Tibetans in the Chinese Communist Party Leadership

On Friday, September 28, 2012, in China, Tibetan Politics, by Bhuchung K. Tsering

The Chinese Communist Party has finally announced that its 18th Party Congress will be held from November 8, 2012. I would, therefore, like to look at its significance from a Tibetan point of view, but from a different angle.

Of course, the new leadership of China that will come out of the 18th Party Congress will determine the future direction of the country, which will have an impact on the Tibetans. However, I would like to look at another aspect of the issue; the nature of Tibetan presence in the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party.

The top three Party institutions (I am leaving aside the Politburo standing committee and the Politburo, for they are but dreams for people like Tibetans in the current scheme of things)  for which Party members can aspire for are membership of the Central Committee, alternate member of the Central Committee, and member of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.  The Central Committee is supposed to be the highest decision making body in the Party.

Signifying the importance of these institutions, their membership are announced at every Party Congress.

The Party Central Committee would certainly have a role in formulating China’s policy on Tibetans. The series of Tibet Work Forums that Beijing has held on Tibet have all been at the behest of the Communist Party.

It was interesting to see that way back on March 16, 1953, there was an “Inner-party directive drafted for the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party” on “Han Chauvinism” that said the following:

“Judging from the mass of information on hand, the Central Committee holds that wherever there are minority nationalities the general rule is that there are problems calling for solution, and in some cases very serious ones. On the surface all is quiet, but actually there are some very serious problems. What has come to light in various places in the last two or three years shows that Han chauvinism exists almost everywhere. It will be very dangerous if we fail now to give timely education and resolutely overcome Han chauvinism in the Party and among the people. The problem in the relations between nationalities which reveals itself in the Party and among the people in many places is the existence of Han chauvinism to a serious degree and not just a matter of its vestiges. In other words, bourgeois ideas dominate the minds of those comrades and people who have had no Marxist education and have not grasped the nationality policy of the Central Committee. Therefore, education must be assiduously carried out so that this problem can be solved step by step. Moreover, the newspapers should publish more articles based on specific facts to criticize Han chauvinism openly and educate the Party members and the people.”

It looks like that observation has not been followed up with implementation of a solution for even today, one of the factors that have exacerbated the situation in Tibet is the rise of Chinese nationalism. I hope the 18th Party Congress and the subsequent Chinese leadership will look at this issue seriously.

Now I am not sure the extend to which the Tibetan members of the Central Committee are able to put forth their candid views during the deliberations.

In any case, out of the current 204 members in the current 17th Central Committee, two are Tibetans (Lekchog and Jampa Phuntsok); while out of the 167 alternate members, two are Tibetans (Tenkho and Dorjee); and out of the 127 members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, two are Tibetans (Rinchen Gyal and Guru Tsego).

In the previous 16th Central Committee there were three members as well as three alternate members.

Who will be the new Tibetan faces in the Central Committee and how many will there be? It appears that there may be more than 30 Tibetan delegates to the upcoming Party Congress that will elect the new Central Committee. To give you an idea of the nature of Tibetan presence so far, following are names of Tibetans in the Party Central Committee in the past several years that I have been able to compile.

17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) October 2007
1. Lekchog (Legqog) from Gyantse
2. Jampa Phuntsok (Qiangba Puncog) from Chamdo

Alternate members of the 17th CPC Central Committee
1. Tenkho (Danko) from Tsolho
2. Dorji (Doje Cezhug) from Gyatsa.

Members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) elected at the 17th CPC National Congress
1. Rinchen Gyal (Rinqengyai) from Amdo
2. Guru Tsego (Ou Zegao) from Ngapa

16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) November 8-14, 2002
1. Lekchog (Legqog) from Gyantse
2. Dorjee Tsering (Doje Cering) from Labrang
3. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu

Alternate members of the 16th CPC Central Committee, 2002
1. Jampa Phuntsok (Qiangba Puncog) from Chamdo
2. Rinchen Gyal (Rinqengyai) from Amdo
3. Guru Tsego (Ou Zegao) from Ngapa

Members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) elected at the 16th CPC National Congress, 2002
1. Bhuchung (Bu Qiong)  from Chongye
2. Pema (Baima) from Kyegudo

15th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) September 12-18, 1997
1. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu
2. Dorjee Tsering (Doje Cering) from Labrang

