For China’s leadership it is fashionable to visit Tibet these days.
It is not only Li Changchun, a member of the all-powerful CCP’s Standing Committee of the Politburo who recently paid a 5-day visit to Tibet, but the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama too toured the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Li, who is in charge of propaganda in the Standing Committee, was the second member of the all-powerful group to visit Tibet in one year (Vice President Xi Jinping visited in 2011).
One of Li Changchun’s dreams is to “re-popularize Marxism with Chinese characteristics”. As Chairman of the CCP’s Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization, Li is de facto responsible for the all-important Party image; a tough job as Marxism has lost its shine these days, particularly in Tibet.
After Li’s visit to Lhasa, Xinhua reported: "[Li] stressed ethnic unity and cultural development in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as building an 'ideological basis' for anti-secession and stability maintenance".
Apart from Tibet, China has two main obsessions: stability and loyalty to the Party. During his five-day visit to Tibet, Li never missed an occasion to reemphasize these points.
While visiting the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas, he spoke of the importance of "safeguarding national unification and ethnic unity".
Again, when he went to the Jokhang Cathedral, Li encouraged the monks to be patriotic, devout and make contributions “to ethnic unity and the ethnic cultural development”.
Patriotic probably has another meaning for the Tibetan monks who are still longing for the return of the Dalai Lama, and in some cases, are ready to sacrifice their lives in despair, due to lack of freedom.
Li boldly affirmed: "Ethnic unity, social harmony and stability are the lifelines for Tibet”, his conclusion was that “ethnic unity education and the anti-separatism battle should be deepened”.
This is ominous after the series of self-immolations which have rocked the Roof of the World during the last few months.
Li also visited the headquarters of The Tibet Daily, the local mouthpiece of the Party. He asked the staff to "introduce a real and changing Tibet to the whole world."
Well, that it not easy, when Tibet is still closed to foreign tourists. Logically, if Tibet was 'changing' for the best, as Li pretends, why not open it for all to see these changes?
But perhaps, more importantly for India, Li Changchun was the second member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo in one year to visit Nyingchi Prefecture, north of the McMahon Line, where he met local villagers in Lunang town (known as the ‘Switzerland of Tibet’), near the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) gorges.
During his last-year visit to the same border area, Vice-President Xi Jinping had described Tibet “as an important national security screen for the country”.
Two members of the Standing Committee visited areas close to the Indian border in one year! It is a first. India should carefully watch.
Tibet has been the Party’s obsession. Apparently, three high-level Party meetings were recently held to discuss the issue.
Informed sources say that for the first time the top Chinese leadership realizes that the Dalai Lama’s demise will not solve the restive region’s issue.
A report on Tibet by the Human Right Watch also speaks of a scheme known as 'The Four Stabilities' for Tibet, a brainchild of President Hu Jintao.
In order to ‘keep a tight hand on the struggle against separatism’, the new motto is ‘stability overrides all’. It practically means:
- monitoring the overall coverage of internet management in towns and in the rural areas
- strengthening the management of news media
- firmly striking against the criminal activity of creating and spreading rumors by using internet and mobile phone text messaging
- Strict guidelines for foreign visitors.
It was probably the objective of Li Changchun, the Propaganda tsar to monitor the ‘stability overrides all’ policy.
Already in March, Jia Qinglin, another member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau mentioned stability as the first objective of the Party in Tibet: "Currently, the clique of the Dalai Lama are trying in vain to continuously create incidents in Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas in the four [Tibetan-inhabited] provinces. ...Authorities should implement the prescribed measures well to resolutely crush the Dalai Lama clique's conspiracy of making Tibetan-inhabited areas unstable, thus making the masses able to live and work there comfortably."
Xinhua also reported that the Standing Committee’s toughie in charge of Security, Zhou Yongkang (who was recently in the news for his close association with Bo Xilai, the disgraced Party boss of Chongqing) added his bit during a national conference in Beijing. He asserted that maintaining stability was "the highest priority for the Party and government organizations at all levels".
