Stop the bloodshed — freedom for Tibet!

By Tony Iltis

March 28, 2008 -- A demonstration by Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on March 10 to commemorate the anniversary of China’s crushing of the Tibetan independence movement in 1959 triggered protests for self-determination that, by March 14, had escalated into anti-Chinese riots in which 19 people were killed.

Over 100 Tibetans are reported to have been killed, and hundreds more arrested, by Chinese occupation forces.

This eruption of mass anger — that spread to cities throughout the Tibetan Autonomous Region and the neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan, historically part of Tibet and with large ethnic Tibetan communities — was a response not only to the 58-year-old Chinese military occupation of Tibet, but to the dispossession and marginalisation of Tibetans by an influx of both global capital and Han Chinese transmigrants.


For Tibetans, the integration of Tibet into China’s rapidly growing economy has meant expropriation of land, loss of grazing rights, environmental destruction, discrimination in employment, education and economic opportunities and the prospect of becoming a dispossessed minority in their own country.

This has been accelerated by the linking of Lhasa to the Chinese railway system in July 2006, facilitating increased transmigration and export of copper and uranium. The profits from resource extraction are also exported.

The growth in the work force and commerce has largely involved non-Tibetans, who comprise 22% of Lhasa’s population according to official statistics — although the figure would be about 60% if migrant workers and military personnel were included.

There is 80% unemployment for ethnic Tibetans. The explosion of Tibetan anger on March 14 included attacks on Han Chinese and members of the Hui minority and the burning and looting of Han- and Hui-owned small businesses, something that has been emphasised by the Chinese government and official media who described the riots as a racist pogrom.

The Chinese government has also argued that the disturbances were orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, who has headed the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dhramsala, India, since he fled during the 1959 uprising. However, while he supported the initial March 10 protest by monks, the Dalai Lama has distanced himself from the spontaneous mass upsurge that followed, threatening to resign if violent protests continued.

Furthermore, the Dalai Lama has ruled out Tibetan independence despite this being a prominant demand of the protesters. After March 14, the Buddhist hierarchy inside Tibet also distanced itself from the protests.

The riots have revealed a gulf between the government-in-exile and the aspirations of Tibetans inside the country. Among the 300,000 Tibetans living in exile, mainly in India and Nepal, there are also tensions between the Dalai Lama’s leadership and the 30,000-strong Tibetan Youth Congress, which supports independence and refuses to rule out armed struggle.

“China does not deserve the Olympics because the human rights situation has deteriorated. Independence is the only solution”, TYC president Tsewang Rigzin told the March 18 British Times. The Dalai Lama has opposed boycotting this year’s Beijing Olympics.

While the Chinese government has portrayed the protests and riots as part of a Western plot to dismember China, the Western response has been restricted to vague calls for respect for human rights and “restraint” by both sides.

The response of Australian PM Kevin Rudd was typical. “Australia has a sophisticated relationship with China and there are areas, such as human rights, where the trading partners disagree. We are … going to prosecute a robust economic relationship, a robust foreign policy relationship”, he told ABC television’s 7.30 Report on March 27.


The Beijing portrayal of Tibet as an indivisable part of China is false. While at different times the theocratic nobility of Tibet recognised Chinese overlordship, historically they constituted seperate political entities.

A 1904 British invasion was repulsed in 1909 with Chinese help, but the 1911 Chinese revolution left Tibet as an effectively independent state until 1950 when it was occupied by troops of the Peoples Republic of China, established by the previous year’s revolution.

Initially the PRC left the Tibetan theocratic ruling class, headed by the Dalai Lama, intact.

However, a combination of popular opposition to the occupation troops, concerns by the nobility over the spectre of land reform and support from the CIA — who from 1956 were arming Tibetan nationalists as part of their attempts to roll back communism — led to the 1959 uprising, the flight of the Dalai Lama and the expropriation of the theocratic landowners.

While the land reform gave some benefits to the Tibetan people, the denial of national self-determination, discrimination in education and employment, and attacks on Tibetan culture and religion — which reached a peak during the “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s — meant that Tibetans remained hostile to Chinese rule.

