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Tourism-Exploiting Tibet And Manipulating Tourists
Communist China’s efforts to ruthlessly exploit Tibet’s culture for purpose of propaganda and profit continue unchecked, not content with marketing Tibet‘s challenging and beautiful landscape (well the truncated and annexed fabrication it calls the Tibet Autonomous (sic) Region) as some form of Shangri-la playground; for eco-tourists, climbers, cyclists, canoeists, hikers and photographers (or anyone else so possessed of selfishness that they are prepared to overlook the tyranny in order to gain some exotic experience) the communist authorities are assiduously marketing Tibetan culture as a key commercial enterprise. Having invaded, annexed and violently suppressed Tibet and its people, in true colonialist fashion it is now engaged in profiting from supposedly authentic cultural enterprises by manipulating and exploiting foreign (and Chinese) tourists. It is a reminder of the humiliating tragedy that befell the native cultures of North America, their traditions and lifestyle assaulted by a vicious and intolerant colonizer, gaoled within the crippling misery of reservations, a fate which is being which is being enacted upon Tibet’s nomads who are being forced to live in what are effectively concentration settlements.
Those sepia images of native American peoples, that performed in any number of ’Wild West Shows’, retain a disturbing resonance today. Forced through oppression and conquest to scratch a living by displaying their horsemanship or ritual dancing to the beery applause of the very people who had stolen and eroded their lands and culture. The photographic archive of those times reveals, not only the dark stain upon the history of the United States, but graphically exposes the cynical and exploitative nature of colonization and arrogant imperialism of the dominant power. As evidenced by China’s actions inside occupied Tibet such expansionist corruption is not consigned to those yellowing pages of history, Tibetans are facing a similar shameless process, that seeks to extract maximum profit, through the callous perversion of Tibetan culture. Nowhere is the this more nauseatingly demonstrated perhaps than in the so-called National Minorities Park in Beijing, in which China’s grotesque parade of peoples it has subjugated is paraded for the questionable appreciation of tourists, who consume the lies without question, knowledge or worse, conscience.
Apart from the commercial advantages of promoting Tibetan culture, the Chinese regime is always keen to seek maximum propaganda advantage too for presenting its occupation in a positive light, by peddling the usual disinformation mantra of improved economic educational and health for Tibetans, since the jackbooted arrival of China’s storm troopers in 1949. It recognizes the value of tourism in that context and China’s Department of Propaganda has been unsleeping in its efforts to encourage visitors to occupied Tibet, knowing that perceptions and attitudes may be shaped to conform to the ideological lie that is China’s version of Tibet. A significant component of that sly conjuration is to exploit Tibetan culture and present a Sinocized version that echoes the official propaganda, corrupting and exaggerating authentic Tibetan customs into a theme park performance. Indeed Tibetan towns like Lhasa and Shigatse have become little more than entertainment venues in which tourists are moved around a number of precisely controlled and presented stages, removed from the grim reality of China’s oppression of Tibet, while carefully exposed to images approved by the occupying regime.
Central to that effort is the illusion of a vibrant and happy Tibetan culture, to endorse and legitimise the baseless claims made by China that its rule in occupied Tibet is benign and beneficial. “In Lhasa, we and our companions stayed in a stylish hotel with all that one would expect from a world-class facility. By appearance, the personnel were entirely Han. Our city tour guide was Han. Our bus drivers were Han. The people on the streets of Lhasa seemed to be 75 percent Han except inside the Jokhang Temple and in a small, two-block-long, open air market near the Temple. In the circuit around the Temple Chinese run all the high-end shops and almost all the outside trinket stalls.” (Testimony From Ms Linda Thom Foreign Tourist To Occupied Tibet 2007)
Visitors are also China’s ‘useful idiots’ in that they have a potential to disseminate propaganda fabrications among family, friends, colleagues, and more significantly across social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and upon personal Blogs. Yet those considering visiting occupied Tibet should realize that tourism is a significant contributor to China’s colonization, securing employment and business opportunities for its colonizers. Moreover, it is a powerful tool of manipulation and disinformation that serves China’s objectives to affirm Tibet as being an inalienable part of China.Assisting the creation of a perverse mirage of contented Tibetans, seemingly free to enjoy their culture. Beyond the satisfied myopia of the tourist however the erosion and exploitation of Tibet’s traditions, including its very language continues apace. The suffocating excesses of Chinese occupation has forced Tibetans into extreme choices, similar to that experienced by native peoples of America who were given stark options by the colonizing white man. As with the plight of those peoples, Tibetans face educational, health, economic and cultural apartheid, having become tourist curious in their own land, some are forced into an industry that exploit the very culture from they sprang. Their movements restricted, religion under assault and denied civil and political freedoms, the people of Tibet are witness to a cold-hearted profiteering of their lifestyle as tourism spreads, bringing with it a range of additional social problems and ever more Chinese settlers.
The cultural genocide that is being waged against Tibet has been accelerated to dangerous levels of intensity with the construction of the railway from so-called Qinghai (actually annexed Tibetan region of Amdo and parts of Kham) to Lhasa. Since its opening in 2006 it’s presence has permitted and encouraged a massive increase of Chinese tourists and migrants to the Tibetan capital, 4.38 million up to 2010, according to official Chinese sources. Foreign tourists boarding the train will not realize that the railway serves too as an economic and security artery maintaining China’s despotic military grip over the region. It is not so well known that the rail line’s communication system itself is part of China’s surveillance and intelligence network, called Golden Shield, which monitors and processes information on untold millions. Nor are the some 12, 000 tourists and colonizers brought each day to Lhasa normally aware of the military posts which line the rail route, another strategic reason for the line’s creation.
“The train we rode had a capacity for 885 passengers and was about 85 percent full. The Chinese run eight trains in and eight trains out of Tibet daily which means that 12,000 riders come and go each day. My husband and I guessed, by observation of all cars, that our train carried about 90 percent Han Chinese, perhaps 5 percent ‘long noses‘ (Europeans) and the remainder Tibetans.” (Testimony of Linda Thom foreign tourist in occupied Tibet 2007)
Tourism is a major component of China’s effort to further exploit and undermine Tibetan national identity and culture, it benefits virtually entirely the colonizers, marginalizing even further Tibetans. It insidiously promotes China’s propaganda and seeks to legitimise its baseless claim over Tibet by manipulating tourists and presenting distorted images of Tibet’s culture. Visitors to occupied Tibet should in no way consider they have witnessed the real Tibet, instead they are exposed to a cynically constructed and ersatz distortion of Tibetan culture, while the genuine traditions of Tibet are suppressed and eroded. Rather than becoming willing collaborators in that odious process those contemplating a vacation to occupied Tibet should ask themselves if they wish to stand in solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet, who resist the assault upon their culture and denial of national freedom, or endorse and support China’s occupying regime by sustaining and encouraging the colonization of Tibet.
Death exerts a profound grip over our innermost thinking and emotions, we spend our life (pun intended) running away from the thought of the grim reaper, becoming masters of evasion, denial and indulgent escapism to avoid facing the thought of our demise. Some seek refuge in the comforting arms of passion and relationships, others seek a path orgiastic excess, a few find solace in accruing untold millions, more indulge in the pleasurable ephemera of material comforts, A minority choose religion or philosophy to either wrestle with or accept the cold truth of our fleeting moment on this good earth. Not all such traditions however deal with death in a sane or realistic manner, it seems that condition is so dreadful that an alternative is required to provide the emotional and spiritual comfort to enable us to begin to accommodate our extinction. Hence over the passing centuries we have developed a number of fantastical promises of eternal life, paradise or heaven, balanced with a less pleasant option for those who enjoyed life to the full. Such dualism found its most fertile ideological soil within European thinking, although its origins are traced back to ancient Persia and beyond. Since the black and white promises of Judaeo-Christian thinking entered Western culture the fascination with death has not been diluted, despite the emergence of the Enlightenment, Empiricism and the rational thinking proposed by Science. We are still asking the same questions, continually looking for some hope of continuity beyond that gaping black hole. With such visceral anxieties it is no accident that Buddhism, with its notion of reincarnation has attracted a large following among certain social groups (usually of a more financially secure nature). Perhaps after all there is some opportunity that some small part of ‘me’ has an eternal nature, or mind itself will spin on through millennia, inhabiting, though seemingly ignorant of previous lives, numerous bodies. Such thinking of course misses the point entirely and Buddha would no doubt be utterly amused to hear questions from today’s Buddhists on the subject.
However as reflected in the attention and discussion invested by Tibetan Buddhist Lama’s, the subject of death and dying is central to our experience and an opportunity to experience transformation, surrender and impermanence. Unfortunately it is far easier to embrace that reality in an intellectual manner, the thought of it in terms of our mortality is still far too emotionally and psychologically precious. This may perhaps explain an event some years ago in which a prominent Tibetan Lama was giving a teaching in the West on the very subject of death. The auditorium was packed with folks all too eager to find some revelatory comfort or enlightenment that would perhaps lessen the painful truth of our ephemerality Having paid not inconsiderable entrance fees people sat in electric expectation as slowly the Lama made his way to a single chair positioned center stage. Sitting down he offered a brief prayer, cleared his throat, and then looked out into the darker reaches of the hall. After what stretched into a seeming eternity the silence was broken as he offered the following remarks; “Death…much ado about nothing”. At which point the raised himself gently from the chair and exited the stage. That teaching was a beautiful and intelligent response to a western obsession with death and also an expression of the earthed sanity in which death is considered within Tibetan culture and thinking. In many ways death has been sanctified and venerated within Western society, it has also of late been thoroughly industrialized and somewhat sanitized too, the disposal of our loved one’s remains concealed with graceful and respectful finery. Of course there is much needed comfort and relief in such ritual, yet in gentrifying the true nature of our demise, or those we love, there is societal, emotional and psychological avoidance too.
Tibetan culture has a radically different approach to death, one thoroughly based upon the realism that all is indeed impermanent and empty of itself, that once dead a body is simply a vacuous shell, part of the cycle of decay and growth. The ritual and process for disposing of the dead in Tibet has been determined by both religious culture and also the landscape and climate. For millennia a nomadic society, Tibetans roamed the grasslands and alpine deserts of Tibet, very much exposed to the elements and mindful of the transitory nature of life. Informed by, and devoted to, profound and complex philosophical teachings, that emphasized impermanence, while stressing the preciousness of mind, funerary customs developed that reflected those factors. To the fossilized and fragile traditions of Judaeo-Christian thinking that prevails in the West such practices may appear somewhat distasteful or sacrilegious, however the traditions of disposing of the dead by cutting up a corpse and offering the remains to Tibet’s sacred birds (Editor’s note: contains graphic images) is perfectly understandable within the social, philosophical and geographic context which has operated in Tibet since ancient times.
