Tibetan youth organizations in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China have kept up their campaign for the observance of the Tibetan New Year’s Day (Losar) on February 25,2009, as a day of mourning in homage to those killed by the Chinese security forces in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics of August,2008, and March 10,2009, as a day of the Tibetan resistance struggle to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from Tibet and the completion of what they describe as the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
2. Appeals have been issued to Tibetan youth all over the world to express their solidarity with the people of Tibet by observing these anniversaries in the manner indicated by them. While the Tibetan youth organizations in China as well as outside have been repeatedly saying that the observance of these two anniversaries will be peaceful and dignified, one cannot rule out the possibility of violent incidents as had happened last year.
3. The Chinese authorities in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China are taking no chances. They have sent reinforcements of security forces from the adjoining provinces to Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas and continue to make a large number of preventive arrests of Tibetan youth and monks suspected of being sympathetic to the Dalai Lama. House searches have been undertaken to seize and destroy pictures of the Dalai Lama.
4. Reports of sporadic public protests and alleged police excesses against Tibetan youth and monks continue to come in with increasing frequency as the two anniversaries approach. Apart from preventing any violent or embarrassing incident, the Chinese authorities are also trying to ensure that large numbers of Tibetans and Han Chinese participate in the celebration of Losar being organized by them. Boycott of these officially-organised Losar celebrations is being treated as a crime. There is a danger that the Chinese effort to force the Tibetan youth and monks to participate in the official celebrations may lead to street clashes .
5. This year, the situation is more unfavourable to the Tibetan youth and monks than it was last year as a result of the Maoists coming to power in Nepal. Last year, many Tibetan refugees from Nepal managed to cross over into Tibet and participate in the anti-Beijing protests. This year, in response to Chinese requests, the Maoist Government in Kathmandu has tightened up surveillance and movement restrictions on the Tibetan refugees to prevent their entering into Tibet. Telephone communications between Tibet and Nepal are being strictly controlled and watched to prevent any pre-Losar interactions between the Tibetan youth and monks in Nepal and Tibet. Internet links are also subject to similar controls.
6. Enterprising Tibetan youth in Western countries have been managing to circumvent these controls in order to remain in touch with the youth and monks in China. The Chinese security agencies have encouraged a number of Han Chinese co-operating with the Government agencies to start their own blogspots and chat groups by posing as alienated Tibetans and interact with foreign-based Tibetans in order to identify them and collect information about the plans for the protests.
7. Overseas Tibetan youth organizations have started web broadcasts to the Tibetans in China. These broadcasts, which have managed to evade jamming or other technical disruptions by the Chinese, have been disseminating messages for the observance of the two anniversaries as days of mourning. They say that March 14,2008, saw the beginning of a new phase of the Tibetan resistance struggle and assert that the Chinese will not be able to crush it.
8. In the run-up to the Losar, the most restive area has been the Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi] Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of the Sichuan province. There are under-currents of social tensions in the Sichuan province due to the return to the province of a large number of Chinese who lost their jobs in the coastal areas due to the economic crisis. The tensions in the Tibetan community due to religious and ethnic reasons and those in the local Han Chinese community due to economic reasons could become a dangerous mix in the weeks to come.
9. While media reports that the Chinese authorities have imposed a curfew in Lhasa have not been confirmed, it has been reported by independent sources that Western parts of the Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces, which have large Tibetan communities, are again closed to foreign tourists.
10. There is growing disenchantment among Tibetan youth and monks over what they see as the attempts by President Barack Obama and Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to play down the violations of the human rights of the Tibetans. Mrs.Clinton’s visit to Beijing from February 20 to 22,2009, came five days before the Losar. The Tibetan youth and monks were expecting that she would reiterate forcefully the US interest in ensuring respect for the human rights of the Tibetans. Her remarks on the human rights issue were very general and lacking forceful articulation. The Tibetans have been describing Obama as a two-issue President with his entire focus on setting right the economy and reversing the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan. For the sake of Chinese co-operation in setting right the economy, Obama and Mrs.Clinton are prepared to close their eyes to the human rights situation in Tibet. So, they say.
11. Attempts may be made by angry Tibetan youth to create embarrassing situations outside Chinese diplomatic missions in India. Security for them needs to be tightened. (22-2-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )