Tag - China

Not victims, but partners!

As the world’s largest Communist party (CCP) is meeting in Beijing and the whole planet is puzzling over what will happen to China, many Tibetans such as I look to the future with great optimism.

For the first time in recent history, Tibetans are in a position to tell European governments that it is in their interest to close ranks with Tibetans, despite the ongoing gross human rights violations in Tibet.

The invasion of Ukraine and the COVID pandemic have made European capitals realize how vulnerable they are. European elites are finally developing an objective view of China and realize that this regime may pose a greater danger to European security than Russia: destabilization of the world order, excessive economic dependence on China, opacity in existential global affairs.

Over the past decades, Tibetans and their supporters have desperately appealed to Western governments not to be lulled into a false sense of security by the CCP’s narratives. The Tibetans, but also the people of Taiwan, Hong Kong and East Turkestan fought a lonely fight and warned that appeasement would never be rewarded.

The West allowed itself to be blinded by pro forma, non-binding and ineffective “human rights dialogues.” In the search for a quick profitable deal, governments accepted lies to be true, and engaged in a disgraceful game at the end of which they stood with their values plundered.

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetans could easily take on the role of the brave Chinese doctor, who shared the Chinese secret about the COVID genome. As for defending the free world, they have decoded the genome of the CCP a long time ago and know the danger of the regime in Beijing.

The best medicine to the corrosive effects of totalitarian regimes is truth and the promise of freedom. The Tibetan people with their leader have risen up and proposed a plan for a modern and democratic future in the heart of Asia. In 1963, a constitution for Tibet was presented and in 1987, the idea for a Zone of Peace. It was their answer to the totalitarian dystopias of a control state. They are aware that China may be able to control the present. But it is incapable of imprisoning the future.

Tibetans have successfully held out against one of the world’s most repressive regimes for 70 years. They are still open to dialogue and have not abandoned their fundamental principles. Therefore, do not see Tibetans as victims, but as partners for your own interests. There is no other group of people in Central Asia that has so clearly conceptualized the future as the Tibetans. It is time for governments to recognize and support this, for their own sake.

China’s 19th Party Congress and Tibetans

Lobsang Gyaltsen (second from right), who was just promoted as a full member of the Party Central Committee, reading Xi Jinping’s work report at the Party Congress on October 18.

While we await expectantly for the new lineup of the Chinese leadership after the 19th Party Congress that might happen on October 24, 2017, it might be worth our while to talk about some other issues related to the meeting; the Tibetan delegates, for instance.

China’s official media said there are 33 Tibetan delegates to this Party Congress: 17 are from the Tibet Autonomous Region (with seven being female), five from the Tibetan region that is now Qinghai, three from the Tibetan area now in Sichuan, and one each from the Tibetan areas in Yunnan and Gansu. Additionally, there are three Tibetans from the PLA contingent, out of which two are female. Then there is one from central party organs, departments directly under the Party Central Committee, while another one is from national state institutions. This makes the total 32. At the time of writing, I am not able to account for the remaining one Tibetan, if the total number is in fact 33. Most probably, he could be Wangchen Tseten, who is listed as a Mongolian, from the Qinghai Tibetan Medicine Hospital. As an aside, there are two delegates from TAR, who are listed as being Monpa and Lhopa, both within the broader Tibetan family.

Among the Tibetan delegates, majority of them are officials at different administrative levels; a few provincial level officials from Lhasa; a governor from Kanlho Prefecture; a vice governor of Sichuan Province whose name is written as Yao Sidan, but is actually Dorjee Rapten; and a few prefectural level party secretaries from Qinghai. There is a gynecologist from Ngari and a teacher from Lhasa.

Two among the Tibetan delegates have met envoys of H.H. the Dalai Lama during the 2002-2010 round of discussions. Che Dhala (Qi Zhala), currently governor of TAR, was governor of Dechen Prefecture in Yunnan when the envoys visited Gyalthang (Zhongdian/Shangrila) in 2003 and Penpa Tashi (currently a vice governor of TAR) participated in the talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials in Guilin in 2006. Incidentally, there are two people named Penpa Tashi who are delegates to the 19th Party Congress.

As to how the delegates were chosen, Chinese officials were at pains to stress, “…that the election was a competitive one”. (Xinhua: Delegates to Party congress highly representative, October 17, 2017) There are limitations to elections in China, but any election would be better than no election, one might say. But the same Xinhua report has this additional information,”… except Tibet and Xinjiang, which had been approved to exercise non-competitive election.” Darn! I thought the Tibetans in Tibet would have had a taste of electoral campaigns, something those of us in diaspora are familiar.

Even as these Tibetan delegates are being used to glorify Chinese rule in Tibet, reality about the situation in Tibet comes out in different ways. The fact that the Chinese authorities closed the Tibet Autonomous Region to foreign visitors for the duration of the Party Congress is an indication of the volatile nature of the situation there. Or, if the situation there is not that bad then a case can be made that interest groups within the Chinese Government that do not want a more liberal atmosphere in Tibet are taking the opportunity to create a scene for a more hardline approach.

