Why Tibet is Boiling Over (Updated)

Update (March 22): The Los Angeles Times pieces together eyewitness accounts to create a timeline of the unrest:

China has barred Western journalists from entering Tibet and ethnic Tibetan areas. But interviews with foreign witnesses and Chinese residents, as well as blog postings by Tibetans too frightened to be interviewed, show that during three crucial hours on March 14, woefully unprepared police fled, allowing rioters to burn and smash much of Lhasa’s commercial center.

Tibetans randomly beat and killed Chinese solely on the basis of their ethnicity: a young motorcyclist bludgeoned in the head with paving stones and probably killed; a teenage boy in school uniform being dragged by a mob. When authorities did regroup, paramilitary troops fired live ammunition into the crowds. Witnesses did not see protesters armed with anything other than stones, bottles of gasoline or a few traditional Tibetan knives.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that, “China ups Tibet death toll,fears unrest may spread.

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(Original Post of March 21):

The Globe and Mail looks at the environmental, economic and demographic factors that led to the unrest in Tibetan areas. A 35-year-old Tibetan who talks to a reporter despite being surrounded by armed police as his town is under lock-down:

His words tumble out. He talks of a sacred mountain, holy to the Tibetans, the site of a Tibetan festival, where Chinese mining companies are blasting for gold and silver mines. He talks of the disappearing forests and how there is nothing left for traditional Tibetan medicine. He describes how China prohibited his town from receiving a group of monks from Lhasa last year, and how the monks of his town were banned from travelling to other monasteries.

“If they take away the water and the soil and the resources, how will our people continue to live here?” he asks.

“If our people did not believe in Buddhism, they would have rioted a long time ago. We endured and endured. But now finally it is difficult to endure any more.”

Meanwhile, the security clampdown in Tibetan regions of China continues, with the government publishing photos of the 24 Most Wanted protesters, and Tibetan enclaves in Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu surrounded by armed police. From AP:

In the largely Tibetan town of Zhongdian, in the far north of Yunnan province, some 30 armed police with clubs marched in the main square. Two dozen trucks carrying riot police had arrived overnight, reinforcing some 400 troops already in the area bordering Tibet.

Armed encampments were set up in nearby towns, including the tourist attraction of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

In Xiahe, a city in Gansu province that saw two days of protests, the 50-room Xilin Hotel was “completely occupied by police with guns and batons,” said a hotel worker.

“There may be hundreds in our county right now. No tourists are allowed here and we do not feel safe going outside,” said the man, who also refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Reporter Tim Johnson also describes what he saw when reporting from western Sichuan:

But what I didn’t expect was the massive influx of paramilitary and military convoys on the main road from Sichuan toward Tibet. Each day earlier this week, we saw more than 100 military vehicles moving up the road. Nor did I expect such intense control in the cities and towns, with police cars racing up behind any vehicles stopped in the road and warning them through loudspeakers to keep moving along.

Read also: Guardian’s article “Police and troops tighten grip as publicity drive gets under way” by Tania Branigan.

Telegraph correspondent Richard Spencer also writes about the root of protests in the town of Rebkong by telling the tale of “the balloon, the sheep, and the Muslim warlords”:

The importance of these stories is that they show there is more to the unrest than high-faluting values of patriotism and democracy. Miles makes that point pretty clear in his Economist piece.

It does not of course absolve the government of the charge of mishandling race relations spectacularly. I am no expert in the politics of ethnic identity, but I am pretty sure that the government’s insistence that all the ethnic groups in China live at peace with each other and regard themselves as equally happy members of the Chinese nation is a mixture of complacency and propaganda that was bound to backfire.

James Miles, a reporter from The Economist and the only accredited foreign journalist to have been in Lhasa during recent protests, also discusses the social and political environment that led to the unrest.

Following photos of the “most wanted 21” are published by the Lhasa Public Security Bureau on Chinese official media “Tibet News Net”, via wenxuecity.com:


According to Rebecca Mackinnon
, Yahoo! China and MSN China both briefly posted ads linking to the most wanted list.

Please also watch this reports on Youtube: The BBC has obtained the first pictures of the demonstration believed to have sparked violent clashes in Tibet.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hGwDocYW5A]

And here is the China Central Television version of the story:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExrBK9wWpxs&eurl=http://www.dwnews.com/gb/MainNews/Multimedia/TV/Documentaries/2008_3_21_20_56_46_241.html]

Finally, Jamil Anderlini and Richard McGregor had an article on Financial Times: Gulf in perceptions over Tibet:

Outside China, especially in western countries, the violent unrest in Tibet has been seen as a people spontaneously rising up after years of religious and cultural oppression by a ruthless ruling party.

Inside China, the contrast could not be more stark. The protesters have been portrayed as a thuggish mob, ungrateful for years of support from Beijing and manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to split the country.

The gulf in perceptions has created deep resentment in China, and anger about how the issue threatens to overshadow and taint the 2008 Olympics, which open in August in Beijing.

March 21, 2008 2:37 PM
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Categories: Politics, Society