In 1969 a mass uprising in Tibet was brutally suppressed.

The opening of China to foreign capital in the 1980s and ’90s and the transition to a capitalist market economy has exacerbated tensions in Tibet, whose role in China’s “miracle economy” is a source of raw materials and destination for transmigrants.

The integration of China into the global economy has meant that the West has ended support for Tibetan independence. Calls for the recognition of Tibetan rights and Western politicians’ relationship with the Dalai Lama have become a bargaining chip to be used with an economic partner that is sometimes a rival. The Dalai Lama’s renunciation of the goal of independence in 1994 reflects his closeness to the West.

However, the history of the Tibetan struggle being promoted in the West for its own ends during the Cold War, and in some cases the illusions created that Tibet under the theocratic landowning class was some kind of spiritual paradise, has meant that the Tibetan cause remains relatively popular among people in the West, including high-profile “celebrity activists”, such as actor Richard Gere.

Spiritual paradise?

Support based on the “spiritual paradise” myth mirrors the Chinese portrayal of the Tibetan struggle as a struggle against modernity.

In a 1997 interview with the PBS Frontline program, Tibetan journalist Jamyang Norbu said, “I think, primarily the West sees Tibet, to some extent, as a fantasy land, as a Shangri La. Of course, this is a kind of stereotype that has existed in the Western kind of perception for a very long time, even before the movie Lost Horizon was made …

“There’s a kind of New Age perception of Tibet … The idea [is] that even [the] materialist west will be saved by the spiritualism of the Tibetan Buddhists. It’s total nonsense …

“This is the problem that Tibetans face, because their issues and the tragedy of Tibet has not being taken seriously. Primarily, it’s very fuzzy; it’s sort of a feel good issue, rather than a stark, ugly reality. A lot of people love Tibetans in the West, tremendous sympathy, but it’s a very fuzzy kind of sympathy, because it never touches on the reality.”

Norbu explained: “When I talk about my politics, about my country, oftentimes the critics I get are not Chinese or other Tibetans, but Westerners. They say, ‘How dare you contradict the Dalai Lama? How dare you say Tibetans should take up arms against the Chinese?’ And, I reply to them, ‘I’m a Tibetan. This is my country. These are issues that are close to me.’

“Whether the Tibetans want to get their country back [through] peace or violence or whatever, that’s their business.”

Rather than resisting modernity, Tibetans are resisting a modernisation process being forced on them by an occupying power and whose benefits they have been excluded from. Norbu raised the spectre of Tibetans suffering the fate of indigenous people in North America, being confined to reservations, a “sort of broken third-rate people … begging from tourists”.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities are attempting to reimpose “normality” in Tibet through an overwhelming military presence. On March 27 they felt secure enough to invite the first group of foreign journalists into Tibet since the protests started for a stagemanaged visit to a Lhasa temple. However, this did not go as the authorities planned, when 30 younger monks gatecrashed the event shouting pro-independence slogans.

Regardless of which powers have sought in the past to manipulate the Tibetan struggle for its own purposes, and whatever the political character of a figure such as the Dalai Lama (the position of which is a relic from Tibet’s theocratic past) the Tibetan people retain the same rights as all people to self-determination.

From Green Left Weekly issue #745 2 April 2008.

The Tibetan and Uighur struggles for justice

Tony Iltis 4 April 2008

Chinese authorities had detained more than 1000 Tibetans by April 3 in the wake of protests and riots calling for self-determination that started on March 10, the BBC reported on April 4.

According to Tibetan sources, 140 protesters have been shot by police and troops. The Chinese government has only acknowledged 18 deaths: those that occurred on March 14 when crowds rioted in Lhasa. Most of these victims were Hui and Han Chinese, killed by rioters who were burning and looting non-Tibetan businesses.

The protests began on March 10 with commemorations by Buddhist monks and nuns in Lhasa of the anniversary of the unsuccessful 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Perhaps seeking to avoid a public relations problem in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, the response of the Chinese authorities was initially relatively restrained.