Similarly, even though China claims that Tibetans have greatly improved their livelihood under Chinese rule (Namsa Lawok Tabui Phogyur “Transformation as if the sky and the earth have changed places” is how they put it), there is unintentional admission of the state of affairs. In a Xinhua report on October 17, 2017 meant to brag about how a Tibetan has changed his life for the better under China (An Entrepreneur and his dream of poverty alleviation in Tibet), a reference is made to the hometown of the now well-endowed Paljor Lhundup. Xinhua says, “Although Penjolondru’s life has vastly improved since his humble beginnings, his hometown is still stricken by poverty.” (Italics mine) The Xinhua report continues, “Located at about 4,500 meters above the sea level, Lhunposhol Village in Nakartse has a population of 6,640, 25 percent of whom live in poverty. There is little arable land and villagers depend on livestock raising for living.” (Italics mine) I guess life in Tibet is not totally rosy after all!

Be that as it may, how have Tibetans fared in terms of presence in the organizational aspect of the 19th Party Congress? Obviously, since no Tibetan is on the Politburo, no Tibetan finds a place in the most important 42-member Standing Committee members of the presidium (composed of the 24 incumbent Politburo members as well as retired members) that oversees the Congress proceedings. However, in the presidium of the Congress, consisting of 243 members, there are two Tibetans: Jampa Phuntsok (currently a Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress) and Che Dalha. Also, Lobsang Gyaltsen finds a place in the 22-member delegate credentials committee, which, as its name suggests, examines the delegates’ qualifications.

Anyway, by this time next week, we will know how many Tibetans find a place on the 19th Party leadership roll. Until then we will have no choice but to go with the flow in terms of this political meeting with Chinese characteristics that is called the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress.

ICT’s push against the Chinese “divide and rule” strategy in Europe

Poster for the rally organized by ICT and other NGOs in the margins of the 19th EU-China Summit on 2 June 2017. (Photo: ICT)

Since I started leading ICT’s Brussels office in 2006, I have progressively witnessed the development of the Chinese government’s “divide and rule” strategy in Europe. This strategy tries to use the disparities among European member states to play them against each other, creating economic dependency as a tool for political leverage. Today, in light of the large amount of Chinese investment EU members states have received in recent years (and in particular in the framework of the 16+1, a structure of collaboration initiated by China together with 16 central and eastern European states – including eleven EU member states – in 2012), some European governments have become much more reluctant to criticize Beijing, including on human rights and “sensitive” issues such as Tibet. My office has regularly warned against the dangers of this strategy which undermines the EU’s position as a unified bloc, and has consistently called on member states to prioritize values over economic interest or trade relations.

A highly negative consequence of Beijing’s strategy has been the cancellation of the EU-China annual Human Rights Dialogue in 2016, due to the inability of the EU member states to find a common position on China’s demand to downgrade the level of this exchange. We have cosigned a joint letter with other NGOs, calling upon EU leaders to “lead the EU and its member states in demonstrating unified and unambiguous commitment to promoting human rights in China”. On the day of the EU-China summit on June 2 (2016), we organized, together with a coalition of NGOs, a rally in front of the EU institutions, which gathered over 200 people, including Tibetans, Uyghurs and European activists, calling on the EU to take a strong stand on the deteriorating human rights situation in the PRC. Finally, we welcomed the remarks given after the summit by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk saying that he had raised human rights issues with Prime Minister Li Keqiang including the situation of “minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs”. It was also announced that the EU-China dialogue would finally take place – which it did, although at a downgraded level, setting an inacceptable precedent for future dialogues.

The effects of the Chinese “divide and rule” strategy in Europe are now also visible at the United Nations level, as shown by the Greeks’ decision to block an EU statement critical of China’s human rights record at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council this June. This development has, in my opinion, greatly damaged the EU’s credibility as a defender of human rights and undermined its efforts toward bringing positive change in China. It prompted us to write to the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, reminding him of his country’s commitment to human rights and obligation to cooperate with his European partners. In addition, we have sent letters to all the other EU member states, urging them to promote EU unity on the necessity to continue highlighting China’s abysmal human rights in international fora.

At the recent session of the Human Rights Council this September, the EU managed this time to deliver a statement on China’s human rights situation on behalf of all its member states, which also directly referred to the case of detained Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk. It was a relief, but the fight is far from over; as China’s political and economic influence continues to grow, more and more countries will be tempted to shy away from criticizing Beijing for fear of economic retaliation, and there will probably be other attempts to block such statements in the future. My office in Brussels, as well as other offices of the International Campaign for Tibet in Europe will therefore strengthen their efforts both at the EU and UN level to counter this divide and rule strategy. I am sure other NGOs such as Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), or Human Rights Watch will join in.

