contingent of about 200 police.”

Officials told Tibetans they had to choose between the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama.

“Kensur Drakkar Rinpoche of Lithang monastery, who has experience of several years in jail, refused to comply,” the source said. “He replied that he carries the title of 'Rinpoche,'” an honorific given to senior religious teachers in Tibet.

“As a Buddhist practitioner,” the source said, “he has to be fully devoted to his root teacher, and the Dalai Lama is his root teacher. Therefore he cannot criticize the Dalai Lama, who is not only our religious leader but also our political leader.”

Dissent at political meetings

The re-education campaign was also directed against local leaders and schoolteachers of above sub-district level, the source told RFA.

“While the campaign was going on, many schoolteachers voiced their decision to choose the Dalai Lama and not China. Many of them walked away from the meetings. The officials threatened that their salary would be downgraded and placed among the common masses. The teachers responded with walk-outs.”

Meanwhile, Adruk Adrak—a nephew of Ronggyal Adrak, whose arrest for Dalai Lama slogan-shouting sparked the mid-August protests in Lithang—walked out of a political meeting shouting, “Long live the Dalai Lama!” and “May the wishes of Ronggyal Adrak be fulfilled!”

Barnett said the campaigns seemed to herald a tightening of China’s response to public protest and dissent. “It seems that the state and certainly the local people, both in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan and probably nationally, have moved into a kind of rapid-response mode, where even a single incident, even a very small incident like these two, can lead to major campaigns or major policy shifts or major policy responses.”

Major security sweep

“So we certainly shouldn’t rule out the possibility that this indicates a really potentially very big security sweep or ideological re-training.”

According to Barnett, beginning in 2000, ethnic Chinese began to be trained in the Tibetan language at Lhasa University with the idea that they would be sent out to townships and the countryside as low-level officials. About 200 to 300 of these are now in place. “This is a whole new configuration of the face of the Chinese state in the rural areas of Tibet."

In Lithang, Tibetan officials are now being replaced by Chinese.

“The Lithang change is an extremely rapid version of the same thing—done even with a cudgel by force, rather than by plan, we could say. But it’s part of a larger trend which represents a very, very major change in policy about how to deal with the countryside,” Barnett said.

Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han and Karma Dorjee.


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