However, this restraint disappeared after March 14, when the clergy’s protests triggered spontaneous outpourings of anger by ordinary Tibetans that spread throughout the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Tibetan-majority areas of the neighbouring Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces.

Uighur struggle

Meanwhile, on March 23 and 24 more 1000 people from the Uighur nationality demonstrated in the city of Khotan in the south of Xinjiang. The protests were sparked by the killing in police custody of Uighur businessperson Mutallip Hajim and restrictions on women wearing Islamic headscarves.

The Uighurs, along with most of the non-Han nationalities in Xinjiang, are Muslim. More than 500 Uighurs have been detained by Chinese authorities who blamed the Khotan protests on the “three evil forces” of seperatism, terrorism and religious extremism.

The grievances fuelling both Tibetan and Uighur opposition to Chinese rule are broadly similar. In both cases, while incorporation into the People’s Republic of China in the decade following the 1949 revolution brought economic development and the elimination of oppressive pre-capitalist class relations, this was offset by cultural and religious persecution and discrimination vis-a-vis Han Chinese, reflected in significantly lower indicators in education, health and employment.

In both Tibet and Xinjiang, the market-driven economic reforms of the 1980s and ’90s that lead to the integration of China into the global capitalist economy increased national tensions. The boom in Chinese manufacturing has been largely concentated in the coastal provinces of the east, with Xinjiang and Tibet confined to being sources of raw materials.

Furthermore, the sparsely populated autonomous regions have become destinations for Han Chinese transmigration. The discrimination and educational disadvantage faced by the local population has meant that, in both Xinjiang and Tibet, the rapidly growing modern sector of the economy and the work force is dominated by transmigrants.

National movements

The Chinese government portrays the separatists movements as backward-looking. However, it is the exclusion of the local populations from the benefits of development, not development itself, that is fuelling anti-Chinese sentiment in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In both Tibet and Xinjiang, the national movements have a religious aspect: Buddhist in the case of the former, Muslim in that of the latter. That the Tibetan protests have become a major issue in the Western media while those of the Uighurs have been largely ignored can be partly explained by the Islamophobia that has become a central feature of imperialist propaganda since the “war on terror”, which has replaced the anti-Communist Cold War as the main justification for Western aggression against the Third World.

The main pro-independence organisation in Xinjiang, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, is classified as a terrorist group in the US as well as in China. During the Cold War, the CIA supported armed nationalist groups in both Tibet and Xinjiang until the rapprochement between China and the West in 1972.

However, the prominent coverage of Tibet also reflects a popular Western myth that portrays the isolated, Himalayan country as having been a spiritually inclined utopia.

In reality it was a society comprised mainly of impoverished, overworked and illiterate serfs whose subservience to the theocratic nobility was enforced with institutionalised torture. During the Cold War the myth of a utopia was promoted and it was successfully exploited by the leader of the theocratic elite, the Dalai Lama, after he fled to India following the crushing of the 1959 uprising.

Notwithstanding that he started his political career as theocratic despot, and took 60 tonnes of treasure with him into exile, the Dalai Lama’s saintly image has seen him win the Nobel Peace Prize. Not surprisingly, Western politicians are as keen as rock gods and movie stars to be seen meeting him.

Western support?

However, while verbal support for Tibet is sometimes used by the Western politicians to strengthen their position with respect to China, it would be a mistake to assume that, as was the case during he Cold War, Western imperialist powers are seeking Tibetan independence.

Not only is China embracing capitalism, it has become essential to the globalised economy. The booming manufacturing industry of eastern China is either directly or indirectly controlled by Western capital.

While many leftists and anti-imperialists see self-determination for Tibet as tool to open up Tibet to the imperialist global market, this is ignoring the fact that the imperialist global market is reaching Tibet through the Beijing-Lhasa railway.

The Western desire not to see China dismembered is reflected by the Dalai Lama, who supports autonomy, as opposed to independence, as makes moral strictures against rioting. This is creating a divergence between his government-in-exile and Tibetans inside the country.