China’s Greater Leap Backward

globe illustration

Part of Oliver Munday’s illustration for The Atlantic.

James Fallows’ recent cover article for The Atlantic, entitled “China’s Great Leap Backward,” is an important and timely piece. In it the veteran China writer describes how repression in the PRC has grown under Xi Jinping, and considers the implications for the United States. His article is especially significant because it arrives during a time of potential upheaval for America’s China policy under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump, which has already deviated from long-standing diplomatic precedent by accepting a congratulatory phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan.

To briefly summarize his points, Fallows notes an increasingly hard line being taken in a number of key areas: communication, where China’s censorship of the internet and press grows ever stricter; civil society, where the Party is turning the screws ever tighter on religious groups, NGOs, and unions; extraterritorial actions, where attempts to enforce Beijing’s will outside the borders of the PRC grow ever bolder; failed reform, where the political climate grows ever darker; anti-foreign sentiment, where foreigners living inside China and foreign companies doing business inside the country are viewed with ever more suspicion; and the Chinese military, which grows ever more aggressive as territorial disputes with a dozen neighboring countries continue to fester.

These are all serious issues, and Fallows lays them out with the care and insight that comes from his long experience with China. Reading the article, though, I couldn’t help but to think that another crucial factor had been omitted: Increasing repression in Tibet and East Turkestan. The way China treats “minority nationalities” serves as an essential indicator of how committed it is to using violence and repression to stay in power. If you want to know how far the Party might go to control Chinese citizens tomorrow, you need only look at what they’re doing to Tibetans and Uyghurs today.

Including the Tibetan and Uyghur experience in his article would only strengthen Fallow’s case, too. Take his first category, communication: As bad as things are in China proper for internet usage and journalism, they are far, far worse in Tibet and East Turkestan. Tibet remains largely closed to foreign journalists; in recent years they’ve been chased out by police and government officials, denied entry, and forced to sign a document promising they wouldn’t try to return. Other journalists successfully reported from Tibet only after entering through subterfuge (in one case incurring subsequent blowback from Chinese embassy officials who harassed the writer in multiple countries), or after bypassing police checkpoints by hiding in the backseat of a car (this happened multiple times). In 2008 foreign journalists in Tibet faced mass expulsion, and since then reporting from inside the Tibet Autonomous Region has been limited to Potemkin tours arranged by the Communist Party.

Chinese snipers

Chinese snipers disappear from their usual positions on Lhasa rooftops when foreign journalists visit the TAR.

On the internet front, too, struggles with finding a good VPN might seem quaint to some people in Tibet and East Turkestan. Chinese authorities have taken to pulling the plug entirely and removing all internet access when they feel the need arises; they did so most famously in East Turkestan. The entire area, which has a population of 22 million, went without internet access for ten months in 2009. The BBC reported that those who needed to get online were forced to travel hundreds of miles to neighboring provinces to do so.

Chinese police raid

Hooded and armed Chinese police raid an internet café in northern Tibet.

The plug has been pulled repeatedly in Tibet as well, inspiring one New Republic writer to visit the Tibetan region of Ngaba to take a look at life behind China’s ‘cyber curtain.’ A few years ago one resident of Tsoe, a city in Gansu’s Kanlho Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, complained to me about the unpredictability of these outages. The internet would disappear after a protest or before a sensitive date, and the entire area would remain offline for days, or weeks, or months. Beijing may be more comfortable doing this to Tibetans and Uyghurs than to the inhabitants of well-to-do Chinese megacities like Shanghai, but we should be mindful of the fact that they’ve developed these tools, and that they’re willing to use them.

In reviewing the repression of civil society, Fallows mentions restrictions on religious practice and the demolition of churches in China. The flattening of churches is cruel, but today it’s hard to read the word ‘demolition’ without thinking about the campaign of destruction at Larung Gar in Tibet, the largest Buddhist institute in the world. More than 9,000 monks and nuns have been expelled since the demolitions began in late July, according to the latest reports from Radio Free Asia. In broader Tibetan civil society, the case of Tashi Wangchuk is illustrative of how little room non-Chinese grassroots activists are afforded in the PRC: He now faces up to 15 years in prison for his efforts to support the implementation of truly bilingual Tibetan and Chinese education systems in Tibet.

Finally, no account of China’s growing use of extraterritorial repression could be complete without a look at Nepal:

Nepal is a case study in how a rising China has come to exert itself over its neighbors. Landlocked and impoverished, with a chaotic political system and recovering from natural disaster, Nepal has capitulated easily to Beijing’s will — and nowhere has that been more strongly expressed than in the fate of would-be immigrants from Tibet.

Responding to demands from China, the Nepalese have installed heightened security on the border. A phalanx of undercover police and informants now makes it almost impossible for Tibetans to cross into Nepal, except by extraordinary means such as the zipline.

Tibetans already in Nepal — many of them born here — are facing new restrictions on getting refugee certificates, jobs, drivers licenses and even exit visas to leave the country.