Of course it is shocking to see such practices, raising all sorts of emotions indeed, yet Tibetan culture has evolved a complicated and precise form of ritual to honor and aid the dying and to respect their mind and future lives over mortal remains. It recognizes that death is indeed “much ado about nothing” and that whether a body is consumed by fire, worms, maggots or vultures does not measure a culture or people as being inherently irreverent or brutal. Recently however on a number of social sites, most prominently Twitter, images of Tibet’s funerary practices; taken following the tragedy of the earthquake in Kham, Eastern Tibet, have been posted to extract pleasure, from either a sense of morbidity or to shock others. Yet such postings are not simply the work of those diminished by some twisted sense of the macabre but are being promoted via communist China’s unsleeping supporters to frame Tibetans as somehow heartless primitives, a distortion which the communist Chinese authorities have been peddling for many years. All part of an imperialistic thinking that pushes the bogus legitimization of ‘liberating’ Tibetan culture and introducing progress and modernity. Such crude propaganda is unconcerned with the facts, nor with the cultural, geographic and religious traditions which have resulted in this form of funerary rite, Neither are the malicious agents of communist disinformation able to balance their poisonous actions against the fact that while such practices may well have understandable impact upon western thinking, these very specific rituals upon cadavers are nothing in comparison to the machinery of violence, cruelty, oppression, torture and suffering which communist China’s illegal occupation of Tibet inflicts upon the living. Our repulsion, distress, shock and anger is better served at responding to the brutal injustices and human rights atrocities that characterizes communist Chinese rule, than an understandably astonished reaction to funeral practices and religious traditions alien to Occidental culture.
China’s Friends No Friends Of Freedom
US policy China has proved a singular failure in terms of promoting human rights and moderating communist China’s odious action in Tibet or East Turkestan. Most influentially engineered by Henry Kissinger, and others with vested and invested interests in China, and affirmed by President Richard Nixon, successive US Administrations have followed a line which has vacillated between so-called constructive engagement (a barely disguised form of appeasement in which a never realized promise of improvement in freedoms and rights is the reward for trade with China) and hand-wringing platitudes or cautious condemnation of major incidents of human rights abuses or suppression. Neither strategy, if it may be reasonably described as such, has had any meaningful impact upon the grim excesses of Chinese rule in Tibet or East Turkestan, the only major beneficiaries has been the bankers and corporations, who long ago shredded any ethical reservations about trading with China’s blood-soaked regime. As a policy it has proved both inconsistent and morally toothless in the context of human rights, and at times hypocritical, as evidenced by comparing the comments on Tibet made by President Obama in Beijing November 17, 2009, and his rhetoric at West Point on December 1 2009. See here: http://tibettruth.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/prezbs.gif
The United States has limited its actions on such issues to verbal huffing and puffing, this somewhat impotent position emerged from the murky political waters the Clinton Administration found itself in, when its was forced by Beijing’s slick manoeuvring to disengage human rights concerns from granting China Most Favoured Nation status. This hugely influential concession was followed by the withdrawal of American opposition to China’s membership of the Word Trade Organization (WTO)). That controversial membership was eventually confirmed November 10, 2001 as George W Bush settled into a Whitehouse paralysed by the tragic events in New York just two months earlier. This development effectively removed the option of economic leverage as a means of influencing or moderating China, as the United States could no longer consider trade restrictions as a response to threats toward Taiwan, human rights violations in Tibet or religious persecution.
Since that time China’s global economic influence has increased to the point of dominance, in 2008 China sold $338 billion worth of goods to American consumers and business, more than the combined annual revenue of Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola, Boeing, Johnson & Johnson and Goldman Sachs. American businesses sold only $71 billion to communist China. Meanwhile it continues to acquire huge amounts of US Federal bonds (Chinese US Treasury bond holdings were USD 727 billion at the end of December 2008, and holdings of US government agency debt were approximately USD 527 billion at the end of June 2008). Such staggering statistics, and the unstable economic symmetry between the US and China, leave little room for considerations of human rights or the plight of Tibet.
The task of overseeing economic relations with Beijing has been given to a Mr.Timothy Geithner, another China hand, who formerly majored in Asian studies. learned Mandarin, and had spent a number of years at Kissinger Associates, working with Brent Scowcroft (Scowcroft along with Lawrence Eagleburger had been dispatched in 1989 by Bush Senior to Beijing just twenty fours after the massacre at Tiananmen, to reportedly assure the communist regime that despite its decision to suspend high level contacts with China, and the US Administration’s condemnation, it was to be business as usual)
Geithner also assisted Henry Kissinger with chapters on China and Japan for one of his books. Not that the architect of US rapprochement with Beijing needs many lessons on China, it was his hands that steered Nixon to normalise relations with Beijing in 1972, which formed the foundation of US policy on China. Significantly in the issues presented to the communist leadership for discussion between the two sides, neither human rights issues or Tibet feature, as revealed in this fascinating Kissinger-Memorandum
Since that momentous meeting a veritable pro-China industry emerged, championed by a well-funded, vociferous and influential China lobby. Kissenger is a unique, and prominent and figure with the ‘friends of china movement‘, advocating accommodation and realism as requirements for relations with Beijing, while seemingly unable to represent any condemnation or opposition to the more troubling aspects of China. Speaking days after the bloody slaughter at Tiananmen Square, as the US Congress was considering sanctions, he reportedly informed ABC television’s Peter Jennings “I wouldn’t do sanctions” (Wall Street Journal September 12, 1989). Kissinger’s China sympathies extended beyond that controversial remark:
“No government in the world would have tolerated the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators” (Los Angeles Times July 30, 1989)
As has been noted elsewhere, Geithner’s mentor, tends to express excuses for China while his famed analytical thinking omits discussion or critique of human rights concerns. Nor is it articulated in any of his writings, or that of his fellow China lobbyists, to what degree those who promote positive and normalized US relations with China benefit financially from such stealthy advocation, Clearly Kissinger Associates would seem to represent a number of major US businesses wishing to trade with China, all of whom no doubt would be willing to reward him and his colleagues for having access to the higher levels of Chinese government? Similarly both Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, one time executives with Kissinger’s project, would also be expected to receive considerable benefits, a fact previously reported by the New York Times.
The politics of appeasing China though uncritical accommodation has dominated US relations with the Chinese regime, and has been actively promoted by a number of former US Government figures, who it would seem are those most likely to profit from such a position. Through advising companies such individuals can generate considerable rewards, as they have what is known in Chinese as Guan xi (connections) and are able to facilitate contact between corporate executives and the corrupt and privileged elite within the Chinese government. Such self-serving consultancy has become an powerfully influential establishment, whose cancerous tentacles have been extended across the political scene in Washington, and within the board rooms of most major American business. Apart from Kissinger Associates, the controversial diplomat also set up, in the same year of Tiananmen Square massacre, China Ventures, and two years later established the China-America Society, which had a number of former US Presidents upon its committee. These bodies had, we are informed, amongst its clients: American Express, American International Group, Chase Manhattan Bank, Atlantic Richfield, HJ Heinz, SG Warburg, Midland Bank and Coca Cola.
Other former political heavyweights reportedly associated with Kissinger Associates included, Robert Mc Farlane, Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Rogers and Alexander Haig. It was Haig, during the late 1980s and into the 1990s, who argued against condemning China’s record on human rights in favour of greater cooperation. A position some would speculate may have been shaped by financial gains received by Haig as a consequence of his pro-China lobbying (he received a payment of £600, 000 from International Signal and Control Group as part of assistance provided in selling weapons fuses to China. (Wall Street Journal January 23, 1990).
As so tellingly noted by Premier Hu Jintao:
“As old friends of the Chinese people, you played an important role in establishing China-U.S. diplomatic ties and witnessed that historic decision. For a long time, whether in office or retired, you have made unremitting efforts in building the friendship between the two nations and developing the relationship. I highly appreciate those efforts.” (Hu Jintao’s address January 12, 2009 to Delegation of Former US Government Officials)
The degree to which America’s policy towards China has been influenced and determined by such appeasing voices is alarming, setting the United States upon a course that abandoned valued principles of democratic freedom and universal human rights. Effectively strangling its ability to moderate, censor or oppose the more disturbing aspects of communist China. An indication of the success of the pro-China lobby was reflected in the words of a Senate aide, who remarked that:
“We cannot have a meaningful debate about China policy because almost the entire establishment has, in the final analysis, an interest in the continuation of the status quo”
Other dominant voices supporting commerce and collaboration with China, which operate so effectively from their K Street Washington power-base, include the Emergency Committee for US Trade, US Chamber of Commerce and the US China Business Council. The latter is formed from an impressive number of major American enterprises, for details see here: http://www.uschina.org/member_companies.html
The charmingly named China Normalization Initiative is another lobbying body, that exerted a profound and decisive influence over US China policy, formed by a number of Chief Executive Officers from major corporations. Companies reportedly active within this ‘coalition in support of China’ include Motorola, Boeing, American International Group, Caterpillar, and Allied Signal . Often such corporations express statements which bear a remarkable similarity to official Chinese economic policy and we can only wonder to what extent such pro-China values are authored as result of the various financial and political arrangements enabled by organizations such as Kissinger Associates et al. What is clear is that the pernicious campaign to ensure commerce with China dominates, marginalises and silences human rights considerations is a key determinant in all areas US policy on China. Some would go further and caution that America’s policy is actually being authored by those very interests, supported, demanded and approved by a US Treasury under the leadership of Timothy Geithner, a former Kissinger acolyte and yet another friend of China.
We should also add to that coalition of appeasement, major media organizations who have links, financial and otherwise, with various corporations and have engaged in a willing collaboration with the Chinese regime, most notably attending a media conference in Beijing which avoided any political or human rights issues including censorship, a major feature of life inside China. See: http://tibettruth.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/media-moguls-party-in-beijing/
An influential role in promoting the ‘appeasement at any cost model’ is also played by academic institutions such as the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a division of Johns Hopkins University based in Washington, D.C. Coincidently the former university of Timothy Geithner, and at which Kissinger Associate’s, Zbigniew Brzezinski is professor of foreign policy. Dedicated to the study of international affairs, economics, diplomacy, and policy research and education it is distinguished for having an international campus in Nanjing China The Hopkins-Nanjing Center Co-Founder and former Hopkins President, Steven Muller considered China to be “the country of the future” .
Its mission objectives, which would no doubt receive the approval of Kissinger and his associates, are:
“To develop and train professionals to provide leadership in managing successful bilateral and multilateral relationships involving China and the West in an increasingly complex international environment.”
The cynical collective which advances China’s cause at the expense of human rights and democratic principles and those who maintain a shameful silence to preserve and enhance career and research opportunities within China, present a legitimate target for anyone actively championing justice, freedom and independence for Tibet and East Turkestan, and wishing to challenge the censorship and distortions which this coalition specialises in exercising in respect to communist China. It may be politically and economically powerful, yet the individuals and organizations which make up its ad hoc membership remain accountable to the court of public opinion. Their consistent distortions concealment, evasions and callous indifference to the plight of the oppressed within communist China and occupied territories, such as Tibet and East Turkestan, demand rigorous and concerted opposition. While their actions should be exposed and challenged by all those who value basic human rights and political freedom.
Nobel Legacy Corrodes Tibetan Cause
On this day (December 10 2009) twenty years ago the Norwegian city of Oslo was covered in snow. Fur coats, strong beer and hats kept alive the good people of the frozen north. Above the prestigious Grand Hotel the Tibetan flag snapped in the bone-chilling arctic wind. Tibet’s political leader, the Dalai Lama was to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace from the famous Nobel Institute. Norwegians and Tibetans marched through the streets in a torchlight parade greeted by the Tibetan leader from his balcony. The flames sparkled under the cold skies and hope burned brightly for Tibet that night.