For its part, the Chinese government are using the similarity between the self-determination struggles in Tibet and Xinjiang to tar the Tibetans with the terrorism brush. On April 1, public security ministry spokesperson Wu Heping accused the Dalai Lama of preparing squads of suicide bombers to attack the Olympics.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #745 2 April 2008.

[Tony Iltis is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 04/15/2008 - 21:09



Image removed.The picture shows part of the thousand strong contingent of Chinese troops from the Peoples’ Armed Police (PAP) who Beijing sent to participate in the occupation of Haiti.

Haiti has been in turmoil in recent weeks due to a disastrous rise in food prices, and the general decline in living standards since the invasion by France and the USA, backed by Canada, in February 2004. Laughably, the pretext of their invasion was to defend democracy, but occupation troops from both the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are from countries whose governments are not elected. They deposed a democratically elected government, that was still overwhelmingly popular with most of the country’s citizens. Reporting from Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, in March 2004, the BBC’s correspondent was obliged to concede that, whereas Aristide was ‘universally reviled’ by the wealthy elite, he was still almost as universally supported by the great majority of the urban poor

Four people have been killed and 20 injured in the recent protests, and shops were looted as pro-democracy protestors clashed with security forces. Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis has been forced to resign.

Since the invasion, living standards have collapsed, and the reforms of president Aristide aimed to help the poor have been reversed. The UN World Food Programme said last week it has received so far only 13 per cent (or US$12.4 million) of the US$96 million necessary to assist 1.7 million people in Haiti.) Haitians literally face starvation under the barrels of UN rifles.

According to Haiti Action, Since the Chinese troops arrived in 2004, they have been supporting the Haitian police in their crackdown on supporters of the reforming President Aristide, deposed by the French and American invasion. They were involved along with Brazilian soldiers in a week-long siege of the community of Bel Air in June 2005, and during that operation, the Haitian police burned down more than twelve homes in the area and more than 30 people were reportedly gunned down in the panic that ensued. The Chinese were also accused by members of Aristide’s Lavalas movement of taking video and photographs during peaceful demonstrations that are later used to persecute them.

So this is a paradox. French President Sarkosy is threatening to boycott the Beijing Olympics because of Chinese “occupation” of Tibet. But France invaded the independent soveriegn state of Haiti only four years ago, and has since cooperated with a Chinese occupation force in Haiti?

Amid the claims that France intervened in Haiti out of humanitarian concern, we might point out that they did have a very clear economic and political interest in the overthrow of the Aristide government.

As Peter Hallward explains in New Left Review: following US financial sanctions introduced by the Clinton administration the desperately cash-starved Aristide attempted to rally his countrymen in April 2003 with the demand that, in the bicentennial year of Haitian independence, France should reimburse the 90 million francs that Haiti had been forced to pay between 1825 and 1947 as compensation for the loss of slave owners’ property. Assuming a low return of 5 per cent in annual interest, he calculated that the sum was now equivalent to 21 billion American dollars. Aristide got a lot of support for this demand both inside and outside of Haiti, particularly in Africa and Latin America. Unlike most slavery-related reparation demands currently in the air, the Haitian claim refers to a precise and documented sum of money extracted in hard currency by the colonial power.

This was a huge diplomatic embarrassment for France one of the richest countries in the world, exposed for having extorted a fortune from the most impoverished country in the Western hemisphere, and stunted its economic development for more than a century. Within a year of the reparations claim being made French troops were on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and the grateful Haitian mobsters installed by the French and Americans to replace Aristide dropped the claim against France.

I will write a follow up article about Chinese foreign policy, which explains how they ended up in this sort of situation in Haiti, but for now let us just marvel at the hypocrisy of the French government.

The French have even played their own small role in training the Chinese how to supress protests: during a videotaped interview in 2007, information officer with the Chinese force in Haiti, Zhang Jin said , “We have the firepower and technology to control any situation that may arise here. What we gain from this experience is a real life situation where we can practice strategic and tactical deployment. That is invaluable to any fighting force.”