In all of these categories, the Party’s political crackdowns are hitting Tibetans and Uyghurs harder and more regularly than the average Zhou in China. The results can be deadly, as in these cases where Tibetans were tortured to death in Chinese prisons over the last few years. Another high-profile case is that of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a beloved Tibetan religious leader who died in custody last year while serving an unjust sentence. Just last week the number of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule reached 146 when a man named Tashi Rabten set himself on fire and died. His wife and children were detained and beaten by the police when they asked that his body be returned to the family. The situation in East Turkestan is no better; a Times reporter who visited earlier this year found the region seething with anger under a sustained crackdown. The recent transfer of Communist Party official Chen Quanguo from the Tibet Autonomous Region to East Turkestan is another bad omen; the man distinguished himself by developing and applying innovative new techniques of repression.

Heavily armed police

Heavily armed police, a constant presence in the heart of Lhasa and in towns across Tibet, would be considered a very unusual sight in Chinese-populated regions of the PRC.

Fallows notes that the United States still has the power to shape the realities in which China chooses its future course. It is vitally important for this power to be used to make concrete improvements in the human rights situation in Tibet and East Turkestan. As the next administration shapes a new China policy, prominent writers like James Fallows can play an important role in ensuring that the human rights concerns of Tibetans and Uyghurs aren’t overlooked. He starts his piece with a question: “What if China is going bad?” I might answer that with another question: Looking at how it treats ‘ethnic minorities,’ how can we say that it hasn’t already gone bad?

The Dalai Lama on China becoming a ‘Compassionate Nation’ under the Communist Party

I have just watched a fascinating interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Qin Weiping, a US-based Chinese blogger, who visited Dharamsala in October 2016. The interview (conducted in Tibetan and Chinese) is interesting not only because His Holiness shares his thoughts on how China could become a compassionate nation, but more so because he says that such a transformation should be, and can be, led by the Chinese Communist Party. His Holiness believes that through such a transformation China has the opportunity to alter the current negative perception of Communism in the world.

In the interview, the Dalai Lama (speaking in Tibetan) says he has been calling for the world to become more compassionate and says that scientists maintain that mankind is inherently compassionate. So, when he is calling for the world to be compassionate, he feels that China, a traditionally Buddhist nation, has the possibility and the opportunity to do so.

The Dalai Lama says when he addresses Western audiences on the need for compassion, there is some slight discomfort on his part as he is basing himself on an inherently Buddhist approach (although he has never thought of proselytization). But in China the situation is different as almost all Chinese have a closer relationship with Buddhism, he says.

He feels it will be good if the Chinese Communist Party can take the lead on this. His Holiness gives a theoretical reason why this should be done. He says it is a known fact that in terms of his socio-economic belief, he calls himself a Marxist. When Marx is talking about the rights of the working class, there is the talk of kindness. The Dalai Lama opines that Karl Marx’s theory was, however, ruined by Lenin. Therefore, he says while he believes in Marxism, he is against Leninism.

The Dalai Lama feels many of the problems that China has faced in the past may have been due to the influence of Leninism and Stalinism. He refers to an opinion of the former Israeli President and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres, who, as a socialist, had positive feelings towards China. However, when he had asked Mr. Peres some years back whether China is a socialist nation or not, the response was negative, with Mr. Peres saying that China is a capitalist nation. However, in Western capitalism there are rule of law and free media, which are absent in China, the Dalai Lama adds alluding to these as serving as checks and balances.

The Dalai Lama refers to Deng Xiaoping, who had, with great courage, changed the economic system through his open door policy, which benefited China greatly. Now if Xi Jinping can bring about a bit of a change in the political system, the Dalai Lama thinks it will be beneficial. He says by change in the political system, he is not referring to changing from Communist Party rule. He says Deng Xiaoping changed the economic system under the leadership of the Communist Party. Therefore, it is possible that under the leadership of the Communist Party, there can be efforts at spreading compassion in China.

The Dalai Lama thinks it would be interesting if there was a new Cultural Revolution in China, based on kindness this time, as the earlier Cultural Revolution was based on hatred.

The Dalai Lama refers to Communism as being organized and says that if it can be liberal as well it will be good. He said today Communism is considered something negative in the world. But a situation can be created so that the world can start looking at China saying its form of Communism is something special. The Dalai Lama adds that maybe he is dreaming.

The Dalai Lama feels he could make a contribution, if there is such an opportunity, toward spreading compassion in China, and that he could do so in earnest. As a follower of Buddhism who has been talking about the issue in Western countries, he says he could do so in China, a Buddhist country. He clarifies that he has no desire for any privileges or position, adding that in 2011 he had completely ended the historical tradition of the Dalai Lamas serving as both spiritual and temporal leader.