1989 had witnessed mass protests on the streets of Lhasa, as ever Tibetans were sustained in their struggle by a belief that one day Tibet would regain its independence. To world-wide condemnation the demonstrations were violently crushed, hundreds of Tibetans were gunned down and tanks and armoured-troop carriers patrolled the Tibetan capital. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/14/world/chinese-said-to-kill-450-tibetans-in-1989.html It was such scenes which generated international attention and sympathy for Tibet, and no doubt served to partly influence the decision of the Nobel Committee to give its most valued award to the Dalai Lama. That recognition was greeted with joy by Tibetans, who understandably interpreted the event as an indication that their cause to regain Tibet’s freedom was receiving international acclaim and support.
As President Barack Obama, fresh from his decision to dispatch another 30 000 troops to bolster the United State’s controversial and failing military campaign in Afghanistan, prepares to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and stands before the assembled guests to talk of peace and honour, Tibetans may care to briefly reflect upon how the objectives and solutions of their cause have changed since His Holiness received the award.
Casting-an-eye over the two decades since the Tibetan political leader was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize it is difficult not to consider that the hopes generated that night proved to be misplaced. The evidence for such a conclusion was to be found not in the understandable celebration, or the gilded rituals of the Nobel Committee, but within the pages of the controversial Strasbourg Speech, which had been made in 1988. This statement, which is wrongly understood as being a proposal (it was not a concrete or formal offer and never submitted as such) generated considerable outrage among Tibetans, since it signalled a willingness by the Tibetan Administration to concede Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, with its concept of Tibet becoming a self-governing political entity with associative status within China. Although not entirely an overwhelming declaration in support of Tibetan political and territorial independence it did contain one very critical element, which is worth quoting in full:
“I would like to emphasise, however that whatever the outcome of negotiations with the Chinese maybe , the Tibetan people themselves must be the ultimate deciding authority. Therefore any proposal will contain a comprehensive procedural plan to ascertain the wishes of the Tibetan people in a nationwide referendum”. (The Dalai Lama, Strasbourg June 15th 1988).
That important condition effectively asserted that nothing-in-fact had been conceded, since the ultimate decision, concerning the status of Tibet remained in the hands of the Tibetan people, who would not settle for anything less than complete independence. Interestingly this major implication was either overlooked or callously ignored by the international community which considered the Strasbourg Speech to be a major concession that accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. It would appear that on such selective or flawed understanding the Strasbourg Speech was instrumental in the decision to confer the Nobel Pace Prize to the Tibetan leader. Which was presented for his “..constructive and forward looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts..” and solutions which would “..preserve the historical and cultural and heritage of his people” (Nobel Committee October 5th 1989)
On accepting the award the Dalai Lama was in some ways stepping into a straight-jacket in which the issue of Tibet was subsequently defined not in terms of nation, self-determination and independence, but within the restrictive limitations of a resolution which ultimately conceded Tibetan nationhood for cultural heritage and religious expression. In regards to relations with Beijing this suited the political and diplomatic needs of the United States, Britain, and a number of European countries, who had long acknowledged China’s false claims over Tibet. These self-proclaimed champions of freedom and democracy had no interest in supporting the Tibetans in their cause for independence. Indeed they wanted Tibet as an international and political issue transformed into one of human rights, since this would avoid encroaching upon what remained a subject of incredible sensitivity for China, namely Tibet’s right to self-determination and questions concerning the legitimacy of Chinese rule in Tibet. That objective was given and emphatic and forceful approval when President Barack Obama submitted to Beijing’s demands that he publicly acknowledge China’s bogus claim of sovereignty over Tibet.
Although Tibet’s rightful claims to independence had received no political support since approaching the United Nations following 1959, the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination remained, and offered a possibly productive direction for the Tibetan cause. However, the Nobel Peace Prize and the resultant re-branding of Tibet as an issue would abandon that route, and the hopes of Tibetans for a free and independent state. Understandably not many Tibetans will be concerned or will refuse to acknowledge that their leader willingly drank from what was a poisoned chalice, they will be too busy coming together to celebrate with pride the international recognition which was conferred upon His Holiness on December 10, 1989.
With world leaders and the international community applauding the Tibetan leader for his peaceful determination to resolve conflict and desire to preserve what was weakly, yet deliberately, defined as Tibet’s historic and cultural heritage, the direction of the Tibetan cause would be changed significantly. What had been an issue regarding a people’s struggle for national freedom and self-determination was transformed into conflict resolution, in which the political aspirations of the Tibetan people were marginalized. The issue of Tibet’s status was clearly not upon the agenda of governments, or the Nobel Committee, while, whatever the shortcomings of the Strasbourg Speech; which was to be eventually jettisoned in 1991 by the Tibetan Administration in the face of Chinese rejection (which condemned it as a veiled bid for independence) its contents provide an illuminating contrast to the current strategy as featured in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy For The Tibetan People. It also reveals the alarming nature and extent of concessions made by the Tibetan Administration in its efforts to appease Beijing. Take a look at some key areas of the Strasbourg Speech:
“The whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) should become a self-governing democratic political entity….”
“The Government of Tibet should be founded on a constitution or basic law. The basic law should provide for a democratic system of government…”
“As individual freedom is the real source and potential of any society’s development, the Government of Tibet would seek to ensure this freedom by full adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to speech, assembly and religion.”
The emphasis on democratic governance, law and individual freedoms does not appear in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy For The Tibetan People. Instead the Tibetan Administration presses it willingness to accept so called genuine autonomy within the communist Chinese constitution. Also absent is an unambiguous declaration of what territory would constitute a future Tibetan polity. That has been replaced with a more dilute and confused definition in which Tibet is described as “comprising all the areas currently designated by the PRC as Tibetan autonomous areas”. This extends a worrying negotiating advantage to Beijing and leaves dangerous room for compromise and territorial surrender. Amdo, one of Tibet’s traditional regions (see map below) although containing so-called Tibetan autonomous territories is, at a national level within communist Chinese law, not a designated autonomous region but a distinct Chinese province (so-called Qinghai).
Most crucially what stands out between the discarded Strasbourg Speech and the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy For The Tibetan People is how the current proposals provide no engagement or guarantee for Tibetans in determining the future status of their country. This is a major and worrying retreat from the position of the Dalai Lama since he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize twenty years ago to the day. His people inside Tibet, and the overwhelming majority in exile, remain determined to strive for an independent Tibetan nation, yet have been effectively sidelined by their own Administration, and completely excluded from any possibility of shaping their political and territorial destiny.
While the Tibet movement has made some incredible progress since that night in Oslo, becoming far more sophisticated and effective in terms of campaigns, public relations and media management, it remains frustratingly conformist in regard to the policies promoted by the Tibetan Administration. Largely silent, as it watches in slow motion the exiled Tibetan Government seek a negotiated solution which would ensure the death of Tibetan national identity, and the extinction of any hopes of a free and independent Tibet.
Recalling the forceful and widespread reaction to the apparent concessions of the Strasbourg Speech, it is ironic that Tibetans now appear more compliant, (convinced perhaps by the doom-laden message of despair and defeatism which their administration has been peddling to argue the correctness of its failed strategy of appeasement) and willing to accept the prevailing orthodoxy. Yet the concessions and objectives of the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy For The Tibetan People present far more dangerous compromises than the contents of the Strasbourg Speech. Where is the opposition to this insane surrender, which would extinguish any hopes of a free Tibetan nation? It is time to recapture the sprit of optimism and determination that inspired Tibetan hearts during 1989, and continues to courageously resist Chinese occupation today, for the people of Tibet to assert their authority over what remains their legitimate cause for freedom and independence.
Rangzen Memorial Proposal
It is a sad fact that within the exiled Tibetan elementary education system there is virtually no study of the twenty year war- of-resistance waged by Tibetans against communist Chinese occupation following the invasion of 1950. Nor it would appear does the ongoing Tibetan resistance appear on the curriculum for Tibetan children. Apart from schooling in essential subjects, the emphasis is upon the remarkable achievements of the Dalai Lama, the history and role of Tibetan Government in Exile, the noble truths of Buddhism and the profuse and ancient Tibetan cultural traditions.
There is it would seem no place for recent Tibetan history, no accommodation of the heroic sacrifices of Chushi Gangdruk, whose inspiring and valorous exploits are perversely absent. The struggle for nationhood, individual sacrifices, the political aspiration for Tibetan independence, its sense of national identity and political history has been selectively excluded by Tibetan education administration in favour of affirming more passive and Buddhist cantered values. Arguably no bad things, however at a period when Tibet’s culture is under increasing assault and erosion, with Tibetans facing violent oppression yet resisting communist Chinese rule, surely to educate younger Tibetans about of the inspiring sacrifices of their compatriots, and the movement to regain Tibet’s just and historic independence, would serve to create a powerful sense of unity and purpose. Within a somewhat fractured and disillusioned Tibetan Diaspora, torn by loyalties towards the Dalai Lama and a heartfelt desire for a free and independent Tibet.
Unfortunately there exists within the Tibetan Administration neither the will, interest, or support to afford this subject a prominent and formal place within the exiled Tibetan school curriculum. It would after all possibly generate further opposition to the vacuous and failed Middle Way Approach (which has abandoned Tibetan nationhood with its proposals to accept Chinese dominated autonomy). Yet in concealing and censoring any meaningful study of Tibet’s resistance to Chinese occupation an immensely valuable opportunity is being cast aside, that would invest a sorely needed sense of purpose and determination within Tibetan society and unite, in action and objectives, the will of Tibetans within and beyond Tibet, to strive with one heart for the national freedom of their country.
It is after all a unique and incredible story. A people who despite five decades of suppression, cultural destruction, human rights violations, mass-colonization and assimilation, remain fiercely determined to resist Chinese rule and fight for Tibetan independence, armed only with truth and courage, against a ruthless killing-machine, that seeks the elimination of a separate Tibetan national identity. That resistance, belief and objective, though resulting in individual suffering and loss, is a remarkable display of heroism, and a cause for celebration.
The courageous sacrifices of the Tibetan people should be an inspirational rallying call in the cause of a free and independent Tibet, and most certainly honoured and recognized by the exiled Tibetan Administration, not airbrushed by a prevailing orthodoxy, from history books. Moreover it can serve to unite all Tibetans and their supporters behind one nation, one people, one solution-independence for Tibet. Yet the historic resistance and present sacrifices remain largely ignored, a shameful betrayal of all those Tibetans who gave their lives and freedom for their nation’s independence. That demands to be challenged.
In that context Tibettruth wishes to publicly suggest to Tibetans within the Tibetan Youth Congress, Chushi Gangdruk, Tibetan Associations and the TYAE, the creation of Rangzen Memorial Stones which would bear an inscription in Tibetan, and the language of the host country, to be set up in appropriate places. These could act as an assembly point on relevant dates within the Tibetan calendar, provide an important and powerful symbolic focus for Tibetan communities, which may allow members to honour and reflect on the fight for Rangzen, past and present. We cannot allow that struggle to go un-noticed and dishonoured.
