From International Campaign For Tibet
Report reflects demands for greater state and Party accountability
A bold and remarkable new report by a group of Chinese scholars in Beijing challenges the official position that the Dalai Lama “incited” the protests that broke out in Tibet in March 2008, and outlines key failings in the policy of the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on Tibet. The report, which is translated into English by ICT below, is the first such analysis from inside China and comes at a time of crackdown in Tibet when the PRC government is taking an increasingly hardline position against the Dalai Lama.
Until now, the report which was posted online on May 12, 2009, has appeared only online in Chinese and it is unlikely to be disseminated publicly in China. It is the result of a month-long investigation by a Beijing-based lawyers’ organization and thinktank called Gongmeng (Open Constitution Initiative). The report’s authors, several of whom attended the prestigious Beijing University Law School, conclude that China’s strategies to ensure ‘stability’ in Tibet have failed, and that China’s propaganda offensive has created divisions and further exacerbated tensions.
Lodi Gyari Gyaltsen, Special Envoy for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said, “It is gratifying that a group of Chinese academics have themselves taken up the responsibility to conduct an independent study of the circumstances that led to the spring 2008 demonstrations across Tibet. We hope that other progressive voices, including those within the PRC government, will support them and their findings, and help us find real solutions for Tibet.”
Since protests against Chinese rule broke out across the Tibetan plateau last March, state repression has been dramatically stepped up and the Chinese government has hardened its position on Tibet and the Dalai Lama, saying that the protests were planned and instigated by “hostile foreign forces” and the “Dalai clique.” The Open Constitution Initiative report, based on fieldwork conducted by scholars who traveled to Lhasa and a Tibetan region of Gansu province, is critical of this claim and appears to be directly aimed at policy-makers, recommending alternative and ground-breaking approaches.
The authors of the report state: “Even though research was carried out in the field for only a month, we deeply sensed the popular discontent and anger behind the incidents [of the spring 2008 protests], and the complexity of their social roots… An important perspective for interpreting the 3.14 incident [March 14, 2008, when protesting turned to violence in Lhasa] is that it was reaction made under stress by a society and people to the various changes that have been taking place in their lives over the past few decades. The notion that appears impossible to understand is the implication that reasonable demands were being vented, and this is precisely what we need to understand and reflect upon.”
Tibetan scholar Tseten Wangchuk, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Virginia in the US, said: “The report is significant because it points out specific problems in China’s Tibet policy for the first time in China, representing a major challenge to the state as it continues its repressive policies in Tibet. It is also a significant indicator of progressive views within China - these scholars are not alone. While this is the first time that an entire investigation on the causes of the protests has been produced and disseminated online, these views reflect other criticism circulating in China about Tibet policy. These views are going to become harder for the government to ignore.”
The authors, who spoke to numerous Tibetans and Chinese before completing the report, quote Baba Phuntso Wangye, a key figure in Sino-Tibetan relations known for founding the Tibetan Communist Party and who in later years wrote directly to Hu Jintao to urge dialogue with the Dalai Lama, as saying: “They [government officials] take every opportunity to play the splittism card. They are unable to admit their mistakes and instead put all of their effort into shifting accountability onto ‘hostile foreign forces’.”
The authors cite as a contributing factor to the protests that began in March 2008 the high levels of marginalization among Tibetans as a result of Chinese economic policies, saying: “From the level of actual benefits, 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 also refers to deepening rural-urban inequality in Tibetan areas, and notes the government policy of not interfering with the numbers of Chinese migrants flooding into Tibetan cities, and the undermining of the Tibetan language leading to disempowerment of Tibetans.
The report notes that in Lhasa, taxi drivers are mainly non-Tibetan, travel agencies are nearly all owned by outsiders, tourist stalls are not owned by Tibetans, and large numbers of Chinese work in businesses and the tourism industry. The scholars relate the impressions of a taxi-driver from the Chinese interior in Lhasa, who said: “When the land you’re accustomed to living in, and the land of the culture you identify with, when the lifestyle and religiosity is suddenly changed into a ‘modern city’ that you no longer recognize; when you can no longer find work in your own land, and feel the unfairness of lack of opportunity, and when you realize that your core value systems are under attack, then the Tibetan people’s panic and sense of crisis is not difficult to understand.”
