Chinese security personnel in Lhasa

Chinese security personnel in Lhasa in March, 2008 during a military crackdown which lead to an unprecedented wave of peaceful protests.

  • Tension in Lhasa during visit of China’s presumed next Party Secretary; pre-emptive detentions during police raids prior to visit
  • Xi Jinping blames Dalai Lama for problems in Tibet, reiterates Party hardline
  • Tibetans told to adopt “expressions of joy and gratitude” for their “peaceful liberation” as crackdown intensifies
  • Xi Jinping says development is key to resolving all Tibet issues, although the Party’s ambitious plans marginalize Tibetans and are ultimately unsustainable

China’s next top leader Xi Jinping has emphasized the “fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique” in his current visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is closed to tourists and under tight lockdown. The visit is taking place in an atmosphere of fear and tension, with a number of Tibetans being detained in Lhasa prior to the arrival of the Chinese Vice-President on Sunday (July 17), who is likely to succeed Hu Jintao as Party Secretary and President in the next two years.

Xi Jinping, who is now in Kongpo (Chinese: Nyingtri) presided over a ceremony in Lhasa on Tuesday (July 19) to mark the anniversary of what Beijing characterizes as “the peaceful liberation” of Tibet. In a speech made in front of the Potala Palace, the Dalai Lama’s former home and seat of the former Tibetan government, Xi Jinping reiterated the current hardline position of the Chinese government on Tibet, emphasizing the importance of “the fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups… and [the need to] completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardise national unity” according to reports in the state media.

Mr. Xi is leading a large delegation of senior Party, government and military officials to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) on an inspection tour that is expected by observers to last around a week. No official itinerary of Mr. Xi’s visit to the TAR appears to be publicly available, with his arrival on Sunday was only confirmed that day following several days of rumor. According to the state media, Xi Jinping and the delegation are now in the prefectural capital of Nyingtri, Bayi, where Xi Jinping presented a plaque featuring President Hu Jintao’s calligraphy, reading: “Congratulations on the 60th Anniversary of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”. Xi Jinping also congratulated People’s Liberation Army soldiers in the area for their contributions to “ethnic unity.” (China Daily, Xi visits Tibet’s Nyingchi).

In his keynote speech delivered in front of the Potala Palace, Xi Jinping reiterated the current Party line, first stated in a 2010 national forum on Tibet work, that: “To speed up development holds the key to resolving all issues in Tibet.” (Xinhua, Full text of speech by Xi Jinping at Tibet’s peaceful liberation anniversary conference – July 19, 2011)

China’s long-term plans, beginning with the current 12th Five-Year Plan of 2011 through 2015, are focused on the transformation of a mobile, flexible, nomadic land use to an urbanised, industrialised and centralised land use. These plans are ultimately ecologically unsustainable for the fragile high-altitude environment of the Tibetan plateau, known as the “Third Pole” and the source of most of Asia’s major rivers, affecting millions of people downstream. China’s development plans – which marginalize Tibetans – are concentrated on the extraction of specific commodities, notably copper, gold, silver, electricity and water, from Tibet, for the use of Chinese industries far from Tibet. Official policy announcements such as statements by Xi Jinping in the last few days are indicative of the current and unprecedented drive by the Chinese authorities to accomplish the assimilation of Tibet into the Chinese economy.

The number of Tibetans pre-emptively detained prior to Xi Jinping’s visit could not be confirmed, although one Tibetan source indicated that at least 100 Tibetans in Lhasa may have been taken into custody at unknown locations prior to the visit – a pattern that has occurred before in the run-up to sensitive anniversaries and official visits. In the weeks prior to the one-year anniversary in 2009 of the March 2008 protests in Lhasa, dozens of Tibetans were rounded up in police raids on tea houses, popular among young Tibetans, and private homes, and held in a camp administered by the military over the period of the anniversary.

According to micro-blogged accounts of events in Lhasa, security in the city remains high. People not involved in the official events earlier this week were “not allowed on the streets” and had to stay at home, according to information posted on Twitter by the Beijing-based Tibetan writer Woeser, while tricycle rickshaw drivers were compensated for the time they had to be off the streets working. People nominated by their schools or workplaces to participate in the celebrations were told they were forbidden from carrying cameras or cellphones, and all were taken back to hotels rather than being allowed home afterwards. Participants in the official celebrations were also told to wear “expressions of joy and gratitude” on their faces. (Woeser’s Twitter account, written in Chinese, is @degewa.)

Xi Jinping visited the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa yesterday, where on March 28, 2008, a group of 30 monks spoke directly to journalists on an escorted tour about the crackdown in Tibet’s capital and the “lies” of the Communist Party (ICT report, Jokhang monks make bold protest: transcript). Xi Jinping told monks at the Jokhang on Wednesday (July 20) that they should “stay clear of separatist forces”, according to China Daily.

The Chinese government describes the Dalai Lama as a “separatist” although he advocates the “Middle Way” approach to resolving the Tibet issue by seeking a genuine autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. Over the past few days, the Chinese authorities’ hostile rhetoric against the Dalai Lama has focused on his meeting with President Obama in Washington on July 16, with one Xinhua headline yesterday indicating Beijing’s displeasure that the US President did not follow their instructions: “Obama and the Dalai Lama play two-man comic show” (