No Escape From Censorship
Each year many Tibetans make the perilous journey across the world’s highest mountain range seeking refuge in India to escape the violent suppression waged against Tibetan culture by communist China. Denied genuine freedom inside Tibet, fear coats the landscape, with Tibetans unable to express openly their political hopes. To do so would be a form of suicide as every aspect of society under Chinese occupation is monitored and tightly controlled. Ever fearful of informers, and knowing the brutal consequences of speaking-out, Tibetans suffer a paralysing frustration which cannot be allowed to surface for fear of attracting the unwelcome attention of the communist Chinese authorities. For the majority there exists an almost permanent state-of-terror, knowing that at any time homes can be raided, arrests made, followed by torture and on many occasions execution. Yet for the tourist vultures who descend upon Tibet during the summer months signs of this burden are seldom seen, instead they are faced with the welcoming smiles of a genuinely warm and kind hearted people. Such a greeting reinforces the reputation of Tibetans as a robust and happy people, however behind closed doors, away from the rapacious camcorders of foreign intrusion, an unbearable sadness dominates. One that compels some to risk the world’s most dangerous odyssey.
Should escaping Tibetans manage to avoid the bullets of Chinese and Nepalese security forces and eventually reach the safety of Indian territory, most make their way to the Dharamasala, home of the exiled Dalai Lama and his Administration. Their personal details having been recorded they wait, expectation filling their eyes, in long lines to receive a blessing from their supreme political and spiritual authority. Clearly overwhelmed and barely able to contain their joy some break-down and weep, others experience a cathartic unburdening of the oppression and injustice which they have experienced, informing the Dalai Lama of personal abuses they, or family members, received. Some talk of the struggle for Tibet’s independence and the resistance to Chinese rule, the Tibetan leader feels and hears the cry of his people and knows what lies in their hearts.
However the transition from escapee to refugee is a difficult road, adapting to new circumstances, within a Tibetan community relatively confident and settled within Indian society, basic educational and medical support is provided by the Tibetan Administration, yet much is alien and challenging. At least there is now the air-of-freedom to breathe, no longer fettered by the oppressive chains of Chinese domination there is an occasion to continue the struggle for Tibet without fear, suppression and censorship. There are a number of organisations to join, the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women’s Association, or the ex Tibetan political prisoner’s group Chol-Ka -Sum, all of which advocate independence for Tibet. For any Tibetan previously silenced by years of disabling oppression it must be an intoxicating feeling to have such opportunity, yet although on the dusty streets of India there is no law against carrying Tibet’s national flag, and protesters can openly call for Tibet’s freedom, there are nevertheless forces-at-work, albeit more subtle, which in their own way exercise a degree of censorship and oppression.
Interestingly these have accompanied every Tibetan seeking a life-of-exile since 1959 and their origin lies in the profound sense of loyalty and respect which Tibetans hold towards the Dalai Lama. It is a devotion not witnessed in the West since perhaps medieval times, when the Pope was in every sense of the word considered holy. Demanding of itself, and willingly accepted on a personal Tibetan level, complete obeisance, and generating a public conformity and pattern of compliance, this operates within a cautious and conservative Tibetan culture lacking any tradition of democratic opposition or political critique. Unless counting times when Tibet was independent and Tibetan plays could feature the lampooning of Tibetan government figures (not though the Dalai Lama) to the delight of Tibetan audiences. Who could indulge through laughter, silently held views. This being the point, there seems to be an historic cultural tradition where privately an individual holds a range of burning political opinions with respect to the Tibetan Government, yet maintains a conformist public façade. The influences which encourage such censorial compliance spring from the reverence held towards the Dalai Lama, take the following words from Tsewang Dhondup who fled from Tibet in May 2009: “To be honest, what I want is independence, but I think it’s important for Tibetans to follow whatever His Holiness the Dalai Lama says.” http://www.phayul.com/news/tools/print.aspx?id=25239&t=1
This is a common view held by Tibetans, a middle-way position on the Dalai Lama’s policy is a far safer option than being seen to be openly critical, which exposes a real risk of being charged with opposing and insulting the Tibetan leader. A crime in Tibetan society from which there is no rehabilitation, often no more than a baseless accusation is required to forever brand an individual, suspected, charged and punished
This combination of piety and fear ensures a submissive and overwhelmingly silent community, one that presents virtually no critical examination or opposition to its own Administration. It is a particularly virulent form of censorship in that it exists, not by oppressive measures imposed by authority (as experienced in Chinese occupied Tibet) but through the self-imposed and cultural compliance of individuals. In that sense it is far more effective and guarantees a staggering degree of operational freedom and authority to the Tibetan Administration, that governments around the world can only enviously dream of. Supported without question by a deferential population autocracy continues to dominate the exiled Tibetan political landscape permitting the exiled Tibetan Government to follow even the most controversial and potentially dangerous courses of action, in the knowledge that criticism will be virtually non-existent, and importantly can always be easily managed through encouraging charges of being opposed to the wishes of the Dalai Lama. This can be achieved through its extensive network of officials and supporters, it takes only one word in the right ear and a Tibetan settlement can be set- ablaze with rumour and allegation. No Tibetan wishes the cold eye-of-suspicion upon himself or his family, much easier to comply and keep political opinion indoors.
So it is that the Tibetan Government in Exile operates without any restraint or accountability, supremely confident that it will be unchallenged, and arrogantly indifferent to the stifled opinion of Tibetans. This explains why and how it is able to impose, unopposed, upon its people a strategy which surrenders Tibetan nationhood, accepts communist Chinese law on so-called autonomy, and concedes that Tibetans are not a people, but a Chinese minority nationality. In any other political struggle such treacherous action by a leadership would result in the storming of government headquarters demanding answers and a radical change of policy. Certainly the Irish, Palestinians, Kurds and East Timorese would not have tolerated such an autocratic betrayal, yet virtually all Tibetans have remained obediently silent as their Administration promotes the surrender of Tibetan nationhood. Should negotiations between the Dalai Lama’s private envoys (Note: Not official Tibetan Government representatives, itself a great concern) and communist China move forward, with an acceptance of Chinese demands, no doubt those Tibetans returning (and how many will want to?) to life inside a still oppressed and marginalized Tibetan culture, will draw some meagre comfort in the face of continued suppression, by being able to say that they were not disloyal to His Holiness.
Sino-Tibet Conference Betrays Tibet Cause
The Tibetan Administration packs-its-bags in preparation for the trip to Geneva to attend the forthcoming International Sino-Tibetan Conference, August 6 to 8, at which Tibetan and Chinese academics, former communist party officials, advocates and writers will search for a commonality, to create a understanding, between what is being increasingly described as two communities, and to explore options for a peaceful solution of the Tibetan issue. It all sounds very reasonable of course, distinguished and experienced authorities, honoured by a key-note speech from the Dalai Lama, converging to determine that a resolution can be found. Beyond the warm and reassuring reasonableness however it may prove more accurate to think of this event, not as an open and democratic forum or a crucible for creative exchange and dissent, but a highly polished public-relations exercise, designed to endorse and promote the prevailing orthodoxy of the Tibetan Administration. In all likelyhood there will be a number of key absences, which could seriously invalidate its credentials as a representative forum, including no place for Tibetan public opinion, or discussion on Tibet’s rights to statehood. Yet in entertaining possible solutions delegates must surely accept that if any eventual settlement was to have integrity or political gravity it would need to address that issue, and more importantly require the authorization and participation of the Tibetan people, a fact long recognized by the Dalai Lama:
“I have always stated that the central issue is that the Tibetan people must ultimately choose their own destiny. It is not for the Dalai Lama, and certainly not for the Chinese to make that decision. It should ultimately be the wishes of the Tibetan people that should prevail” (The Dalai Lama, Yale University, 9th October 1991)
Yet those reasonable and just words appear to have been consigned to history by an Administration which no longer seeks to accomodate and respect the political will of its people, but is determining a solution that would deny Tibetans any genuine decision or involvement. It has autocratically decided what solution will meet the political demands of Tibetans by imposing, upon an inceasingly frustrated and disillusioned population, a strategy of appeasement and compromise. Tibet’s future status will no longer require the assent of the Tibetan nation but will be determined by an elite who have surrendered any prospect of either self-determination or independence. These individuals favor so-called meaningful autonomy, which concedes that Tibetans are not a distinct people, with all the political, territorial and cultural rights which flow from that definition, but a Chinese ‘nationality’, a so-called ethnic-minority with only the dubious assurances of communist China’s laws on regional autonomy as any guarantee! Perversely it is that authoritarian capitulation, barely concealed behind the conference slogan of ‘Finding Common Ground’, which will be presented in Geneva as a hopeful solution for the issue of Tibet.
More importantly where is the common ground between the Tibetan Administration and its own people, who are struggling, not for so called ‘meaningful autonomy’ but for Tibet’s independence. As witnessed during the Uprisings in 2008 Tibetans, though obviously loyal to the Dalai Lama, share a profound and longstanding desire for a free and independent nation. This has been recognized by the Dalai Lama:
“I also know that every Tibetan hopes and prays for the full restoration of our nation’s independence” (HH The Dalai Lama March 10-1994)
If the Tibetan leader does not know the political hopes of his own people who does? Others have recognized the nature of the political struggle inside Tibet and reached similar outcomes, the prestgious and authoritive Conference of International Lawyers on Issues Relating to Self-Determination and Independence For Tibet (London January 6 to 10 1993) concluded that the Tibetan people possessed an “abiding desire” for:
“The establishment of an independent Tibetan state” Paragraph 4.10
That appetite has not abated, if anything as the suppression and exploitation of Tibet’s culture has increased so has the demand for Tibet’s independence, along with widespread protests supporting that objective. Such facts however do not seem to have informed the inane and vacuous strategy of the Tibetan Administration, as evidenced by the appeasing conclusions of its so-called Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People See Here
“Whereas, we are committed, therefore, to fully respect the territorial integrity of the PRC, we expect the Central Government to recognise and fully respect the integrity of the Tibetan nationality and its right to exercise genuine autonomy within the PRC. We believe that this is the basis for resolving the differences between us and promoting unity, stability and harmony among nationalities.” (emphass added)
That same document concludes by asserting that:
“The objective of the Tibetan Government in Exile is to represent the interests of the Tibetan people and to speak on their behalf.”
In what sense of the word ‘interests’ are the people of Tibet in any way served by an administration that ignores the political aspirations of its own people, ordains a policy of appeasement which would commit Tibetans to a parlous and uncertain future as an ethnic-minority under the tender mercies of communist Chinese law? Not that we can expect that to be debated in the comforts of Geneva.