Speaking about the lawyers’ motivations for the report, legal scholar Xu Zhiyong, one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative, was quoted by Time magazine as saying: “We want to help society, and help build rule of law. We want to be objective. On questions like Tibet, human rights, and so forth, the Chinese government has a standpoint, foreign governments and foreign media have a standpoint. But it’s also important to have an independent look at the problems.” (Time, May 26, 2009). One of China’s top leaders, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, asserted the importance of the official line on Tibet when he told US Speaker Nancy Pelosi on May 27 that of issues to be dealt with in the US-China relationship, Tibet and Taiwan are the two “most important and sensitive”. (Xinhua, May 27, 2009).
The Open Constitution Initiative report is carefully worded, presenting its arguments in Marxist language typical of that seen in much of China’s social sciences, and it frequently quotes phrases and vocabulary used by the Chinese Communist Party leadership. Perhaps exercising the same caution, and possibly based on an intention not to alienate policy-makers, the report portrays the issue of Tibet only as one of governance and policy, without exploring the more politically sensitive issue of the relationship between Tibet and China, nor do they go so far as to use the concept of colonialism to describe the situation in Tibet.
The authors do however refer to “contradictions” inherent in the state’s approach: “…Particularly in the modern era, two problems have faced the social situation in the two Tibetan regions of Amdo and U-Tsang [central Tibet, roughly equivalent to what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region]: one has been a problem with structures of the ruling state’s power systems, or to put it another way, the process of incorporating Tibetan regional culture as a regional society into the politicized structures of the ruling state’s systems; and two, the problem of adapting a society’s internal structures… as of now these problems have still not been properly resolved.”
There is also no discussion of the status of the Dalai Lama in relation to the Tibetan people or his key role in finding a solution to the Tibet question. Loyalty to the Dalai Lama and calls for his return to Tibet have underpinned the overwhelmingly peaceful protests over the past year in Tibet; Tibetans have risked their lives to assert their allegiance to him, as opposed to the Chinese state. There are a number of inconsistencies in the reporting; for instance, the authors state that “Regional ethnic autonomy has generally been realized in the Tibetan region of Amdo, and the Tibetan people have exercised the right to be their own masters,” when much of the report indicates an acknowledgement that the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law has clearly failed to ensure genuine autonomy for Tibetan people within the PRC. A key recommendation of the report is that the government should “increase effective supervision over local power structures in the implementation of regional ethnic autonomy policies”.
The authors make explicit reference to a new “Tibetan aristocracy” of ethnic Tibetan cadres and officials with “low administrative abilities and backward understanding of governance”. The authors note: “’Foreign forces’ and ‘Tibet independence’ are used by many local officials as fig leaves to conceal their mistakes in governance and to repress social discontent.” They blame these local officials for such acts as canceling or postponing important religious festivals in Tibet, although some observers will point out that these actions are consistent with the increasingly aggressive approach of the central authorities to Tibetan religion and culture. This is a politically sensitive issue to raise because in some ‘ethnic minority’ areas of the PRC, including Tibetan areas, the incompetence of local ethnic cadres has been used as a justification for placing more Chinese officials in the area and furthering the assimilation process. Focusing on the failings of local Party cadres could also be a strategic approach by the authors who may be aiming to influence the central government. In their recommendations, the authors clearly assert the need for Tibetans to be involved in local governance, for training and education for Tibetans to be prioritized, and for the proper implementation of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.
One of the most important points in the report, which has led to intense debate among Chinese and Tibetan bloggers since it was posted, is the way in which a virulent propaganda campaign has stoked divisions among Chinese and Tibetans. The scholars say: “The ensuing over-propagandizing of “violence” was used to make the 3.14 incident ever larger, which created certain oppositional ethnic sentiments… Such propaganda actions are in the long run detrimental to ethnic unity. The fascination that Han citizens have expressed toward Tibetan culture changed to fear and hatred of the Tibetan masses.”
The authors acknowledge the resurgence of pride in Tibetan cultural identity among many young Tibetans: “In the language of the older people, we’d often hear such vocabulary as ‘cadre’ or ‘commune member’. However, this was not so among the youth, where phrases such as ‘we Tibetans’ or ‘our nationality’ often appeared in their speech.”
Tseten Wangchuk says: “The propaganda offensive after March 14, 2008, became a turning point in Chinese nationalism. It is very challenging to China that Tibetans are searching for their own identity and expressing their views. As China is becoming more powerful, it would seem to follow that Tibetans would be prouder about being Chinese, but that’s not the case they’re becoming more proud of being Tibetan. China’s propaganda is focused on the positive changes, the ‘democratic reform’ that they say China brought to the ‘backward’ Tibetans. The Chinese people are susceptible to this but Tibetans feel it’s an insult it is inflaming prejudice.”
