Chinese Police Open Fire on Dalai Lama Birthday Celebration
Well, it doesn’t look like the Chinese government will be letting up on the exiled Dalai Lama anytime soon.
On his 78th birthday this past Saturday, about 500 Dalai Lama supporters gathered to celebrate in Tawu (Daofu in Chinese) in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province, whose population includes a significant number of Tibetans. During the gathering, police officers appeared and ordered the group, which included many Buddhist monks and nuns, to disperse and then shot at them, critically wounding two and injuring seven more.
One member of the group told Radio Free Asia that the police also smashed the windows of their vehicles and beat them. The two with the worst injuries are monks from the Nyitso Monastery in Tawu. About twenty people remain in custody.
While observing the Dalai Lama’s birthday has traditionally been banned by authorities, supporters say that police have often looked the other way when they have burned incense or hung prayer flags.
However, the swift and violent crackdown is a sign that the Chinese government has no intentions of lifting its restrictions on the province or of taking a “softer line” towards the Dalai Lama, says the Guardian. A statement made on Tuesday by Yu Zhengsheng, China’s top official in charge of ethnic minorities who is ranked number four in the Communist hierarchy, indicated that stability, or the appearance of it, remains the Communist Party’s overriding policy after a change in leadership.
Indeed, Yu’s statement suggested that China will “deepen the struggle” against the Dalai Lama. Addressing political and religious leaders in southern Gansu province, Yu stated that, “for the sake of national unity and the development of stability in Tibetan regions, we must take a clear-cut stand and deepen the struggle against the Dalai clique.”
“Demonizing the Dalai Lama” remains essential, says the New York Times. Exiled in India since he fled after an unsuccessful uprising against the Chinese in 1959, the Dalai Lama is not calling for independence for Tibet, but for greater autonomy. Yu’s remarks made it clear that this is considered unacceptable: “The Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ aimed at achieving so-called ‘high-degree autonomy’ in ‘Greater Tibet’ is completely opposite to China’s constitution and the country’s system of regional ethnic autonomy.”
Tawu is located in what is called Kardze in Tibetan and Ganzi Prefecture by the Chinese government. The area is central to the ongoing protest against Chinese rule. Since 2008, 120 self-immolations have occurred, most in the heavily Tibetan provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. In January 2012, police opened fire on a protest in Draggo (Lujuo in Chinese), killing three and wounding 21, one of several instances in which police have “used lethal force to break up what they deemed to be illegal gatherings,” according to the New York Times.
The Chinese government has also not held back from using force to quash ethnic unrest in the Xinjiang province. 45 percent of the province’s residents are Muslim and, specifically, Uighur, an ethnic minority. In May, Chinese officials had visited the province to promote “ethnic harmony month” by delivering speeches on the topic. As The Economist observes, “On June 26th it became clear that their hard work had failed, as 35 people were killed in Shanshan in the bloodiest outbreak of ethnic violence in Xinjiang for four years.”
The government has blamed Islamic terrorists, as it has done in the past; it has even claimed (on the basis of minimal evidence) that some 100 Uighurs have gone to Syria to fight alongside the rebels there. Oher incidents of violence — some involving what the government calls “violent terrorist gangs” and occurring shortly before the fourth anniversary on July 5th of ethnic unrest in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, in which nearly 200 died — have “clearly unnerved” Beijing. Yu, the head of minorities and the domestic security chief to Meng Jianzhu, have all been sent to the region, while paramilitary police, armored tanks and army troops paraded through Urumqi and elsewhere.
The reason for the unrest is more likely “spontaneous anger triggered by heavy-handed controls on religious expression.” In one region, authorities have been putting pressure on Uighurs not to grow long beards and on women not to wear veils or religious clothing. While these measures are often ignored, authorities have been offering preferential access to loans and government-sponsored job training programs to those who shun Islamic dress.
In both areas heavily populated by Tibetans and in Xinjiang, China is again showing that it prefers to use force as much as it pleases to put down unrest, all in the name of “stability.”
Photo via SFT HQ/Flickr