In Lhasa, the Chinese Panchen Lama (let us remember that the Panchen Lama selected by the Dalai Lama has disappeared in 1995 and has not been seen since) brought the ‘spiritual touch’ to the Party’s propaganda.
He spoke about the promotion of social stability in Tibet: "If a person does not protect social stability, he is not fit to be called a man of religion." He was obviously targeting the Dalai Lama.
Stating that the responsibility for a religious person is to help people to do good deeds, he added: “religious people should abide by the laws and religious code of conduct themselves."
The Lama affirmed that he was “confident to let Tibetan Buddhism play a more active role in promoting social harmony and China's development.”
Interestingly, in an interview with The New York Times
, the Dalai Lama recently spoke about the Chinese Panchen Lama in connection with the riots which occurred all-over the Tibetan plateau in 2008: “Of course Beijing wanted the boy to denounce the uprising. …But some of his friends have told me that he remains a Tibetan deep inside and preferred to remain silent. Beijing couldn’t use him.”
But the Party is visibly still using him, perhaps not as much as they would like.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the current stability drive was due to the approaching Party Congress at the end of the year which will see a new leadership take over for the next ten years. RFA says: “China announced in March a rise of 11.5 percent in its domestic security budget to 701 billion yuan (U.S. $111 billion), with premier Wen Jiabao pledging a full modernization and expansion of the country's main riot-quelling force, the People's Armed Police. Official documents leaked to the Chinese media have revealed that officials are typically ordered to step up intelligence activities among the local population and to focus in particular on ‘hostile foreign forces’ who might try to collaborate with local activists to organize ‘subversive’ gatherings during major events.”
But the ‘stability drive’ is not the prerogative of the Tibetan plateau alone, it extends to China’s sea borders too.
On July 17, probably in response to Vietnam's advances in the area, China officially created a new prefecture, responsible for administering 'its' territories in the South China Sea.
The prefecture is called: Sansha, 'san' meaning three and 'sha' is an abbreviation for the three groups of islands in the area, Xisha (Paracel Islands), Zhongsha and Nansha (Spratly Islands).
The new administrative center is located on the island of Yongxing (also known as Woody Island), the largest of the Paracel Islands, occupied from 1932 by the French and then by the Japanese, and finally by the Chinese. It is also claimed by Vietnam as part of its territory.
The particularity of the new town: it has an area smaller than a Chinese university campus (2.13 km2) and a population of 444 inhabitants (in 2010).
Beijing would like Sansha to administer some 200 islets, sandbanks and reefs of the Paracel, Zhongsha and Spratly Islands, covering 13 km2 in island area and 2 million km2 of water.Xinhua
also reported that China's central military authority has approved to form and deploy a military garrison in the newly established city of Sansha.
The news agency affirmed: "Sources with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Guangzhou Military Command said that the Central Military Commission (CMC) had authorized it to form a garrison command in the city." It added: "The garrison command will be a division-level command under the PLA's Hainan provincial sub-command."
A novel way to enhance ‘stability’ in China (and Tibet) has been to censure keywords on the Internet. Recently the word 'Truth' vanished from the Chinese micro-blogs in China. Bloggers were appalled to discover that the subversive word had been blocked on the country's leading social media websites.
Online messages began circulating claiming that the Chinese characters for 'Truth' could not be searched for, on micro-blog Sina Weibo, used by more than 300 million users.
Those who type 'Truth', got the following message: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for 'Truth' cannot be displayed."
In India, we still believe that 'Truth will prevail' and we are not too bothered about ‘stability’.Also read: Is China ready to listen to rage of young Tibetans? | China experts divided on country's future
| The perils of diverting the Brahmaputra
| 'If France can intervene in Libya, why not in China'
| China in 2011: Smiles or threats?
| China's new propaganda tool - BuddhismBorn in France, Claude Arpi's quest began 36 years ago with a journey to the Himalayas. Since then he has been a student of the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He is the author of numerous English and French books. His book, Tibet: the Lost Frontier (Lancers Publishers) was released recently.
More columns by Claude Arpi