• Lhasa has been virtually sealed off and religious practices curtailed as the Chinese authorities seek to enforce the latest round of official commemoration of the anniversary of the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet.
  • The White House confirmed today that President Obama has invited the Dalai Lama for a meeting tomorrow morning (July 16) in the Map Room of the White House (statement by ICT).
  • Rumours of a visit to Lhasa by Xi Jinping, the presumed successor to Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, could not be confirmed.
‘Great celebration projects’ lead to closure of Tibet Autonomous Region to tourists and climate of fear

Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser wrote on her blog on July 14 that there are 72 “great celebration projects” underway in the TAR at a cost of over 2.526 billion yuan (US $392 million). Twenty-seven of the projects have been undertaken in Lhasa, resulting in “digging going on everywhere, as though the whole city is being turned over.”

A large stage has been constructed in the public square in front of the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lama, and pictured here. The ritual circumambulation route around the Potala used by Tibetan Buddhist devotees has been declared off-limits since construction of the stage began. According to the same sources, Tibetans from Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) without temporary residency permits for the TAR have been ordered removed.

Several Tibetans in exile in India told ICT that they have received phone calls from family in Tibet telling them not to call for several days, citing an “inconvenient time,” due to fears over increased government monitoring of all communications.

Earlier celebrations were held in Lhasa on May 23, the 60th anniversary of the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet, which is based upon the signature by representatives of the Chinese and Tibetan governments on May 23, 1951, of the “17-Point Agreement.” This somewhat negotiated agreement between Buddhist Tibet and Communist China effectively changed Tibet’s international legal status from independent nation to a region of the People’s Republic of China. (ICT statement, China’s propaganda on the 17-point agreement distorts history and impedes path to resolving the Tibet problem). Promises of autonomy made in the agreement have not been implemented by the Chinese authorities. While the celebrations were attended by Pema Trinley, Chairman of the TAR government and Gyaltsen Norbu, the young man chosen by the Chinese Communist Party to be the 11th Panchen Lama – no one from the central government was known to be in attendance (ICT report, Official celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”: attendees and absentees).

The Tibet Autonomous Region has been closed to tourists since the end of June, for around a month, with travel agency sources citing that it is because of the “peaceful liberation” anniversary celebrations. A tourism industry news website reported on July 8 that the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu made an “overnight decision” to stop issuing travel permits to the Tibet Autonomous Region. The impact of the decision was being felt most by tour groups, who had to cancel around 2000 bookings for pilgrimages to Mount Kailash and Lake Manasorovar in Ngari Prefecture in the west of the TAR – holy sites in both the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist faiths. Kashi Raj Bhandari, Director of the Nepal Tourism Board, said “This is a diplomatic issue and hence should be dealt with by the government.” (Travel Blackboard, Tibet ban hurting Nepal tourism – July 8, 2011)

Additional preparations have included the demolition of villagers’ homes located next to public roads in rural counties surrounding Lhasa, according to Woeser. New homes were to be built by early July, where the Chinese flag must be displayed from the roof and the inside walls adorned with photos of Beijing leaders. Authorities only promised to provide partial funding for the new construction, and the new homes were not permitted to contain a pen for livestock, as many of the original homes maintained on the first floor. This has resulted in forcing farmers to consider selling their livestock, according to Woeser, and dramatically alter their means of living.

There has been a deepening climate of fear in Lhasa since protests broke out on March 10, 2008. In the weeks leading up to this anniversary and the closure of the Tibet Autonomous Region to visitors, the Chinese authorities have stepped up levels of intimidation and adopted a consistently harsh and systematic approach to silencing Tibetans and suppressing dissent. Tibet Autonomous Party Secretary Zhang Qingli was quoted last week as telling police forces in Tibet: “We must guardedly prevent and severely strike every separatist and harmful activity of the Dalai (Lama) clique.” (AFP, July 13).

The PRC’s Information Office of the State Council issued a new white paper on Tibet on July 11. Detailing the official state narrative regarding China’s relationship with Tibet, “Sixty Years Since Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” exalts the “peaceful liberation of Tibet” as a “milestone marking the commencement of “Tibet’s progress from a dark and backward society to a bright and advanced future.” The white paper also seeks to further establish Tibetans as an “ethnicity,” continuing a trend to eschew previous usage of “nationality,” and hence the recognition of Tibetans as a political entity, in an attempt to characterize Tibetans as an ethnic group with cultural, as opposed to political, interests and rights (High Peaks Pure Earth).

President Obama meeting with Dalai Lama confirmed

It was confirmed today that President Obama will meet the Dalai Lama tomorrow at the White House tomorrow morning (July 16).

The White House press office stated the following: “On Saturday, the President will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the White House. The President last met the Dalai Lama in February 2010. This meeting underscores the President’s strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans. The President will highlight his enduring support for dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government to resolve differences.” (July 15, 2011).

This will be the second meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama at the White House and reflects America’s long history with Tibet and its leadership role in promoting the fundamental human rights and unique linguistic, cultural and religious identity of the Tibetan people. Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “The meeting is an opportunity to deepen the relationship between the American and Tibetan peoples and for the President to reaffirm U.S. support for Tibetan issues, including the Dalai Lama’s efforts to reengage the Chinese government in meaningful dialogue on genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.”

The announcement comes just two days before the Dalai Lama concludes his 10-day visit to Washington, D.C. where he has been presiding over a major Buddhist teaching, the Kalachakra (twitter/SaveTibetOrg #DalaiLamaDC). During his time in Washington, His Holiness met with Speaker of the House John Boehner, Democratic Leader Pelosi, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as other officials and dignitaries.

Rumors of Xi Jinping visit to Lhasa

Unconfirmed rumours indicate that China’s Vice President Xi Jinping, the presumed successor to Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, is due to arrive in Lhasa to mark the anniversary.

Xi Jinping would be the most senior central government official to visit the TAR in several years, if the unconfirmed reports of his expected presence in Lhasa are correct (Tibetan sources and Asia News – July 14, 2011).

Notably, when the current Chinese President Hu Jintao was a Vice President in 2001 – and like Xi Jinping now already heavily tipped to be the next President of China – he attended celebrations in Lhasa marking the 50th anniversary of the “Peaceful Liberation.” (Xinhua, Hu Jintao watches performance marking Tibet’s ‘Peaceful Liberation’ – July 20, 2001)

Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun, a former Vice Premier, was close to the 10th Panchen Lama and was an interlocutor for exiled Tibetan envoys in the 1980s. Xi Zhongxun is also said to have carried a photograph of the Dalai Lama. Xi Jinping joined the Communist Party in 1974 when his father was still in prison during the Cultural Revolution, and according to a childhood friend, “chose to survive by becoming redder than red.” (International Tibet Network Chinese leadership chart).