In order for that to happen and for China to be a powerful and effective nation, His Holiness feels it is essential that it earns trust and respect, particularly of its neighbors. Taking it to a personal level, His Holiness refers to Chinese leadership’s attitude of castigating him and asks how China was benefiting by doing so. He says that only makes the possibility of his visiting China become more remote. He says under the current situation, he wonders how much use he can be if he were to go to China. Therefore, he thinks that it is better that he be in a place where he can be of benefit.

The Dalai Lama concludes (switching to English) saying he is an 81-year-old Buddhist monk and might have another 10-15-20 years. “My life should be something useful to humanity,” he says, adding that this was his commitment.

So there you have it, a possibility of a compassionate China with Dalai Lama characteristics, if I may!

Why does Tibet matter in the discourse on the democratization of China?

On October 2, 2016, I participated in a conference on possibility for democratization of China at New York University. There were scholars on China, Chinese-American academics, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and some of the top names in the Chinese democracy movement, including Tiananmen veteran Wang Juntao and writer of Fifth Modernization Wei Jingsheng. The conference was convened by Prof. Ming Xia of New York University and Mr. Chin Jin of the China Democracy Forum.

In my presentation I made a case on why Tibet matters in this discourse by Chinese democracy advocates.

Here is an expanded version of the points I made:

First, the aspirations of the Tibetan people need to be considered from the beginning of the discourse. If the Chinese democracy advocates are talking of democratization of the People’s Republic of China, then they need to bear in mind that the present PRC territorial borders include a large number of people like Tibetans who are not Chinese (Han). In fact, the PRC terms itself “a unified multi-ethnic country” with the 56 nationalities supposed to be having equal rights. Therefore, Tibetan viewpoints need to be considered as part of the discourse rather than Tibetans merely being perceived as beneficiaries of the discourse.

The Chinese Communist government has failed, and continues to fail, in understanding Tibetan aspirations. It is for this reason that even after virtually 60 years of occupation, the leadership in Beijing has not been able to gain the trust of the Tibetan people. The Chinese democrats should not commit the same mistake.

Secondly, although the Tibetans in Tibet have been living under an authoritarian regime, the small, but critical number of Tibetan Diaspora, has been undergoing a unique experiment in borderless democracy. In the process, Tibetans are gaining much experience in the intricacies of democracy, both good and bad. This experience is something that the people talking about democratization of China can look at and learn from.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has been the proponent of Tibetan democracy, developed his thinking, monitored the changing circumstances of the Tibetan Diaspora, and introduced pertinent changes in stages. The process began in 1960 with the Dalai Lama introducing the concept of representative democracy by asking the Tibetans to elect their deputies to a Parliament that would have a say in the governance of the Tibetans in exile. He then followed it up a few years later with the promulgation of a draft constitution for future Tibet, thus introducing the concept of rule of law. Much to the consternation of the Tibetan public he mandated that this constitution have an impeachment clause to be applied to the Dalai Lama, if needed. This was a very important message that the Dalai Lama was sending, namely that no one should be considered being above the law.

In subsequent years, the Dalai Lama took further steps in empowering the Tibetan people; from enfranchising the people to elect the ministers (who were until then appointed by him); to the drafting of a Charter, specifically to govern the Tibetan Diaspora, which included provision for the establishment of the three pillars of democracy; legislative, executive, and the judiciary. Obviously, given that the Tibetan Diaspora does not operate from their own homeland these were adapted to the prevailing situation.

The most significant change took place in 2011 when the present Dalai Lama not only gave up all his political authority in favor of an elected Tibetan leadership, but also virtually removed the institution of the Dalai Lamas from all future political roles.

Therefore, the Chinese democracy movement needs to discuss how and where the Tibetans will fit in their discourse on the democratization of China. This means thinking about the broader issue of nationalities. Lately, some Chinese scholars and politicians have been talking about a “second generation ethnic policy”, which calls for doing away with virtually all affirmative actions (that are on paper, if I may add) for people considered “minorities”. What is the position of the Chinese democracy advocates on this? What do they feel about the concerns of the Tibetan people?

They should also learn from the Dalai Lama and his vision for Middle Way Approach to resolve the Tibetan issue. In this it will be beneficial for the Chinese democrats to understand the Dalai Lama’s role, not only on the Tibetan issue, but also his impact on the broader Chinese community.

In summation, Chinese democracy advocates need to address the aspirations and concerns of the Tibetan people if they are to be part of the democratization of China. It would be counter-productive to take people like the Tibetans for granted or to merely see them as part of the community needing some largesse. They need to bear in mind that among Tibetans there is no consensus on their preference for a democratic China for there are those who feel that there may not be much difference. Also, there are voices in the Tibetan community that call for an independent Tibet and discussions need to happen on how they fit in the discourse.

In short, the Chinese democracy advocates need to consider the Tibetan people when they are discussing the future, but also take steps to win over the Tibetans in the current discourse.

Would China’s new Party Secretary in Lhasa turn out to be a double-edged sword to Tibetans?