A Strategy of Denial and Evasion
In a futile effort to appease Communist China the Tibetan Administration continues its petrified strategy of compromise in the hope of encouraging negotiations. Having unilaterally jettisoned Tibetan independence as a political goal, a concession that has singularly failed to impress the Chinese, and invited a deepening sense of frustration within the exiled Tibetan community, Dharamsala’s insistence of ‘unconditional talks’ leading to a ‘certain degree of freedom’, a language of dangerous surrender, concedes complete political and territorial control to China. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry continues its uncompromising demands
The momentum of this capitulation has been growing for some time, encouraged by remarks made by the exiled Tibetan Prime Minister, and promoted by the Dalai Lama in his annual March 10 statements. In a filmed interview during March 2009 Samdhong Rinpoche plumbed new depths of appeasement when, responding to accusations made by China’s Wen Jiabao that the West exploited the Dalai Lama, replied:
“If there is any truth, they should establish with evidences. As far as the Tibet issue is concerned, we have nothing to do with Western countries. We consider this is an internal matter of the People’s Republic of China,and if the People’s Republic of China is willing to deal with us as an internal matter, we are absolutely ready“ (emphasis added)
This alarming concession, that Tibet is part of China, which has been greeted with dismay and anger from Tibetans around the world, has interesting beginnings. The Tibetan Administration flew this controversial kite via a report featured March 14, 2005 in the South China Morning Post (SCMP). It is worth examining that article, which was later challenged in a communication from the Office of Information and International Relations (OIIR)
“The article is being interpreted in some quarters that there is a change in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s stand. This is to clarify that the position of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on autonomy for Tibet has remained the same since the 1980s as was explained in his 10 March statement on the anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day which the South China Morning Post failed to cover” (communication from Thubten Samphel Office of Information and International Relations to The Editor of the SCMP-Dated 29 March 2005)
It should be noted that no formal and public denial was at the time issued by the Tibetan Government, or more importantly from the Office of the Dalai Lama. An act one would have expected, if Tibet’s political leader had not made these comments. Here is the key quotation from the SCMP
“This is the message I wish to deliver to China. I am not in favour of separation,” he said. “Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China. It is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China”…. “Tibetan culture and Buddhism are part of Chinese culture ”
This quotation was either a gross error of communication or more ominously was designed to signal to Beijing a willingness to negotiate a settlement, which surrenders the prospect of Kham and Amdo as an integral part of a unified and free Tibetan polity. Given the placatory nature of the remarks it’s difficult to avoid such a conclusion, particular when one considers former commitments made by the Tibetan Administration concerning the territorial and political status of the three traditional Tibetan regions. During his acceptance address (5th September 2001) Samdhong Rinpoche assured Tibetans that the Tibetan leader:
“In his proposals for negotiations with China, he has put the condition that the three provinces of Tibet should remain as one entity. Unification of the three provinces of Tibet is indeed one of the most important reasons for his proposal to give up the idea of independence in favour of self-rule”.
Interesting words, particularly as they fail to clarify to whom the condition has been presented, to the Chinese leadership? If so when and was it formal? Such points notwithstanding they are at odds with the remarks featured in the SCMP (and certainly conflict with Samdhong’s most recent public assertion that the Tibet issue “is an internal matter of the People’s Republic of China”) which, in accepting Tibet as being synonymous, were hardly a robust or reassuring defence of Chol-kha-Sum.
And what does Samdhong say to Tibetans who are rightly opposed to sacrificing Tibet’s independence and territorial integrity as a price for negotiations. “If some people are angry at our policy, it doesn’t bother us.” (Outlook India 19th March 2005).
Samdhong Rinpoche’s disturbing concessions (reflected to a worrying degree in the quotation in the SCMP) raises serious questions not only on the political wisdom of Dharamsala’s current policy of appeasing China, but also regarding the future status of Tibet, as envisaged by the exiled Administration. While we can indulge in a murky relativism as to the ‘meaning-of-the-meaning’ it looks like a pretty emphatic and uncomplicated acknowledgement.
In the singular absence of a formal statement from the Tibetan Administration, publicly clarifying or rejecting Samdhong’s (or those featured in the SCMP article) remarks, the lines of evidence converge to reveal a willingness to offer ill-conceived compromises in a perilous attempt to entice China into negotiations. If such posturing is part of a sophisticated game of diplomacy it has proved a failure and one which is sliding, at a worrying rate, towards a complete and formal acceptance of all Chinese demands. Now whether this is strategic word-play, or not, what sort of message is that for Tibetans inside Tibet and the Tibetan Diaspora? How do they benefit from such sophistry? How does it advance the Tibetan cause?
The comments quoted in the SCMP shared a strikingly similar syntax with key points in recent 10th March statements, which supports the observation they may well be attributed to the Tibetan leader. References to ‘ethnic equality’, ‘remaining in China’, ‘not wishing independence’ and ‘certain degree of freedom’ were all reflected in the concessionary item in the SCMP. They have since become firmly established in Dharamsala’s lexicon of appeasing China.
Are we witnessing disingenuous practice by the Tibetan Government, saying one thing to the Chinese in private, another to the Tibetan public, releasing statements, then denying responsibility. Giving interviews to papers then retracting or denying the contents. There is a long history of selective confusion and denial. Former Kalon Tashi Wangdi had a similar experience in 1991 with an Indian paper in which he ‘said’ that independence was not the goal of the Tibetan Government, there was a tremendous reaction against this and he later claimed to have been misrepresented. Yet, how prophetic he was all those years ago, as we now know that indeed the Tibetan Government is NOT seeking independence! Was he privy to a decision kept all along from the Tibetan people?
Some may recall the strange goings-on surrounding the official Tibetan ‘response’ to the Chinese White Paper on Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet released on 23rd May 2004 (see ‘Papering the Sino-Tibetan Cracks’ Tibetan Review January 2005) . Released as an email it was subsequently dismissed as a fake, although curiously aspects of that incident suggested it may well have been released by the Tibetan Administration. Whatever the facts-of-the matter that rejoinder failed in any genuine way to address the central issue of Tibet‘s status, or address the cold-fact that China had formally rejected the notion of ‘autonomy’ for Tibet, and seriously undermined any credibility in pursuing the ‘Middle-Way Approach‘. Instead of issuing a swift, intelligent and politically informed response the Tibetan Administration continued with a policy which had been emphatically and rejected, by a regime psychotically opposed to reason or compromise,. Faced with that humiliating rejection it offered no condemnation of China’s ‘White-Paper’ and on July 6 2006 issued a statement that it had decided not to respond publicly. Leaving the Tibetan people entirely in-the-dark once more.
Then we had the puzzling rewording of the agreed Action Plan of the 3rd International Tibet Supporters meeting in Berlin (Tibetan Review October 2001) which differed in key sections from that democratically agreed by delegates. Further back there was the infamous 1990 International Consultation on Tibet in London in which the phrase ‘statehood independence’ were retrospectively removed from the final declaration (Tibetan Review March/May 1991). The gremlins are always active whenever the issue of Tibetan independence is raised.
Of course communist China is adept at such nefarious activity and unsleeping in its determination to cause confusion and disruption within Tibetan politics. However, it would be naive in the extreme to refuse to accept that the Tibetan Government is not engaged in similar political games. This is itself a tragedy as they should be harmonizing their efforts in unity and co-operation with the political will of ordinary Tibetans, working with one voice towards independence, the same goal Tibetans inside Tibet are fighting and dying for.
Instead the Tibetan Administration is now embarked upon a course of strategic suicide, while contemptuously dismissive of the genuine concern from within its own community, which is rightly questioning the nature and direction of the Tibetan cause. Is it sound strategic thinking to abandon previous commitments to self-determination and genuine political, civil and religious freedom in the pursuit of a failed policy which is diametrically, though silently, opposed by the majority of its own people? What political wisdom lies in announcing, prior to the actual commencement of negotiations, a willingness to accept a ‘solution’ which, in the main, is to the exclusive benefit of the other side? What damage is caused to the morale of the wider Tibetan community by such messages of capitulation? Is the Tibetan Administration foolishly naïve in expecting reason and flexibility from communist China?
Such doubts are of course washed-away by those supportive of the exiled government, and inconvenient facts are shunted into some obscure and distant siding, safely away from the troublesome attention of logic or political criticism. Such individuals specialise in silence, lethargy and conformity, which is why Tibetans who do care passionately about their county’s legitimate right to independence are required to be particularly active and assertive in their efforts, if only to overcome the deafening silence and hindering inertia from those who take pleasure in putting the status in Dharamsala’s quo. It may be a difficult reality to accept but despite the Dalai Lama’s wisdom, intelligence and enlightenment his policy of appeasing Beijing has produced nothing in terms of progressing negotiations, or advancing the common aspiration for complete independence. Only by submitting to the dictates of Beijing will any movement take place in terms of talks. For their own manipulative purposes China insists on personalising this issue by focussing upon the position of the Dalai Lama, as this avoids any entanglement in the thorny issue of Tibet’s political status, either now or in the future. This explains why it’s always ‘private individuals’ or ‘envoys of the Dalai Lama’ who are engaged in efforts to initiate talks, as China refuses to recognise or give legitimacy to the Exiled Tibetan Government. Thus, the dice are already loaded and in agreeing to Beijing’s rules the Tibetan Administration is falling into a very dangerous trap with a predictable and worrying outcome. Yet this does not appear to worry Dharamsala.
Despite the brutal lessons of history, the countless deaths, torture, rapes, broken treaties, mass campaigns of forced sterilizations, slave labor camps, environmental destruction, and Beijing’s expansionist policies, Tibetans are now asked by their leadership to accept that meaningful negotiation with China is not only possible but will yield a positive outcome of ‘genuine autonomy’ (whatever that nebulous term means!). Not too long ago the cry was for ‘negotiations without conditions’ that now appears to have been replaced by ‘talks at any price and on your terms’! Incredible as it seems the Tibetan Administration, having formally renounced the terms and legality of the so-called 17 Point Peace Agreement, appears to be working towards a ’solution’ which would not be very different from that notorious ‘treaty’. Such a monumental step backwards, to accept formalized occupation and slavery, would make a cruel mockery of decades of sacrifice and suffering on the part of Tibetans, whose efforts for freedom would become a tragic, catastrophic and needless waste.
That does not seem to bother some who are content to follow the official ideology, whatever the cost to Tibet. More concerned with cultural survival than regaining Tibet’s rightful freedom, such thinking regards the sacrifice of Chushi Gangdruk and the continuing suffering of political prisoners inside Tibet for Rangzen as a vain and tragic demonstration of patriotism. Far better to accept political reality ‘Tibet’s independence is history’, ‘concentrate upon preserving Tibet’s religion’ and ‘accept autonomy within China’ These arguments echo the treacherous reasoning of Ngapo Jigme and Phuntsok Wangyal, who also urged Tibetans to seek the best arrangement possible as an ethnic-minority member of the so-called ‘Great Motherland’. In advocating the abandonment of Tibet’s rightful struggle for national liberation and legitimate claim to independence the history of Tibet is being rewritten and the tragic errors of negotiating with China look set to be repeated. How then do we regard the decades of bloodshed and suffering of Tibetans, which sprang in part from the justified rejection of the so-called 17 Point Peace Treaty?
Whatever the tortuous meanderings of efforts to engage in talks with the Chinese it is the birth-right of Tibetans to enjoy a free and independent nation, a fact which cannot be signed away by either the Dalai Lama or the Kashag without the collective authority of the Tibetan people. Such action would be an undemocratic betrayal of the will of the six million Tibetans who dream, not of remaining part of communist China, for a “certain degree of freedom” or so-called “genuine autonomy” but for nothing less than Rangzen. If the Tibetan leadership is genuinely committed to an open, democratic and accountable system of governance then it must recognize and honour the common political aspiration of its own people. It must also have the intelligence and honesty to acknowledge that its barren policy of compromise with China has lead the Tibetan cause into a very hazardous game. Yet despite being aware of that Dharamsala, like a drunken man who insists on driving home, ‘knows best’ and is prepared to trample over the wishes of its own people in a desperate effort to achieve what exactly? An opportunity for the Dalai Lama to return to the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’, as a puppet of the Chinese? For a truncated region of Tibet, and the abandonment of Kham and Amdo? History is politically valuable if lessons are learned, a fact ignored by the Tibetan Administration as it begs China to be allowed back inside the prison.