Alternate members of the 15th CPC Central Committee, 1997
1. Lekchog (Legqog) from Gyantse
2. Tenzin  (Danzim) from Nagchu
3. Guru Tsego (Ou Zegao) from Ngapa

14th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) October 12-18, 1992
1. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu
2. Dorjee Tsering (Doje Cering) from Labrang

Members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) elected at the 14th CPC National Congress, 1992
1. Passang  (Ba Sang) from Lhoka

Alternate members of the 14th CPC Central Committee, 1992
1. Tenzin  (Danzim) from Nagchu
2. Gyaltsen Norbu (Gyalcan Norbu)  from Bathang

13th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) October 25 to November 1, 1987
1. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu
2. Dorjee Tsering (Doje Cering) from Labrang

Members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) elected at the 13th CPC National Congress, 1987
1. Passang  (Ba Sang) from Lhoka

12th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) September 1-11, 1982
1. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu
2. Passang  (Ba Sang) from Lhoka

Members of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (CPC) elected at the 12th CPC National Congress, 1982
1. Dorjee Tsering (Doje Cering) from Labrang

11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) August 12-18, 1977
1. Passang  (Ba Sang) from Lhoka
2. Sangye Yeshi (Tian Bao) from Kham

Alternate members of the 11th CPC Central Committee, 1977
1. Ragdi (Raidi) from Nagchu

10th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) August-24-28, 1973
1. Passang  (Ba Sang) from Lhoka
2. Sangye Yeshi (Tian Bao) from Kham

9th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) April 1-24, 1969
1. Sangye Yeshi (Tian Bao) from Kham

A softer interference in our internal affairs

On Wednesday, September 12, 2012, in China, General Commentary, US Government, by Todd Stein
Oregon Mural

Chao Tsung-song paints a mural at the Tibet House Wednesday night. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Chalk another one up to free speech. That pesky First Amendment sure has some staying power, even if it offends the feelings of a billion Chinese people.

Last month, Chinese diplomats discovered a threat in Corvallis, Oregon, and moved to quash it before more feelings were hurt. The offending action was a mural painted on the side of a building with pro-Tibet and pro-Taiwan messages.  According to the story in the local paper, “in vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.” It was commissioned by the property owner, a Taiwanese-American businessman.

In a letter dated August 8, the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco wrote to the mayor of Corvallis asking the town to “adopt effective measure to stop the activities advocating ‘Tibet Independence’ and Taiwan Independence.’” In a fit of arrogance, the letter was not signed by a person, but rather stamped by the Consul General’s seal.

The mayor, Julie Jones Manning, boldly responded to the Consul General by citing the First Amendment’s protection of speech and artistic expression. She wrote, “We as a local government entity do not have the right or authority to prescribe what kinds of art may be shown.”

Not content with no as an answer, two officials (Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan) visited Corvallis to convey their remonstrations in person.  That didn’t work either. After hearing their concerns, City Manager Jim Patterson said, “We also had a conversation with them about the US Constitution.”  ‘Nuff said.

Such interference by Chinese diplomats is not new, but it appears that their tactics have softened, likely because the hard sell wasn’t working.

In March 2010, Chinese diplomats reportedly threatened trade retaliation against the city of Portland, OR, following the city council’s declaration of a “Tibet Awareness Day.” That same month, the Chinese Counsul General in Chicago wrote  the President of the Wisconsin State Senate that a Tibet resolution had caused “damage to our relations.” By contrast, the letter to Corvallis did not make any explicit threats to trade or relations, although the latter was implied through reference to cultural exchanges between Oregon and China.

The tone is milder too. In 2010, the Chinese wrote of the “unpleasant event” to which they are “firmly opposed” and find “unfortunate and unacceptable.” The letter on the Corvallis murals merely says they are “very concerned about this matter.”

In 2010, the Chinese remonstrations blamed the “tricks of the Tibetan splittists” and the “Dalai Lama clique” for the pro-Tibet statements. Such blame-gaming is absent this time.

Lastly and notably, the Chinese diplomats have abandoned their charge that pro-Tibet statements by American mayors and state legislators constitute “interference in China’s internal affairs.” Maybe they recognized that making this argument through acts of interfering in the affairs of city counsels and state assemblies was self-defeating hypocrisy.

Perhaps this reveals a recalibration in Beijing’s soft-power approach to advancing the official Chinese position inside the United States.