The report concludes with a series of detailed recommendations by the researchers, who advise first and foremost that the Chinese government should “Earnestly listen to the voices of ordinary Tibetans and, on the basis of respecting and protecting each of the Tibetan people’s rights and interests, adjust policy and thinking in Tibetan areas to formulate development policies which are suited to the characteristics of Tibetan areas and which accord with the wishes of the Tibetan people.”
Chinese intellectuals speaking out on Tibet
The Open Constitution Initiative report is representative of a movement among intellectuals in the People’s Republic of China that seeks political space and accountability from the state. Groups like this one include some of China’s most eminent legal scholars and practitioners and represent the trend that has led to the Charter 08 movement and engendered attempts to use the courts to challenge the Communist Party’s and state’s abuses of power. These lawyers take on politically sensitive cases that, for example, included in April 2009 the legal defense of a senior Tibetan Buddhist cleric facing implausible charges of possession of arms and misappropriating state property. (www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/verdict-tibetan-lama-def...). In another case, the mere visit of two such lawyers with a monk who had been detained for six months without charge was enough for police to release him from custody.
The Party has now threatened not to re-register the licenses of some of the most prominent individuals unless they back away from such cases. (“Doomsday for Chinese Human-Rights Lawyers?” By Leslie Hook, Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2009). Others have been beaten and arbitrarily detained by police. One of the most famous of these lawyers, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared in February following months of harassment, and his wife and children have fled to the United States.
Xu Zhiyong and the Open Constitution Initiative, together with other lawyers and rights advocates, has been actively involved in identifying cases to test the new Regulations on Open Government Information (OGI Regulations) that became effective in the PRC on May 1, 2008. This law requires PRC government administrative agencies, subject to certain conditions, to publicize information they have created or obtained in the course of carrying out their duties, and to provide information to members of the public upon request. Given the Party’s agenda of political control, analysts believe it is unlikely that the OGI Regulations will be allowed to provide a platform to challenge the basic political system, but NGOs in China, concerned lawyers and scholars including the Open Constitution Initiative, are still mobilizing the law to push for a more open government. (Human Rights in China report,http://support.savetibet.org/site/www.hrichina.org/public/contents/artic...).
Following the beginning of the protests in Tibet last year, more than 30 leading Chinese intellectuals, including the Chinese writer Wang Lixiong, released a petition that appeared on several websites in Chinese, entitled 'Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation'. The petition, demonstrating great courage among its signatories, strongly urged the Chinese government to "stop the violent suppression" in Tibet, and appealed to the Tibetan people likewise not to engage in violent activities. It also urged the Chinese government to end the propaganda and news blockade, saying: "The one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal of safeguarding national unity."
The signatories, include Chinese writers Wang Lixiong, Liu Xiaobo and Yu Jie, Professor Ding Zilin, of the pressure group Tiananmen Mothers, as well as other scholars, and several lawyers and artists.
The petition states that the language used by the Chinese government to describe the Dalai Lama is not "in keeping with the situation, nor is it beneficial to the Chinese government's image," saying: "As the Chinese government is committed to integrating into the international community, we maintain that it should display a style of governing that conforms to the standards of modern civilization."
An influential columnist and deputy editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly, Chang Ping, was sacked last year after he wrote an article about how censorship had hindered truthful coverage of the Tibet protests. In an article entitled, ‘How to find the truth about Lhasa’ published in April, 2008, Chang Ping urged his readers to reflect about the lack of press freedom in China, instead of pouring scorn on prejudice in the western media. (http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2008/05/chang-ping-i-am-ashamed-of-self-cen...). Chang Ping was labeled as a “rumor monger” by a columnist at Beijing Evening News.
The new report by the Open Constitution Initiative is the first investigative report on the protests last year and the Tibet situation, based on fieldwork and analysis. The full text of the report is available in Chinese here:https://docs.google.com/Doc?id=df4nrxxq_91ctcf6sck, and the English translation by the International Campaign for Tibet follows.
An investigative report into the social and economic causes of the 3.14 incident in Tibetan areas
Gongmeng Law Research Center
Contributors: Li Kun, Huang Li, Li Xiang
Research: Li Kun, Huang Li, Li Xiang, Wang Hongzhe