Tibet Information Network-Betraying the Truth
Formerly within the Tibetan movement there was a significant number who paid homage to the work and reputation of the Tibet Information Network (TIN); a now defunct organisation, which researched and published material on matters relating to Tibet and China. Following its arrival on the scene in 1989, it established an often influential role, and became a valued source of information.
Certainly, it offered a detailed insight into the situation inside Tibet and brought-to-light many cases of political prisoners. Although steadfastly denying any role as a campaigning body, its work assisted others in the Tibetan scene, and improved the flow and quality of information. Credit for this achievement is often directed towards founder Robert Barnett and there is no doubting his efforts. But little is mentioned of the role played by Tibetans themselves. Not only the Tibetan Government-in-exile, which many believe were instrumental in helping to establish TIN, but those forgotten heroes inside Tibet who take a genuine and dangerous risk to obtain, verify and transmit information. Without their efforts a major element of TIN would have ceased to function, and it is such Tibetans who truly deserve credit. It was their patriotism and courage which furnished TIN with a wealth of information and thus helped earn its standing.
Denial and Deceit
Having established a reputation for accuracy, and independent reportage TIN acquired an almost iconic status within the Tibetan movement. Beyond critique and examination to some, to speak-out against it risked being charged with a form of blasphemy. No organisation however operates without fault., some major, and there was one issue upon which TIN record was abysmal. This concerned human rights violations within Communist China’s population programme.
From its inception, under the stewardship of Robert Barnett, and later Richard Oppenheimer, Kate Saunders and Thierry Dodin, it maintained a careful policy of glossing-over, marginalising or ignoring the more odious aspects of the programme (see Tibet: Defying the Dragon March 1991 page 89). Under the guise of journalistic standards, and with a implacable cynicism reserved only it seems for this issue, it mirrored official Communist Chinese arguments by claiming that the one-child policy:
“covers only ‘nationalities’ in China which has more than 10 million members ..So officially Tibetans are exempt from this policy” (TIN correspondence to Optimus, 29th November 1993)
The same letter also suggested
“..there are no first hand accounts of forcible (in the sense of physical force) abortions and sterilisations”.
The TIN correspondent went on to dismiss the testimony of Tibetan women as “very imprecise” or “vague”.
Others too joined the chorus of denial, deception and propaganda. Ms Kate Saunders, later to become an active member of TIN (presently the Communications Director at the International Campaign for Tibet) wrote in the October 1992 edition of Tibet News (newsletter of the Free Tibet Campaign-then TSGUK)
“There are few first-hand accounts of forced abortions and sterilisations from Tibetan women” adding that “..it is not clear to what extent local authorities act on the directives from Beijing”.
This baseless assertion was in stark contrast to the findings of the late, and much missed Dr John S Aird former China specialist at the US Bureau of the Census and author of ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’, whose expert and meticulous researches, using official communist Chinese sources, calculated that between 1971 and 1985 ALONE there had been some 100 million coercive ‘birth-control surgeries’ including forced sterilisations and forced abortions. It is difficult to imagine how this staggering scale of operation could exist without the knowledge, involvement and ultimate sanction of Beijing, any more than the concentration camps could have existed without Hitler’s knowledge.
Thanks to the efforts of Independent Tibet Network, Optimus and Dr John S Aird, there is no longer any doubt over the existence and brutal nature of the Communist Chinese programme and the trauma and violations it inflicts upon women (The British Medical Association, Amnesty International, US State Department and British Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs have now recognised and condemned human rights violations associated with the programme).
The dismissive and misleading arguments used Kate Saunders and TIN to deny coercion were reduced-to-ashes by the facts and detail documented in reports such as ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’ by Dr John Aird (AEI Press 1991), ‘Children of Despair’ by Martin Moss & Paul Ingram (Independent Tibet Network/Optimus 1992) and ‘Orders of the State’ by Jeffrey Bowe & Martin Moss (Independent Tibet Network 2000).
Smokescreens and Censorship
Yet there still remains a determined an orchestrated effort to suppress and distort open debate on this subject, and some suspect the cancerous tentacles of the British Foreign Office have been silently extended to prevent and limit exposure, of what is a highly sensitive issue, and one that could cause a considerable deterioration in relations between London and Beijing. Could such influences have taken root within TIN’s administration? There was considerable speculation surrounding its rapid elevation, questions were asked about its seemingly overnight transformation, from voluntary initiative into a functioning and seemingly well funded organisation. The late Tsering Wangyal, former editor of the Tibetan Review, commented in 1990 that there “was a lot of money sloshing around the Tibetan scene”.
Notwithstanding such conjecture although the merciless scepticism it previously demonstrated at one stage appeared to have softened, its general coverage remained characterised by tentative and extenuating terminology. This did not change under its last acting Director, Mr Thierry Dodin (now trying to resuscitate TIN as TibetInfoNet) who apparently with a Ladhakhi/Tibetan wife, one may have thought would prove more sympathetic to this issue than his predecessors. Not so.
The following featured in a TIN Bulletin February 2000:
“Cadres in local areas are judged by their success in enforcing population targets, and it is the punishments and rewards associated with the limits they impose that are most likely to lead to excessive enforcement. According to reports received by TIN, a considerable element of coercion is applied to women, particularly in rural areas, through the mechanisms of fines and administrative structures introduced by these officials.”
Once again we have the old TIN mantra in deliberately vague and euphemistic form (worthy of communist China’s State Family Planning Committee), the message though is clear. The responsibility for “excessive enforcement” lies with local officials, not with the central communist regime, and that these are defined as financial penalties and “administrative structures”. The obscure terminology masks widely documented penalties of arbitrary arrest, detention, forced sterilisation and/or forced abortions. Compare this with a quote from ‘Defying the Dragon’ by Barnett:
“In areas where a birth-control policy has been announced the principal method of enforcement appears to be a range of serious administrative penalties” (emphasis added).
Such cynical resistance to acknowledge the brutal reality of the population programme was in stark contrast to the concerns of the Dalai Lama who, responding to questions at UK Parliamentary meetings (1996 and 1993 respectively), described the situation as “very serious” and that matters were “getting worse”. During an audience with His Holiness, which I had the honour of attending, this subject was raised, and it was agreed that it demanded far greater exposure. Yet despite the often stated concerns of Tibet’s Head of State about abuses resulting from the population programme, TIN’s tradition of fudging this issue remained intact.
Indeed one wonders had this organisation operated during World-War-Two how they would have described eugenic and birth-control ‘experiments’ inflicted upon Gypsy and Jewish women. Presumably it would not have been Himmler who was responsible for the medical atrocities but over-zealous local Nazi officials!
Mum’s the Word!
A specious defence to such evasion and concealment was once offered by Kate Saunders, in which she claimed that careful reportage and phrasing was essential for maintaining credibility, and that a cautious approach was the hallmark of sensible journalism. During that conversation a couple of points came to mind.
The fact that Tibetan women are being forcibly sterilised was it seems too sensational for TIN (and appears to be taboo also for its clone-TibetInfoNet), which explains the limited detailed references to such abuses in its literature. Secondly Saunder’s excuse dismisses passionate, forceful and truthful journalism as being inherently flawed, and by implication unworthy of coverage by TIN, (and more lately her current employer, the International Campaign for Tibet, who are equally silent on this issue).
That such journalism is defective is of course not the case, as so eloquently demonstrated by Irish reporter Maggie O’ Kane’s award-winning coverage of the conflict in Bosnia and Kosovo. She and other writers have shown that compassion and emotion have a role in journalism, and need not detract from aspects of balance or fact. One only has to recall the coverage given to the mass rape of Muslim women in Bosnia. Had Kate Saunders, Robert Barnett, Richard Oppenheimer or Thierry Dodin been reporting this tragedy would the testimonies of rape have been dismissed with the callous suspicion they seem to reserve for the accounts of Tibetan women?
The following extract was taken from a TIN report (February 2000) and illustrates the point:
“Enforcement measures include a combination of economic sanctions, in the form of ‘extra birth fees’ for those who transgress the limit and administrative penalties, such as the denial of birth certificates for any additional child born outside the quota”.
Now, according to this assertion, ‘enforcement’ appears limited to financial penalties or bureaucratic measures, of course this Beijing-style propaganda is in violent contradiction to penalties as experienced and widely documented by women in East Turkestan, Tibet and communist China. Such reports, containing a wealth of detailed information, were (and continue to be) readily available and have been featured by Asia Watch, Independent Tibet Network, Optimus and Amnesty International.
“Despite laws prohibiting such practices, many women continued to be subjected to forced abortions and sterilizations by local authorities attempting to comply with strict family planning policies”. (Amnesty International-USA Report 2006)
Accounts have appeared in the written and broadcast media too which, unlike Kate Saunders, Robert Barnett, Richard Oppenheimer and Thierry Dodin, have not been afraid to report freely and forcefully on medical atrocities and violations resulting from this programme.
One only has to recall the BBC Television documentary ‘Women of the Yellow Earth’ (24th July 1994) which featured a young Chinese named Bai, whose family and home were threatened by family-planning official for weeks before she ‘agreed’ to attend a local clinic, where she was tied onto a medical slab and sterilised. In pain and crying for anaesthetic she was told to “put up with it”, by the surgeon, traumatised and in obvious agony, she was left in a grimy dormitory, before being left to make her way back across the mountain to her village. Those disturbing images were eclipsed by the acclaimed documentaries ‘The Dying Rooms’ and ‘Return to the Dying Rooms’ (British Channel 4 television 1995) both of which recorded the inhuman treatment of orphaned baby girls, left to die in state controlled orphanages, as a result of the one-child-policy and the traditional preference for boys. The misery and suffering recorded in all these films resulted in public outrage across Europe and the US, and intense public debate in the British media.
The intensely harrowing scenes exposed the coercive nature of communist China’s population policies, and supports the evidence, that continues to emerge, which documents a series of draconian measures inflicted upon women including financial penalties, arbitrary arrest, detention, emotional, social and physical coercion, and forced sterilisations and forced abortions. The duplicitous claim that Tibetans are exempt from the harrowing realities of coercive birth-control is forcefully contradicted by the disturbing contents of the UK television documentary ‘Undercover Tibet’ (Channel Four 2008) , in which producer Jezza Neumann documented such abuses as being all too real for Tibetans.
“China maintains that it doesn’t implement its one-child policy in minority regions such as Tibet, but we discovered that this wasn’t true. One woman told us how she’d been subjected to a forced sterilisation. The secret police broke into her house and said they would take all of her belongings if she didn’t go with them. Aspirin was the only anaesthetic she was given before they cut her open.” (The Independent 31st March 2008)
Yet Kate Saunders, Robert Barnett, Richard Oppenheimer and Thierry Dodin maintained a callous policy of denial concerning this issue. As evidenced by the February 2000 below TIN was comfortable to unquestioningly repeat communist propaganda. Suggesting that far from being abused and coerced, Tibetan women simply ‘volunteer’ for sterilisation as a result of rewards offered!