One element remains the same, though. The diplomats imply that such statements are contrary to U.S. foreign policy. The letter to Corvallis cites China’s appreciation of the “repeated position of the U.S. government in sticking to the one-China policy and opposing both “Tibet Independence” and “Taiwan independence.” While it is true that the U.S. considers Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it conveniently ignores the rest of the policy, which, in the words of President Obama, expresses “strong support” for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans.” The U.S. repeatedly calls on the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, has given support to the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way, and routinely admonishes China for its rampant human rights abuses in Tibet, both in high-level meetings (such as by Secretary Clinton last week) and in annual reports.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that while two Chinese diplomats can freely travel to Corvallis, Oregon, to complain about a mural, U.S. diplomats in China are routinely denied access to Tibet areas to inspect much more dire circumstances, such as interviewing self-immolation survivors, looking into the siege around Kirti monastery, or monitoring rebuilding in Yushu.

If you would like to contact Corvallis Mayor Manning to thank her, here is her webform.

Tibet ensconced in American politics

On Thursday, September 6, 2012, in US Government, by Todd Stein

In time for their conventions, the two main U.S. political parties unveiled their 2012 platforms, which lay out their policy positions. Each platform mentions Tibet, and even strengthens the language from 2008. This reflects the parties’ acknowledgement of the American public’s concern for Tibet. Following are the references to Tibet, highlighted and provided in the context of the sections dealing with policy toward China:

Republican Party platform:

We will welcome the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous China, and we will welcome even more the development of a democratic China. Its rulers have discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. The next lesson is that political and religious freedom leads to national greatness. The exposure of the Chinese people to our way of life can be the greatest force for change in their country. We should make it easier for the people of China to experience our vibrant democracy and to see for themselves how freedom works. We welcome the increase in trade and education alliances with the U.S. and the opening of Chinese markets to American companies.

The Chinese government has engaged in a number of activities that we condemn: China’s pursuit of advanced military capabilities without any apparent need; suppression of human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang, and other areas; religious persecution; a barbaric one-child policy involving forced abortion; the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong; and its destabilizing claims in the South China Sea. Our serious trade disputes, especially China’s failure to enforce international standards for the protection of intellectual property and copyrights, as well as its manipulation of its currency, call for a firm response from a new Republican Administration.

Democratic Party platform:

Meanwhile, the President is committed to continuing efforts to build a cooperative relationship with China, while being clear and candid when we have differences. The world has a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China, but China must also understand that it must abide by clear international standards and rules of the road. China can be a partner in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, countering proliferation in Iran, confronting climate change, increasing trade, and resolving other global challenges. President Obama will continue to seek additional opportunities for cooperation with China, including greater communication between our militaries. We will do this even as we continue to be clear about the importance of the Chinese government upholding international economic rules regarding currency, export financing, intellectual property, indigenous innovation, and workers’ rights. We will consistently speak out for the importance of respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people, including the right of the Tibetan people to preserve their cultural and religious identity. And we remain committed to a one China policy, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues that is consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan.

The messages on Tibet are subtly but importantly more robust than before. The Republican platform this time employs an active and forceful word – “condemn” – to speak to the suppression of basic rights in Tibet. The Democrats have expanded their language to refer to preservation of Tibetans’ cultural and religious identity.

Further, this is the first time that both parties have repeated a reference to Tibet in their platforms from the previous convention. The Democrats mentioned Tibet in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008, but not 2004. The Republicans mentioned Tibet in 1996 and 2008, but not in 1992, 2000 or 2004.

Language in a party platform is just that; it is not a government policy position paper. However, the Tibet references are a reflection of the successful institutionalization of the Tibet issue into the policy apparatus of the U.S. government, from the State Department’s Tibet Coordinator to the several programs funded by Congress annually. While we don’t have a read-out yet, we expect that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton engaged on Tibet with her Chinese counterparts on her just-completed visit to Beijing.

The platform is, of course, a political document, and the Tibet inclusion does come within a political calculus. By nature, both parties look at the sentiments of the American public to formulate their agendas. The inclusion of Tibet means that the public interest for Tibet continues to be strong. Supporting Tibet has come to symbolize a politician’s commitment to fundamental human rights, religious freedom and human dignity. This dynamic was on display in 2009, when President Obama did not meet with the Dalai Lama in Washington, and the White House was accused of sidelining human rights in relations with China.