The former Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguao (left) with the newly appointed Party Secretary Wu Yingjie (right).

The former Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguao (left) with the newly appointed Party Secretary Wu Yingjie (right).

On August 28, 2016 the Chinese authorities replaced the Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chen Quanguo, with Wu Yingjie. Chen’s transfer may not have any extra significance as he has served in Lhasa for over five years, which is around the time when such Party officials are moved. But Wu is interesting in quite a few ways.

Wu is the first of the “second generation Tibetans” (Chinese: Zang Er Dai) to assume the position of the Party Secretary. The term “second generation Tibetans” is assigned to Chinese officials who have literally grown up in Tibet, having been brought there by their parents when they were young. They are believed to be very familiar with the Tibetan way of life. The first generation is composed of those who were sent in the 1950s by Beijing after taking control of Tibet.

The general assumption is that given his past portfolio and his statements and actions while serving in different capacities in Lhasa and other places, he will only strengthen the Party’s rigid control of the Tibetan people. He has been personally linked to some of the crackdowns in Tibet, including in Driru county where he is said to have asked the armed police force, after an incident in 2013, to “further strengthen patrol duty, control and grid management.” According to this theory, Wu Yingjie’s long stint in different Tibetan towns enables him to understand the Tibetan psyche and this will enable him to adopt appropriate stringent measures to deal with the people. In other words, since he is familiar with the Tibetans, he can be relied on to have contempt for them.

Wu’s appointment is an indication of the Chinese authorities’ inability to empower Tibetans to assume such a responsible position. In the past, when asked why a Tibetan has not been appointed as a Party Secretary, one of the responses from the Chinese side has been that, unlike in the government, in the Party there is no space for ethnic consideration. But in the present case, Pema Thinley (Chinese: Padma Choling), holds a deputy secretary position (a rank similar to that of Wu Yingjie before his promotion) in the Tibet Autonomous Region Party Committee. In fact, Pema Thinley is senior because he became Deputy Secretary in 2010 while Wu Yingjie was named Deputy Secretary only in 2011. So Pema Thinley’s seniority in the Party should have made him an equal candidate for the post. But there is no indication that anything like that has happened. Thus, his being a Tibetan might have in fact been an obstacle in his promotion, just as it seemed to have been with previous Tibetan Party leaders like Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal, Sangye Yeshi (Tian Bao), Tashi Wangchuk, etc. The only message that one can take from this is that if one is Tibetan one is always a suspect in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party. That was the situation in the 1950s and it remains the same today.

I want to mention here that I am of the view that even if a Tibetan were to be appointed as the Party Secretary, he or she would not be able to do much, in the absence of courage to take a certain amount of risk. For the possibility of being accused of “local nationalism” will always be there, like the Sword of Damocles.
Nevertheless, whenever, there is a change in leaders, there is always the possibility of a new approach. Therefore, there is the opportunity for Wu Yingjie to show himself as someone sensitive to the Tibetan people’s sentiments. In this he does not have to look far for inspiration. There is his namesake predecessor, Wu Jinghua, who served as the Party Secretary in Lhasa from 1985 to 1988. This Wu, who was of Yi nationality, endeared himself to the Tibetans by his willingness to appreciate Tibetan sensitivity, allowing for the revival of Tibetan culture and tradition, so much so that the 10th Panchen Lama is said to have termed him even as ‘one of the best officials in Tibet’.

Even if we look at history, it looks like Mao Zedong himself did look for officials who did not alienate the Tibetans. It is believed that Zhang Guohua, who served twice as Party Secretary in Lhasa (in the 1950s and in the 1960s), is said to have been chosen for his familiarity with the Tibetan culture.

Today, despite whatever claims the Chinese authorities might have about how wonderful the life of Tibetans in Tibet is, the fact remains that there is a trust deficit situation. By their misguided policies, recent Chinese officials overseeing Tibetan affairs have not contributed to reducing this deficit. If Wu Yingjie truly considers himself a “second generation Tibetan” he should understand Tibetan aspirations and reflect that in his work.

A red dress too far? Xi goes to the Palace in the UK’s ‘epic kowtow’ to China

Parliament square

Protests at Parliament square.

The day before UK PM Cameron entertained Xi Jinping for a pint in his local pub last week, a Chinese Tiananmen survivor and two young Tibetan women were locked up overnight by police in London and informed they were not allowed to be ‘within 100 metres’ of the ‘victim’ of their ‘harassment’, Chinese Communist Party boss Xi.

It was a troubling conclusion to a week in which the UK government faced an angry public backlash to ‘the great British kowtow’, in which the authoritarian leader of the Chinese Communist Party, currently presiding over the most serious crackdown in the PRC in a generation, was accorded a glittering surfeit of Royal pomp and obsequiousness in line with Chancellor Osborne’s new China policy of doing whatever the Beijing leadership wants.

