There is no denying the fact that despite 60 years of occupying Tibet, China doesn’t understand Tibet and the Tibetan people’s aspirations. However, they have been right about one thing: the key to long term stability and security of Tibet is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But how they go about using that key to affirm stability in Tibet is completely illogical, erroneous and for the lack of a better word: stupid.
China is known to harbor a cult like obsession with domestic stability. As a result, for years they have imposed a massive surveillance programme across all parts of the country particularly in the restive western regions of Tibet and East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
To further increase its control of regional stability, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, issued a circular on January 11 this year to all its departments to launch a special struggle against social ills such as criminal activity and corruption. The four departments directly related to the circular: the Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security Bureau and the Ministry of Justice, on February 5, then directed all provincial governments to identify the pervasive crimes and social ills of their respective states to foster a harmonious society.
However, the regional response to the circular from the public security bureau of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) was not only Orwellian, it also twisted the main theme of the circular i.e criminal activity and corruption, to targeting the Tibetan people and their devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The public security bureau of TAR came out with a list of 22 illegal activities in response to the circular, targeting the Tibetan people’s faith, right to free speech, assembly and even their right to study its language.
In three of the 22 guidelines, specifically in points (2) (5) and (6), they have directly mentioned His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has ordered local Tibetans to report activities of fellow civilians suspected of colluding with what they call the ‘Dalai clique’. Similarly, in point (4), they have targeted the Middle Way Approach of the Central Tibetan Administration and Tibetan people’s right to study the Tibetan language, labeling it ‘reactionary ideas’ and ‘narrow-minded nationalism’.
While the Chinese administration in Tibet’s attempts at distorting the truth is not new, there are two fundamental flaws with the governance system of the Chinese administration in Tibet and the Chinese government at the center in general.
First, the TAR government’s attempts to equate His Holiness the Dalai Lama with a criminal and the millions of Tibetans inside Tibet who revere him as colluding with a criminal is a blatant violation of the right to worship and freedom of faith enshrined in the Chinese constitution. It also shows a clear lack of understanding of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Middle Way Approach conceived by him and advocated by the Tibetan administration.
The entire Tibetan region is already under massive surveillance programme with constant monitoring of the Tibetan people through cutting edge technologies such as facial recognition, DNA profiling, grid systems, and the omnipresent security cameras.
The obsessive securitization of Tibet, have made even peaceful expressions of resistance by Tibetans nearly impossible — they are thwarted well before they could ever evolve into large-scale protests. Even lone individual protestors shouting slogans in support of Tibetan freedom or the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet are forcibly disappeared before their message can be heard. Therefore, such targeting of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are not only unwarranted but also illogical. The Chinese authorities could have instead focused on more important areas such as corruption in social welfare schemes, public health care, real criminal activities like smuggling, poaching of endangered wildlife by rich Chinese tourists, black marketing, etc.
Instead of addressing the root causes of the Tibetan people’s discontentment with the Chinese government, the authorities are focusing on the symptoms, which is a result of the very measures and policies that they have implemented in Tibet.
However, it is easy to imagine why the Chinese authorities keep resorting to distorting the truth when it comes to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the peaceful and non-violent movement of the Tibetan people. The Chinese authorities in Tibet need to keep the myth of ‘Dalai Clique’s criminal activities’ alive to maintain the massive surveillance infrastructure that serves as a tool to control the people and silence their genuine grievances.
Secondly, the regional response of the public security bureau in TAR to the circular issued by the central committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, exposes the growing trend of overzealous local officials bending over backwards and doctoring ground facts to please the bosses in Beijing.
History tells us that whenever Chinese authorities put in place a large scale, top down campaign or initiative, this was met with over compliance of overzealous officials trying to do more than they should. (Remember the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, etc.)
In addition, the fact that China is now effectively under a strongman rule makes matters even worse and particularly prone to this challenge. Xi Jinping who has succeeded in making himself the President of China for an indefinite term seems to operate almost entirely in a top-down manner. Moreover, his emphasis on control at the centre has spawned confusion and sycophancy at the ground level.
As a result, local officials are routinely accused of presenting doctored reports of growth and stability, effectively making China into a nation of ‘painted rust’, shiny on the outside, corroded on the inside.
Looping back to the reference to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it’s accurate to note that the key to stability and harmony in Tibet is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese government’s foolhardy measures of targeting him and the Tibetan people is counterproductive.
Instead of labeling His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a criminal and the Middle Way Approach as a narrow reactionary idea, the Chinese government should engage with him and thereby foster genuine harmony and long term stability in Tibet. It is time China realizes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the solution not the problem.