“The 1992 TAR birth control regulations stipulate that women who “adopt corrective measures”, or undergo sterilisation and women who have “induced births in the mid-term of their pregnancy” (officially sanctioned abortions) are to be given a set time off work determined by which of the operations they have. The women who have the operation are rewarded with a supply of “10 jin [5kg]” of flour (glutinous rice) and two jin [1kg] of edible (butter) oil”, according to the regulations.”.
As a premier source of information, TIN had access to the same testimony and evidence as other organisations with an interest in Tibet, so why was it possessed with such a psychotic reticence in featuring detailed testimonies, which describe the actual nature of coercion and associated human rights violations?
It could not claim, with any credibility, that to do so would have jeopardised its journalistic credentials, as far more respected established media outlets such as the Washington Post, Boston Globe, The Observer, The Independent, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail all exposed and described the more odious aspects of the programme. Furthermore, in the interests of balance and impartiality, qualities which were used often by Kate Saunders as a defence, one imagines TIN would have wished to give equally detailed and prominent coverage to eyewitness/personal testimony.
Yet, apart from some isolated interviews recorded in 1990, it is hard from their documentation to locate comprehensive references to the atrocities caused by the population policies. With what reports do feature one is always left with the impression of reading an amended script, perhaps remodelled beyond the requirements of standard editing?
Over the years Independent Tibet Network has met and interviewed Tibetan women who have witnessed and experienced the horrors of ‘birth-control’ surgery, and noted the amount of detail, consistency and facts in their accounts. There are no valid reasons to doubt their sincerity and honesty, nor dismiss the obvious trauma which has blighted their lives. Some committed suicide. TIN also questioned such women, therefore it is difficult to grasp why their experiences were reported in such a truncated and adulterated form.
Excusing the Dragon
It is difficult not to conclude that during its TIN was actively watering-down such accounts, by expunging and diluting any reference to forced sterilisations and forced abortions. Perhaps, as speculated earlier, this may be evidence of the perfidious influence of the British Foreign Office? Whatever the reason, their consistent evasion, and distortion on this major human rights subject, hardly befitted a group dedicated to providing “accurate and objective” information. Having “sought the truth in the groves of academe” it seemed that TIN resorted to the ultimate form of censorship, by deleting any detailed reference to violations resulting from the population programme.
A further spurious excuse, once used to justify the manner in which TIN reported this issue, was that it was not a campaigning body, and therefore required to adopt a ‘neutral’ position. This reasonable argument was somewhat undermined by the fact that it’s reportage on the subject was saturated with official communist Chinese propaganda. Which, by its very nature, offers a grossly single-sided and duplicitous perspective. The following exemplifies how TIN’s heavy reliance upon communist Chinese sources exposed Kate Saunders et al to the charge of being unwitting partners in a deliberate attempt to deceive a foreign audience, concerning the coercive nature of China’s population programme.
“Although the Chinese authorities generally deny the use of coercion in imposing birth-control restrictions, a rare admission was made by a Chinese official…Cong Jun said in a speech.. on 29th October 1998 that the State Family Planning Committee had issued circulars throughout the country to prohibit its branch organisations from forcing women to undergo abortions or sterilisations….”
At first glance this appears a routine account of events, but wait a moment what about these ‘circulars’? When and why were they issued? New York Times writer, Elizabeth Rosenthal was, it seems, deceived by this Chinese official and invested considerable importance in her article (Ist November 1998) to the supposed assurances given by State Family Planning Committee spokeswoman, Cong Jun. In fact the regulations prohibiting coercion, mentioned by Rosenthal and TIN, had not been published, in the then recent Chinese media, and no reference to them appeared in provincial level family planning documents, which usually reflect any amendments to national policies on population policies.
Close examination of the Xinhua dispatches, quoted by Rosenthal, TIN and others, revealed they had either been inadvertently or deliberately misled. The statements by Cong were carried by TWO Xinhua releases (dated 29th October 1998), one of these (presumably the version used by TIN, and other foreign writers) was an English language version released in Beijing. Which quoted Cong as follows:
“The State Family Planning Committee has issued circulars throughout the country to prohibit its branch organizations at all levels from forcing women to undergo abortions or sterilization..”.
This statement created an impression that the “circulars” were recently issued. However, the other Xinhua dispatch, published in Chinese from Hong Kong, made it clear that this was not so and quoted Cong Jun as stating:
“The Chinese Government long ago issued circulars throughout the country specifically prohibiting family planning departments at all levels from forcing women to undergo induced abortions or sterilization.”. (emphasis added).
The key phrase “long ago,” expunged from the English version, indicated that the reference was probably either to the Party Central Committee “open letter” of September 25, 1980 or to the unpublished Party Central Committee Document No. 7 of April 12, 1984, or perhaps both. The open correspondence of 1980 cautioned against coercion and was issued following an adverse reaction against the grim realities of the initial year of the one-child policy in 1979, while Document No. 7 was seemingly released in response to a popular backlash which resulted from the extensive birth-control surgeries carried in 1983, but were superseded and effectively reversed by ensuing policy documents which took a far more draconian line.
Cong Jun’s original address was made to a Sino-European seminar on women’s issues, and therefore was aimed mainly at a foreign audience. It was not quoted in the Chinese domestic media outside of Hong Kong. Her speech may have been a deliberate response to the damaging testimony on coercion in family planning, which was being reported at that time in Fujian Province (presented by Ms. Gao Xiaoduan, before the U. S. Congressional committee on June 10, 1998).
Betraying the Truth
Clearly communist China manipulates its foreign audience to believe that they prohibit coercive measures, but they assiduously make such claims only in channels not likely to be noted by family planning officials in China. Whose coercive excesses they obviously do not wish to discourage. It appears that in publishing this misleading statement, Kate Saunders and Richard Oppenheimer of TIN were assisting Xinhua in that end. This issue raised serious questions about its uncritical acceptance of official communist sources, and seriously undermined its claim to:
“provide an accurate, impartial and comprehensive news and information service”.
As supposed experts in their field, surely Richard Oppenheimer, Robert Barnett, Kate Saunders and Thierry Dodin would have been aware that if the communist authorities were serious about placing a check upon coercion, Beijing would have issued recurrent orders against it in their annual national report sessions of family planning. Moreover they would see to it that warnings against coercion, and penalties for local officials, guilty of using coercion, would have been incorporated into the then latest versions of the provincial family planning regulations
According to the late Dr John S Aird, not one of these regulations contained a word about coercion. The obvious explanation is that coercion is a necessary and intended aspect of program implementation in communist China. Meanwhile, central family planning policy documents continue to call for the use of “administrative measures,” the Chinese euphemism for the use of local administrative powers, to enforce compliance.
For years the central authorities have hinted broadly, that coercive measures were needed, and even in some of the most recent central statements about family planning, it is acknowledged that the program is not voluntary and that any easing of pressures would result in a rebound in the birth rate. Such information is available to any serious researcher, as it was at that time presumably for TIN, so why feature an account which sought to create the impression that the communist regime’s family planning committee were taking positive action to curb coercion? Seen in isolation this could have been attributed to administrative oversight and sloppy research. However taken in context with the general softly-softly tone TIN employed, when reporting on issues linked to communist China’s population programme, one is forced to reach a darker conclusion.
The degree to which this issue was obscured is brought into sharp relief by comparing TIN’s previous reportage of political prisoners. The smoke-screen of balance and journalistic caution, which stifled a full exposé of the abuses resulting from communist China’s population policies, no longer applied. Subscribers were offered harrowing details of systematic torture. The following account from a Tibetan nun is taken from it’s former website:
“They beat us so savagely that there was blood everywhere, on the walls and on the floor. It looked like an abattoir. They beat us with their belts, until their belts broke … then they used electric batons … Some of us had torn ears, others had wounds in their heads. There was so much blood.”.
The criticism here is not directed at the quality, tone, or use of such testimony, which served those engaged in human rights and Tibet, but towards what appear conditional standards applied by TIN. Unlike such reports from political prisoners personal and eyewitness accounts of forced sterilisation, or other related abuse, given by Tibetan women, always appeared to require textual revision, removing any unpleasant realities, and cloaking the odious nature of the population programme in euphemism and extenuating terminology.
TIN (Tibetan Infants Nil)
Was this respected organisation engaged in a deliberate and consistent campaign to camouflage the actual nature and extent of coercion within the communist Chinese population programme? Did the spectre of Foreign Office influence hold true? Is it coincidental that Richard Oppenheimer, a former TIN Director, had spent many years at the BBC World Service, itself a cornerstone of the British diplomatic establishment, and in part funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? A department totally committed to promoting positive relations with China, which may well explain its reluctance to engage in any active or meaningful way with the issue of China’s coercive birth-control policies.
Certainly there have been many instances which indicate that something was going on; the International Consultation on Tibet (1990), International Lawyers Conference (1993) UK Foreign Affairs Committee (1993) and International Development Committee (1999) either ignored or gave virtually no coverage of this issue in their published reports. More recently the 2007 Foreign and Commonwealth Human Rights Report has just one minimalist and tentative paragraph on this issue. Progress it seems is slow.
Though now no longer operating the questions remains as to why TIN operated a similar policy of avoidance and concealment. If, as it claimed at the time, it was wholly independent why adopt a similar position on this issue and employ syntax of such striking similarity?
Others too expressed their dismay at the censorship surrounding this subject, Ms Carol Devine, author of ‘Tibetan Women and the Struggle for an Independent Tibet’ noted:
“In my lobbying for Tibet’s freedom and Tibetan women’s rights, I have found so many people unwilling to say that issues of forced abortion and sterilization should be at the top of the list when speaking of human rights abuses in Tibet”.
At that period Devine’s book could have proved a valuable asset to an understanding of conditions facing Tibetan women however it was seriously undermined by a deficient chapter entitled ‘The Quality Baby’. In researching this chapter she had, significantly as it turned out, sought the advice of Robert Barnett (then director of TIN) who it seems had assured her that “credibility and professionalism” were the hallmarks of his organisation. The result however was a confusing, misleading and flawed analysis which contained a textual error on page 68 that:
“..the evidence does NOT support the very serious claims of coercive abortions and sterilisations..”
Ms.Devine later admitted that this should have read:
“..the evidence DOES support the very serious claims of forced abortions and sterilisations..”.
In a letter (5th October 1993) to Optimus and Independent Tibet Network Devine wrote:
“I sincerely wish I had been more outspoken, and convincing in this chapter”.
Quite so, but one wonders if this was ever possible, once she had engaged with an organisation that had consistently glossed-over the haunting testimony of women traumatised by ‘birth-control surgery’. This section of her book certainly generated much confusion, and I know of many independent researchers who could make no sense of it.
