An article by a Central Party School scholar and reports of experimental concessions in some Tibetan areas have recently given rise to hopes that China might adopt a softer line towards the Dalai Lama. But after police allegedly opened fire on an unarmed crowd marking his birthday in Sichuan on Saturday, ethnic affairs chief Yu Zhengsheng denied any change in policy towards the exiled leader, stating that Beijing’s position was “consistent and clear.” From Xinhua:
The Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” aimed at achieving so-called “high-degree autonomy” in “Greater Tibet,” is completely opposite to China’s Constitution and the country’s system of regional ethnic autonomy, Yu said.
He urged for an absolute fight against the Dalai clique in order to realize national unification and the Tibetan region’s development and stability.
[…] In Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Gansu Province, Yu visited herders, saying that development is the priority of the region, which includes Tibet Autonomous Region and parts of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces in western China, so as to improve the living conditions of farmers and herders.
“Only when people’s lives have been improved can they be better united with the CPC and become a reliable basis for maintaining stability,” said Yu. [Source]
Though Yu emphasized development, his talk of boosting Chinese-language education alongside Tibetan to improve job prospects tacitly acknowledged that many locals have so far been left out. At The New Yorker, Jeffrey Bartholet discussed this problem in an in-depth article on Tibetan self-immolations and the grievances behind them:
To promote integration, Beijing has invested heavily in infrastructure, building roads and railways across the Tibetan plateau. This has led to better standards of living, particularly for a Tibetan élite that has adopted the language and entrepreneurial outlook of the Chinese. But Tibetans maintain that locals often lack the education and the capital to participate in the boom and that the main beneficiaries have been non-Tibetan migrants, mostly Han Chinese. Furthermore, the imposition of Mandarin Chinese in schools and the settlement of nomads have diluted the Tibetan language and culture. A 2009 report by independent Chinese researchers, studying the causes of a mass Tibetan protest a year earlier, found that “the current rapid process of modernization has not given the ordinary Tibetan people any greater developmental benefits; indeed, they are becoming increasingly marginalized.” The report mentions that many employers consider Tibetans lazy and lacking in business sense. It goes on to say that “non-Tibetans control all major aspects of the local economy,” and that “Tibetans have no way of competing with non-Tibetans in the modernization process.” [Source]
See coverage of Tibetan language issues and a recent Human Rights Watch report on forced resettlement in Tibet via CDT.
With regard to Saturday’s shootings, the International Campaign for Tibet’s Mandie McKeown commented to The New York Times that “given how incredibly volatile things are, using lethal force doesn’t accomplish anything. It just aggravates the complaints of Tibetans and exacerbates the situation.” Columbia University’s Robert Barnett expressed similar concern to the South China Morning Post, saying “this does not have a precedent, and may well be the first shooting at a cultural gathering. The big question is what went wrong here? This is a dramatic escalation and very serious.” But despite the incident and Yu’s subsequent comments, as U.S. secretary of state John Kerry prepared for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China, ICT urged:
“We are under no illusion that the underlying Chinese mindset on the Tibet problem has changed,” wrote ICT Interim President Bhuchung Tsering to Secretary Kerry. “Further, even if it turns out to be accurate that there is some ‘relaxation’ of prohibitions against the Dalai Lama’s image, this does not mean that Chinese authorities are addressing the wide and deep legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people, much less consider the granting of meaningful autonomy. However, with even the slightest possibility that these developments represent a crack in the high and thick wall that the Chinese have erected around Tibet, we believe this is an opportunity for engagement that should be pursued.” [Source]