And no one hypes the political aspect more than the Chinese media. Every time the Dalai Lama comes to Washington, its commentators are quick to characterize his meetings with the President and Congress as nothing more than appeasement to some domestic political constituency. Clearly, their motivation is to dismiss any notion of a policy reason for anyone to meet with the man they call a “splittist” or worse.

When President Obama was faced with conflicting advice over whether to host the Dalai Lama in early 2010 (following the aforementioned non-meeting in October 2009), he is reported to have said that, “Let me cut this argument short, I’m going to meet with him.” Jeff Bader, Senior Director for Asia at the White House, writes in his book that, “[t]he President believed that meeting with the Dalai Lama was the right thing to do for substantive reasons, and this judgment was reinforced by his assessment of the domestic political damage that would result from further delay [of a meeting].

And there you have it – substance and politics.

But politics doesn’t exist in itself – it’s a term applied to the way we “choose our government officials and make decisions about public policy.” The U.S. government advocates for Tibetans as an expression of a principled foreign policy derived from a commitment to fundamental human rights and the rule of law, including obligations arising from domestic and international law. In Beijing, Secretary Clinton is asking the Chinese to end repression in Tibet not because it’s in the Democratic platform, because it is the right and just thing to do.

We would like to hear more from the candidates about what they would do for Tibet. As it has done in each of the recent election cycles, ICT has asked the presidential candidates to respond to our 2012 Tibet questionnaire. For our members and the public, we would like to know more about their stand on Tibet. We sent questionnaires to the four candidates who have qualified on enough ballots to reach 270 electoral votes – Libertarian Gary Johnson, Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Thus far only one has responded (Obama). Please take moment to ask the candidates to respond to the Tibet questionnaire through e-mail and social media, by visiting our webpage.

Tibetan self-immolations and a Chinese suicide

On Thursday, August 30, 2012, in China, Recent, by Bhuchung K. Tsering

There is news that an editor for the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, People’s Daily, has committed suicide on August 22, 2012. It seems, Xu Huaiqian, the editor, jumped to his death. People’s Daily has said that he had taken time off “because of depression and had sought medical help.”

In what could be a possible explanation for his suicide, the BBC reports that in an interview Xu Huaiqian had given earlier, he has been quoted as saying, “My pain is I dare to think, but I don’t dare to speak out; if I dare to speak out, I don’t dare to write it down, and if I dare to write it down, there is no place to publish. I admire those freelance writers, but I can’t leave the system because if I do that my family will suffer.”

The BBC also quotes from an article of Xu Huaiqian, under the headline “Let Death Be the Witness”, in which he says, “Death is a heavy word, but in China, in many cases, without deaths society will not sit up and pay attention, and problems won’t be resolved.”

I read the details about Xu Huaiqian’s death even as I was trying to digest news of yet two more Tibetans, Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Dhamchoe, who committed self-immolations on August 27, 2012, totaling more than 50 now. Inevitably, I began doing a comparison between the fate of Xu and these many Tibetans. At one level, Xu’s words in the above mentioned interview and the article clearly reflects the mental state of the Tibetan people. From the statements left behind by some of then Tibetan self-immolators we know that they feel this is the only way to draw attention to the situation of the Tibetan people.

From the perspective of the Chinese Government, Xu and all the Tibetans who self-immolated are equal citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

However, we can see from developments following Xu’s suicide how there is no equality in practice. While the Chinese authorities are hiding the self-immolations of the Tibetans from the Chinese public, they have announced Xu’s death to the Chinese and even tried to explain the reasons behind it.

Secondly, space is being provided to the Chinese public to air their views about the implications of Xu’s death. The China Media Project says the news of Xu’s death “has prompted a burst of discussion on Chinese social media of the extraordinary pressures facing journalists in China today.” The BBC reports that the news has “sparked strong reaction from Chinese cultural and media circles and on the internet.” One reader on Sina Weibo is particularly provoking. According to BBC, this person asks, “Did Xu Huaiqian die to serve as a witness? Was it personal depression or the depression of an era? What kind of country is this?”

In the case of the deaths of the Tibetans there are no such discussions in China. Is that solely because of the Chinese Government’s censorship or is there more to it? I think Chinese scholars, intellectuals, rights activists and others need to ponder over this. Things may have reached the breaking point in Tibet.