Whatever the truth, TIN remained during is operation an authoritative source of information to the Tibetan movement, and exerted much influence upon how various issues were reported (its offspring, including Robert Barnett and Kate Saunders have since become barefoot-experts on Tibet and regularly misinform the media on the situation inside Tibet and the nature of the political struggle there).It was therefore not surprising to note that organisations such as the Australia Tibet Council, Free Tibet Campaign (were Ms.Saunders began her efforts to carve a career from the corpse of Tibet) , and others exhibited (and still do so) a similar tendency to obscure the facts. Such diffusion, along with a general inactivity on this issue, has no doubt cost lives and resulted in other groups and individuals taking no action. One only has to recall the international gatherings of Tibet supporters, during which every aspect of the Tibetan issue was recounted in detail, APART from the subject of coercive birth control, which has been consistently ignored.
A French friend who has been consistently active in her support Tibet over the years has met a similar apathy towards this issue. During 2007 she sought to obtain information on the subject from a number of French-based Tibet support groups and women’s organisations, the overwhelming majority of whom either did not respond or claimed ignorance!
In diluting and overlooking the true nature and extent of medical atrocities resulting from the population programme TIN, and its staff of Robert Barnett, Kate Saunders, Robert Oppenheimer, and Thierry Dodin were (and remain) guilty of complicity. They were supposed to be helping the very Tibetan women whose lives have been blighted and wrecked by the communist China. How much human misery would have been avoided if these individuals had rectified their biased and blinkered coverage?
Coercion: the Reality
During February 2009 a Yunnan (some parts of which is formed by annexed Tibetan territory) newspaper documented another instance of forced sterilisation. It concerned a woman, named as Ms.Zhang Kecui, who was kidnapped in the street by family planning officials and forcibly taken to a clinic where she was tied onto a medical table and sterilized. She was reported as having two children, which according to China’s draconian population regulations meant Ms.Zhang should have undergone ‘birth-control surgery’ (forced sterilisation) after the second birth.
Another account, which appeared on a number of websites during September 2008, reported a case of infanticide in Wuhan, central China. A farmer, named as Huang Qiusheng, said his wife, who was nine months pregnant, gave birth to a live child, despite being forced to submit to an injection to induce an abortion. The infant was thrown into a toilet.The following day an elderly woman, named Liu Zhuyu, heard the infant crying, so rescued it and delivered the baby to a nearby child clinic. The reports document that family planning officials then challenged Liu, grabbed the infant and killed it by dashing the child to the ground. (Source:The Sunday Times-15/02/2009)
In September 2007, according to a Radio Free China report, a couple sought legal action against the Communist Chinese authorities following a forced abortion. Yang Zhongchen and his wife Jin Yani, under the provisions of the one-child policy, were required to obtain a license to have a first child. Conceiving a child before marriage is an offence. They were forced to wait until Jin was the minimum age of 20 before being married. This meant that their first child, a girl, was according to dictates of the population policy, ‘illegal’.
Attempts to bribe local “family planning” officials failed and while Yang was out of town, Jin was abducted on September 7 by local officials a few weeks before her due date. Jin described the incident in which she was taken to a local clinic and her clothes stripped from her. Doctors then pulled the dead baby from her body with forceps. While forced abortion is technically illegal in China, it is known that officials, faced with quotas, frequently succumb to what is usually described as “over-zealousness” in enforcing the official one-child policy. You can’t really compensate for what we have suffered,” Jin told local media.
A report by the China Information Center, released in May 2005 documented mass arrests of women for forced ‘birth-control surgery’ in Chewang Township, Cangshan County, Shandong Province.
“Hundreds of women were hunted down, dragged from their homes and forced to endure abortions. Even women who had been pregnant for eight months were not spared, according to official statistics, more than 160 women who were eight months pregnant were forcibly aborted and/or sterilised”.
In August 2002 a former Tibetan Doctor, with direct experience of communist China’s coercive birth-control policies issued a press statement, in response to a fact-free and distorted article by The Guardian’s (UK Newspaper) John Gittings. It was a damning exposé of the medical atrocities which are inflicted upon Tibetan women
“After taking women age group of 18 to 35 in villages and district level, forced birth-control operations were carried out. The number of birth-control surgery to be done in a place per year is fixed and we have to carry out these ‘surgeries’ to fulfil the given duties. In many places a forced ‘lottery system’ is applied to complete the number of women to be operated upon against the will of respective women”.
Ms Giao Xiaoduan was a former Family Planning Officer in Communist China, in a moving and revealing testimony presented in the United States 2002 she stated
“Many of them were crippled for life, while others were victims of mental disorders resulting from their abortions. Families were ruined or destroyed. I myself did so many brutal things, yet at the time, I thought I was implementing the policy of the Communist party, and that I was an exemplary citizen, a good cadre. Once I watched a woman nine months pregnant undergo an abortion. She had no other children, but had not yet received her certificate allowing her to give birth. According to policy, this too warrants an abortion”.
According to another report featured in The Times 24th August 2000, in Hubei Province, a pregnant woman identified as Mrs Liu, was forcibly given a saline injection by her local family planning officials in an attempt to bring on an abortion and kill the child But, surprisingly, it was born alive and healthy. The officials then ordered the father to take the baby out of the hospital and kill it, but though he was afraid of punishment, he merely left the baby behind an office building, where a doctor found it, and returned it to its mother. The infant was given its inoculations and discharged. When the couple got home with their new baby, they found five family planning officials waiting for them in their living room. A struggle arose in which the officials wrested the child from its parents, took it out into a paddy field, and drowned it in sight of the parents, and their neighbours. The action so enraged people in the community that they brought the story to the attention of provincial newspapers, and from there it got into the foreign press as well, embarrassing the central government.
On 12th February 2001 Amnesty International issued a report entitled “Torture: A growing scourge in China–Time for Action” declaring that torture was increasing in China. Among many examples cited, was a 1998 incident, in which a peasant from a village in Changsha, Hunan Province, whose wife was suspected of having fled because she was pregnant, was tortured twice. On the second occasion he was “denied food, hung upside down, whipped and beaten with wooden clubs and burned with cigarette butts. He reportedly became doubly incontinent, his body covered in excrement. The officials reportedly then branded his lower body with soldering irons, tied wire around his genitals and ripped off his penis.” Harrowing accounts of this sort are doubtless the most staggering examples of coercion, which reach international attention, because they generate such local outrage that they find their way into Chinese regional newspapers, and thus into the foreign press. Other atrocities lay hidden, until the victim escapes.
Independent Tibet Network had an interview with a 37 year-old woman from Kham in East Tibet, following her flight into exile to India. She was another victim of the population programme:
“I was taken by force by the Chinese and sterilised, having gone beyond the stated limit of children. Nearly 30 women were also sterilised at the same time as me, in my village 70% of woman at 18 have been sterilised. They treat us like animals and use many crude methods, my husband’s sister was sterilised before his very eyes. She was four months pregnant and had been taken to the centre by force. They tied her hands and legs while the doctor, wearing gloves, put his hand into the vagina and squeezed the foetus. She was delirious and bled profusely for sometime”.
Alternative forms of ‘surgery’ used more brutal methods:
“While operating they cut the stomach vertically and horizontally often without anaesthetic and with little consideration for the pain that is being inflicted. I have witnessed these terrible things with my own eyes”.
According to the testimony, birth-control officers would visit the villages once a month and take down names of all those who were to be sterilised, any that showed resistance were taken by force. The staff carrying out such ‘surgery’ were, it was claimed, often unqualified and showed little concern for the well-being of the women.
The witness reported highly detailed instances of women, almost nine months pregnant, being:
“given medicine to induce labour and afterwards the premature infant is put into a bucket of hot water”.
Such accounts have surfaced time and again from East Turkestan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and China itself. More routine cases of coercion probably do not get reported in the media, especially with the Chinese authorities doing what they can to suppress such reports.
As with the former Tibet Information Network groups such as the International Campaign for Tibet, Free Tibet Campaign and Australia Tibet Council and TibetInfoNet seem willing partners in the effort to conceal the truth. In light of the censorship surrounding this issue the words of TIN’s previous director, Richard Oppenheimer appear somewhat tainted:
“The world needs to know what is happening in Tibet today. Tibet Information Network (TIN) is dedicated to giving the world the facts – accurately and objectively… “.
At a national meeting convened by the Party Central Committee in March 1999, Jiang Zemin said:
“Family Planning and population control constitute arduous work involving many aspects. Instead of putting a brake on the work, we must strengthen it. We should further improve our population macro-control, family planning management… Education, legal, economic, and administrative measures should be adopted”.
Ten years later and that position has not in any concrete manner altered, and one should not be deceived by the practical definition of the euphemism “administrative measures,” . That means continuing mandatory IUD insertions, sterilisations, and abortions, and suggests that, for the foreseeable future, at least, communist China’s population programme will remain as coercive as it has been since its inception.
According to the late Dr John S Aird abuses were set to continue:
“In sum, the evidence throughout the 1990s and up to the present moment is that the central authorities are determined to tighten their control over family planning work to maintain China’s current low birth rate. They have made it clear that these efforts shall continue. Coercive measures are to be refined and “perfected” but not relaxed. In fact, they seem to be assuming more extreme forms”. (Private communication with the author-2000)
This statement has proved to be tragically correct, as evidenced by the 2004 testimony of Mao Hengfeng, who, as a result of her campaigns against coercive birth-control in Communist China, was imprisoned in a psychiatric ‘hospital’ and suffered systematic torture, all because she refused to have a forced abortion!
As reflected in Amnesty International’s China Report, the prospects for women in occupied Tibet, East Turkestan and China itself look bleak as they continue to be at the knife-edge of family planning policies that inflict the most appalling violations. In a detailed document Amnesty limited its concern to the following comment:
“Serious violations against women and girls continued to be reported as a result of the enforcement of the family planning policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations.” (AI Report on China-2005)
Some of these women have endured the darkest trauma, yet had the courage to report their suffering to organisations such as the former Tibet Information Network, presumably in the hope that the brutal reality of communist China’s population programme would be brought to a wider audience. Little did they realise that not only would their testimony be subjected to merciless scepticism and censorship but that their trust and hope could be betrayed by an organisation supposedly dedicated to reporting truthfully on conditions inside their country.
Briefing Paper on Communist China’s Coercive Population Control Programme http://www.truthtibet.com/ (2009)
Amnesty International Report on China Amnesty International (27th May 2005)
Report by China Information Center (released 17th May 2005)
Testimony of Ms Gao Xiaoduan as featured by the Laogai Research Foundation (June 2005)
Torture: A growing scourge in China-Time for Action-Amnesty International (12th February 2001)
Orders of the State-Jeffrey Bowe & Martin Moss, Independent Tibet Network (2000)
Increased restrictions on birth of children in Tibet-TIN report (9 February 2000)
New birth control policies to ‘help families become richer-TIN Report (9 February 2000)
Gender and Catastrophe, Edited by Ronit Lentin, Zed Books (1997)
Human Rights and Family Planning in China, Dr John S Aird, Joint Parliamentary Committee on
Foreign Affairs Canberra ( 26th September 1995)
Femmes Et Violences dans la monde, Michele Dayras, L’Harmattan (1995)
Tibet Action Bulletin (then Campaign Free Tibet) (1995)
Women and Violence, Miranda Davies, Zed Books (1994)
Children of Despair, Martin Moss & Paul Ingram, Independent Tibet Network (1992)
Slaughter of the Innocents, Dr John S Aird, AEI Press, (1991)
Defying the Dragon, Robert Barnett, Lawasia/TIN (1991)