[By BRIAN SPEGELE/Wall Street Journal]
BEIJING—Chinese authorities appeared to tighten their grip over a restive portion of western China following a spate of ethnic Tibetans setting themselves on fire to protest heavy-handed Chinese rule.
The state-run Qinghai News Net reported Thursday that authorities in western Qinghai province’s Huangnan prefecture were intensifying patrols by paramilitary security forces, stepping up check points to block outsiders from entering and cracking down on audio-visual equipment that helps Tibetans tune in to overseas news programs.
The new measures underscore authorities’ growing concern over stability in far-western China. Huangnan has been the site of several self-immolations since mid-November, according to activists and the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India.
The government-in-exile said this month at least 95 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009, at least 82 of which came in 2012.
The steady stream of self-immolations and occasional clashes between restive monks and security forces this year came as party leaders in Beijing orchestrated a once-a-decade leadership transition. Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao as Communist Party general secretary in November, though it remains unclear whether Mr. Xi will pursue a different tack than Mr. Hu on Tibetan issues.
Party leaders over the past decade have embarked on ambitious efforts to spur economic development in Tibetan-populated regions to quell longstanding calls for greater autonomy there. Such programs spawned migration of ethnic Han Chinese in search of business opportunities to the rugged, traditionally Tibetan areas, which in many cases have exacerbated ethnic tensions.
Among the new initiatives announced in Huangnan, authorities pledged to deepen propaganda efforts aimed at drumming up support for the ruling Communist Party and painting Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as a separatist bent on destabilizing China’s Tibetan regions, which are among the country’s least developed.
The state media report said Thursday that authorities would “adopt all kinds of methods to penetrate the grassroots, the schools and the monasteries.”
The new measures appeared to be in response to a spate of self-immolations that left the prefecture on edge over the past month. Tibetan activists and the government-in-exile said in November that thousands of students from around Huangnan, known as Malho in Tibetan, took part in protests calling for a return of the Dalai Lama, among other demands.
China regards Tibet as part of its territory and views the Dalai Lama as a separatist. The spiritual leader fled into exile in India in 1959 following a failed uprising against communist forces. Today, the Dalai Lama says he is fighting for greater autonomy, not independence, for China’s Tibetan-populated regions.
Growing unrest in Qinghai province in recent months apparently is worrying local leaders. Earlier self-immolations had been largely concentrated in the adjacent province of Sichuan. The uptick in tensions in Tibetan portions of Qinghai suggests deepening distrust of local party leaders. Tibetans activists lament what they describe as forced cultural assimilation, political and religious repression and environmental degradation as some of the problems that underlay the self-immolations and wider unrest across the region.
Authorities in Huangnan are also pledging to “block harmful outside information,” according to Thursday’s state media report. It said authorities had already begun dismantling satellite and other equipment used to broadcast overseas programming. Authorities described the programming—much of it produced with the backing of Western governments—as “anti-Chinese” and vowed to increase access to Chinese state-backed programming instead.