Will the cold Winter Wind continue to blow on the Roof of the World or a more refreshing Spring Breeze be felt? With the current instability in China, it is difficult to know in which direction the wind will blow
Xinhua recently filed a report on ‘extreme weather in Tibet’. Quoting the Chinese Meteorology Administration, the Chinese news agency said that heavy rain storms had been occurring since June 15 in the western part of Ngari Prefecture of Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR]. Located north of Uttarakhand, Ngari experienced the most extreme weather conditions; on June 17, an unimaginable 96 mm precipitation created havoc in Purang County; it was a new record for June. The weather was so bad that the first batch of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims reached the Tibetan border six days late and the following eight batches of the ‘Kailash yatra’ were cancelled by the Ministry of External Affairs.
But that is not all. At the same time, Tibet seemed to witness another ‘climatic change’, a political one. Can it be a Tibetan Spring? First, an interview of Prof Jin Wei of the Central Communist Party School, published by a Hong Kong weekly generated a lot of speculation. Is China&’s policy regarding Tibet changing?
Jin Wei (and Beijing) seemed bothered by the possibility of having two Dalai Lamas in the future (one in exile and one in China); Prof Wei suggested making friends with the Tibetan leader and inviting him to Hong Kong. Prof. Jin even admitted that the ‘Golden Urn’ process of selection for the Dalai Lamas can be manipulated (by who else than Beijing?).
The Tibetan blogger Tsering Woeser (today under house arrest) commented on Jin Wei&’s interview, saying it was a trick. Difficult to say, but one can foresee that Beijing&’s legitimacy in Tibet may be postponed for several decades if the next Dalai Lama takes birth in India or in the US.
Then, there was the announcement that some monasteries would have received the permission to display photographs of the Dalai Lama; further it would not be necessary anymore for the monks to criticize or demonize the Tibetan leader. What a big change!
The story first appeared in the Asia Sentinel in which a Tibetan journalist, Tsering Wangyal wrote: “In an abrupt and unexpected reversal of policy, Chinese government officials have told monks in some Tibetan areas that they are now free to worship the Dalai Lama as a religious leader.”
Wangyal affirmed: “The new policy document ~ prefixed with the word ‘experiment’ ~ also asked that the monks now refrain from criticizing the Dalai Lama.” The announcement was reportedly made during a conference held on June 14 at the Qinghai Provincial Buddhist School where a new party secretary was appointed.
The news was later picked up by Radio Free Asia and the world media.
Encouraging also was the visit of Gary Locke, the US Ambassador to China who travelled with his family and some of his staff to Tibet to ‘increase his familiarity with local conditions’.
The three-day trip was organized by the local government (though Padma Choling, the most senior Tibetan official was touring in the United States at that time). This was the first visit by an American official to the TAR since 2010.
More interesting was the visit to Lhasa, a week earlier, of Rigzin Wangmo, the only daughter of the previous (the 10th) Panchen Lama.
According to The South China Morning Post, Wangmo “travelled to Lhasa on her first visit for several years. Thousands of Tibetans greeted her outside Jokhang Palace before being dispersed by police.”
In 2006, Rinzin Wangmo gave a long interview to The Southern People Weekly. Describing her return to Lhasa in 2001, she said: “At the end of my 45-day visit, tens of thousands of Tibetan people gathered in the square of the Jokhang Temple to see me off. With tears in their eyes, they said, ‘Please come back often. We’ll miss you.’ Even as my car drove off, people continued to stand there, waving at me. At that moment, I felt that the responsibility I had taken on was heavier than the soreness in my arms.”
The same thing seems to have happened again last week.
Another sign of the thaw was the opening to public sight of the stone pillar on which is recorded the 821 CE Peace Agreement between China and Tibet. Eight hundred years ago, the kings of China and Tibet affirmed: “Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet, and Chinese in the land of China. Even the frontier guards shall have no anxiety, nor fear and shall enjoy land and bed at their ease. All shall live in peace and share the blessing of happiness for ten thousand years.”
Why is Beijing suddenly remembering this Treaty?
You may think that there is definitely a climatic change for the better on the Roof of the World, but paradoxically, Lhasa also experienced cold winter weather.
Woeser wrote on her blog: “Our Lhasa is on the Verge of Destruction! Please, Save Lhasa!” She added: “This is absolutely not a case of crying wolf!”
According to her, the streets, stalls, boutiques or guest houses of the Old City had to move out, to be replaced by high-end art and antique shops and fancy hotels. She said that with the renovation “all the buildings along the old streets have to have uniform facades and uniform signboards.”
In 2000 and 2001, UNESCO added the Jokhang and the Norbulingka to the World Heritage List (in addition to the Potala Palace), making Lhasa, a sacred place. But the Chinese have little respect for the UNESCO classification or sacredness. UNESCO is useful only as long it brings more tourists and money!
Other bad news. In March, Human Right Watch (HRW) reported on a new scheme to ‘help’ (read monitor) the Tibetan ‘masses’. The report titled: “China: Alarming New Surveillance, Security in Tibet ~ Restrictions Tightened on Tibetans Despite Lack of Threat” described an ‘Orwellian grid system’ which is designed to increase surveillance and monitoring, especially ‘special groups’ such as former prisoners or those who have returned from exile in India.
Apart from the grid system, 600 ‘convenience police-posts’ have been set up with high-tech equipment to monitor the daily life of the Tibetans. HRW also speaks of ‘increasingly active volunteer groups known as ‘Red Armband Patrols’ which are responsible for a pervasive surveillance of each and every citizen. This is definitely reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution.
A more recent HRW report speaks of ‘Mass Rehousing and Relocation Programs in Tibetan Areas of China’. It explains: “Since 2006, the Chinese government has implemented large-scale programs to ‘rehouse’ ~ through renovation of existing houses or construction of new ones ~ a majority of the rural population of the TAR under a policy called Comfortable Housing.”
Two million people would be affected. The government has also accelerated the relocation and sedentarization of nomadic herders in eastern Tibet.
Recently, Chen Quanguo, the TAR Communist Party boss went to Shigatse and threatened the monks at Tashilunpo Monastery; he denounced the Dalai Lama as ‘a splittist’ and told them that under the 10th Panchen Lama the monastery used to be ‘patriotic’. Chen told the monks that he sincerely hoped that they would continue to be ‘patriotic’ under the 11th Panchen Lama (selected by Beijing).
Does it mean that some monks are not sincere patriots?
Apparently Chen also visited a number of Public Security posts to see if the ‘grid’ system was properly in place. All this is not very cool; it sounds more like the coming of a new winter for the Tibetans.
Will the cold Winter Wind continue to blow on the Roof of the World or a more refreshing Spring Breeze be felt? With the current instability in China, it is difficult to know in which direction the wind will blow during the next political season.