The unrest in the minority-inhabited areas of the Tibetan belt and the Xinjiang province of China continues unabated.
While the protest by the Buddhist Tibetans against the suppression of their religion and culture by the Han majority continues to take the forms of self-immolation by Tibetan monks—mainly in the Sichuan province— and non-cooperation with the authorities and non-observance of their instructions, the protest by the Muslim Uighur minority in the Xinjiang province has been taking violent forms.
Despite their strong campaign against His Holiness the Dalai Lama whom they have accused of instigating the self-immolations and despite the mass round-up of Tibetans present at the scenes of self-immolations on charges of instigating suicides, the Chinese have not been able to stop the self-immolations.
Simultaneously, the Tibetan campaign for the assertion of their Tibetan identity in which a large number of GenNext are participating has been confronting the authorities with a new situation which they do not know how to handle. They do not want to suppress it lest they be accused of seeking to destroy the Tibetan identity. At the same time, they are worried that this novel form of protest might strengthen the demand for Tibetan independence right across the Tibetan belt.
The non-cooperation movement took a new form during the Tibetan New Year (Losar) holidays towards the end of February. Reports received from the Tibetan areas indicate that large numbers of Tibetans refrained from celebrating their New Year in protest against the Chinese policies. They observed it as a period of mourning in memory of those who committed self-immolation since March last year.
The attempts of the Chinese authorities to force the Tibetans to celebrate their New Year failed. They then organised New Year celebrations in parts of Lhasa and other places, which were largely attended by the Han Chinese. The Government and Party-controlled media disseminated stories that these celebrations were actually organised by the Tibetans.
The non-cooperation movement has remained remarkably non-violent except three incidents of violence in the Sichuan province involving clashes between the protesting Tibetans and the local Police. In two of these incidents, local police stations were attacked and in the third there was an explosion in a police building in which the office of the intelligence set-up was located. A Tibetan carrying an explosive device was allegedly killed due to a premature detonation.
The Chinese security authorities are used to dealing ruthlessly with violent outbreaks, but they are confused by the spread of the non-violent non-cooperation movement and do not know how to deal with it.
The spread of the non-cooperation movement seems to be the result of local initiatives with calls for non-cooperation disseminated through word of mouth, but the Chinese fear that there is a hitherto unidentified Tibetan group which has been orchestrating the protest movement.
The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which was behind the violent upheaval of 2008, has been quiet. There has been no evidence of any role by it in the current non-violent protest movement.
This non-violent non-cooperation movement has been causing greater nervousness in Government and party circles in Beijing than the violent incidents of 2008. This nervousness was reflected in the speeches calling for strong action against the so-called Tibetan splittists inspired by His Holiness which were delivered at a conference on Tibet held at Beijing on March 1. The importance of safeguarding social harmony and stability in the Tibetan region extending across Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan was stressed by Jia Qinglin, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The Party-owned People’s Daily quoted him as having said as follows: “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 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."
While the Buddhist Tibetans thus continue to protest by following Gandhian methods of non-violent non-cooperation, the resentment of the Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang province has been taking violent forms. On the night of February 28, there were violent clashes between the Han Chinese and local Uighurs in the Kashgar area following some insulting remarks allegedly made by some Hans. The protesting Uighurs allegedly stabbed 13 Hans to death. The Police then intervened and shot dead seven Uighurs who had allegedly taken part in the violent incidents.
It has been reported that in recent months there has been a fresh government-organised migration of Hans into Xinjiang and this has aggravated the anti-Han resentment of the Uighurs, who have already been reduced to a minority in their homeland.
As part of their pacification policy, the Chinese authorities have embarked on a crash economic development programme in the Tibetan belt and in Xinjiang, but the locals allege that the economic benefits of this programme have been mainly going to the Hans settled in these areas to whom priority is given in the matter of jobs. Moreover, under the pretext of facilitating economic development, more Hans are being settled in the minority areas.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.