As the golden carriage bearing Xi Jinping and the Queen progressed down a Mall lined with cheering Chinese students with immense red flags, uniform tee-shirts, drummers and dragons, dissident writer Ma Jian had tears in his eyes. “The message from the Chinese tyrants to their subjects is clear: if the queen of the UK, the oldest democracy in the world, lavishes your president with such respect and approbation, then what right have you to criticise him?” Ma Jian wrote.

Tibetan protesters

Sonam and Jamphel, the two Tibetan protesters arrested during Xi Jinping’s London visit, welcomed by members of the Tibetan community in London on their release.

There were numerous attempts by the Chinese students and security personnel to obscure or intimidate the small number of Tibetans, Chinese (Falun Gong and others), Uyghur and other protesters on the Mall. Carole Beavis wrote that she was “singled out by three official looking Chinese men, who effectively herded me away from the event, lowered my arm holding the camera.”

Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK coincides with a terrifying crackdown on civil society in China in which lawyers and human rights defenders have been targeted, with many enduring horrific torture. More than 140 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, an act emerging from anguish at unbearable oppression, while moderate Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti is serving life in prison for peacefully advocating dialogue.

But it is not only within the PRC. Xi and the top Party leadership are aggressively seeking to export their assault on civil society and to roll back freedom and democracy in other parts of the world.

The three arrests in London last Wednesday are in the context of police being pressed elsewhere in Europe to take stronger measures against peaceful demonstrations (for example in Denmark and Belgium.

Shao Jiang’s protest took place as Xi Jinping arrived in the all important ‘square mile’, the financial centre of London (Chancellor Osborne wants London to be the worldwide center for renminbi trading).

TV footage shows Shao Jiang, a British citizen who was imprisoned for 18 months after involvement with the Tiananmen Square protests, stepping into the road with two small white placards bearing the statements ‘end autocracy’ and ‘democracy now’. Several police officers charge towards him, knocking him off his feet, helmets flying, and take him into custody.

Soon afterwards, two Tibetan women who had been displaying Tibetan flags nearby were led away by police and all three held overnight in the cells.

At the police station that night, the duty officer told me that they were accused of ‘conspiracy’ ‘to commit threatening behaviour’. But Shao Jiang had been on his own – could they mean that perhaps he had been thinking of standing in another part of the public highway with his two placards? Perhaps the two young women, Sonam and Jamphel, were conspiring to go and grab a cup of tea afterwards, as it was a grey and rainy day?

As they were being held in custody, police went to each of their homes and seized laptops, phones, and USB sticks. All three depend on their laptops for work; the computer of Johanna Zhang, Shao Jiang’s wife, who works as an artist and translator, was even taken. This was a chilling step, particularly given the obvious resonances; in Tibet and China, people understand the visceral fear associated with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

Shao Jiang

Chinese Tiananmen survivor Shao Jiang is released on bail at Bishopsgate police station (charges are now dropped) by Tsering Passang, head of the Tibetan Community in Britain, and Kate Saunders.

In a debate in Parliament on Monday (October 26), Shao Jiang’s MP, Emily Thornberry, asked for the Home Office Minister to advise her “how I can hold to account those who made the disgraceful decisions to arrest someone who was, on the face of it, behaving in a way that was entirely peaceful, who should not have been arrested and whose house should not have been searched?” MP David Winnick, referred to “British police action with Chinese characteristics”. (Video available here.)

The arrests made front page news in the UK, in the context of an overwhelming public backlash against the UK government’s ‘epic kowtow’ to Communist Party boss Xi. Business leader and expert on China James McGregor, chairman of consultancy APCO Worldwide, told the BBC’s influential Today programme: “If you act like panting puppy the object of your attention is going to think they’ve got you on a leash. China does not respect people who suck up to them.” Mark Steel mused in The Independent: “If trade helps improve human rights, it’s about time we let North Korea and Isis run some of our industries.”

Steve Hilton, the UK PM’s former strategy advisor, tore into his friend Chancellor Osborne, arguing that kowtowing to China does nothing for Britain’s economic health: “Of course the Beijing oppressors would prefer not to be lectured in public on human rights. But if a convicted murderer said he’d prefer not to be lectured in public on the morality of killing people, would we say: ‘OK, we’ll keep your verdict secret’? […] China is a superpower, aggressively spreading its influence. Our security and economic opportunity depend on an orderly world, underpinned by the values of openness. We need to stand up, strongly, for openness. If the world slides towards the opposite values, those of the Beijing dictators, we should be very nervous.”

In the meantime, The Times reported that senior military and intelligence figures have warned ministers that plans to give China a big stake in Britain’s nuclear power industry pose a threat to national security (see this great video).

In a bizarre media postscript to the visit, I was invited to join a Sunday morning TV show on which Ken Livingstone bucked the trend with the bizarre claim that the Dalai Lama had no credibility because he was a CIA stooge, while TV presenter Tricia Goddard did agree that the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress at the state banquet was a step too far.

Kate looked stunning as she clinked glasses with President Xi, but did she need to wear red, in homage to a man who is China’s most authoritarian and paranoid leader since Mao? A man who is so controlling that he even banned cartoons of Pooh Bear, after Chinese micro-bloggers picked up on an uncanny resemblance between a photograph of Xi and President Obama and a cartoon image of A. A. Milne’s cartoon creations.

As if to prove that another approach is possible, this week Dutch King Willem-Alexander made a strong public statement by raising human rights at a state banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

On Wednesday night, two days after questions were raised in Parliament about their arrests, Scotland Yard said that the three protesters had been “released from their bail with no further action”. Their laptops and phones were returned today.

Why Tibet Could Be the Best Opportunity for Xi Jinping

This article written by ICT President Matteo Mecacci, co-authored by ICT Vice President Bhuchung K. Tsering, was published on September 22 by The Huffington Post.

Obama Xi

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping after their press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China in 2014. (Photo: AP)

On September 24 later this month, China’s President Xi Jinping will arrive in Washington to meet President Obama for an important state visit. The context is a growing alarm about China’s less than peaceful rise, and provides a rare opportunity for the president to give an important message on Tibet.

It has been noted in Washington that President Xi’s self-proclaimed “China Dream” — a vision of a peaceful and rising China on the world stage — has become a Kafka-esque nightmare for many.

China’s government has been publicly blamed for major cyber attacks suffered by US federal institutions and businesses over the last months and more sanctions seem to be in preparation to target some of its officials. US and EU business leaders are now openly expressing concern for the safety of their work in China; fears that were previously reserved for political dissidents, Tibetan religious leaders, lawyers and journalists targeted by Beijing. CEOs and others are obviously concerned about the purge and targeting of city workers in China after the recent downturn of the financial markets.

There has been an unprecedented attack on Chinese civil society, resulting in the arrests of civil rights lawyers and peaceful activists. In Tibet, writers and artists have been tortured and imprisoned for singing about the Dalai Lama or expressing their views in literary journals.

The expansion of outposts in the South China Sea has unnerved China’s neighbors and US allies in the region and revived the debate about increasing US military spending to push back against what are perceived as Beijing expansionist aspirations in the Pacific.

The domestic anti-corruption campaign — with its international ramifications to recover financial assets — has not been followed up by a reform of the judicial system that provides independence. It is now perceived more as a way to eliminate other competing factions than a genuine attempt to implement the rule of law in the public sector.

We know that Tibet, as a strategic border area, is an important matter to China. The Party State has stepped up its rhetoric against the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, in this context — which sits uncomfortably with the White House. President Obama has met the Dalai Lama four times and the two men enjoy a warm relationship.

The Dalai Lama’s peaceful advocacy and will to find a negotiated solution with China is highly respected in Washington, and his stature in the world stage as spiritual and moral leader increases with his age.

In the interest of China, and his own, Xi Jinping, certainly needs to give different signals to a world that is skeptical about his administration. A commitment to reduce carbon emissions in view of the COP21 UN Summit in Paris on climate change later this year is in the making, and would be certainly welcomed by the Obama administration, but it won’t be a surprise, as it won’t be enough expressing a general commitment to find “peaceful” solutions to the South China issues or to “fight against cyberterrorism.”

China can show to the world that it is really changing only if it can make profound reforms, such as moving from a centralized and authoritarian political system — which leads to its embrace of nationalistic and aggressive policies — to a more democratic and decentralized one, where the rule of law and a process of genuine consultations lead to sound political decisions.

For this, the Tibetan issue represents an important opportunity for Xi Jinping. By embracing the Dalai Lama’s sincere offer for dialogue based on his Middle Way Approach, and his decision to devolve his political authority to Tibetan institutions in exile — clearly indicating that he has no interest in going back to Tibet to rule — Xi Jinping would show that he is open to find some solutions to difficult and longstanding political issues that are of concern for the international community.

President Obama, who is also a Nobel Peace Laureate, should personally tell President Xi that he has nothing to fear from the Dalai Lama. The resistance by Tibetans to the decades-long policies of cultural and ethnic assimilation has been remarkably nonviolent so far, and this is largely due to the leadership provided by the Dalai Lama. It is the 80th birthday year of the Dalai Lama and this should provide a sense of urgency for resolving the issue in his lifetime. It is absurd to believe that Xi Jinping, leader of an atheist Party state, can ensure stability in Tibet through stage-managing a reincarnation of the Nobel Peace Laureate and seeking to eviscerate a peaceful religious culture.

Rather, by embracing the Dalai Lama President Xi might be able to bring about a change in the mindset of the international community on China and its future. China and its leaders know that despite its economic influence (which seem to be shaking currently) there is much distrust by the governments about China’s intentions and ambitions. If China respects the aspirations of the Tibetans for self-rule, the Dalai Lama could be a catalyst for China’s acceptance as a responsible member of the community of nations.