Before the outbreak of the disturbances in Tibet and the adjoining Tibetan-inhabited areas on March
10, 2008, the Chinese Olympic Organising Committee had planned to take the Olympic torch to Tibet twice. It was to be taken first to the summit of the Everest from the Chinese side by a group of Chinese mountaineers and then taken to other provinces. Thereafter, it was to be brought back to Tibet for a second time for being taken across Lhasa, the capital, and adjoining areas.
The Committee had announced the dates of the second run as between June 19 and 21, 2008, but it had kept the dates of the climb to the Everest a secret to prevent the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) from disrupting it. However, one could guess that it would be in the last week of April and the first week of May, 2008, from the fact that the Chinese authorities had imposed a ban on foreign tourists and journalists travelling to the Himalayan foothills till May 10. They had pressured the Nepal government to ban all expeditions to the Everest till May 10, since they were afraid that the TYC volunteers may climb the Everest from the Nepal side and cause an avalanche on the Chinese side as the flame was being taken to the top of the Everest.
It is learnt that in the wake of the continuing unrest in the Tibetan-inhabited areas, the matter was considered by the party leadership in Beijing and a suggestion reportedly made by Prime Minister Wen Jiabo that the torch should be taken to Tibet only once between June 19 and 21 and that the proposal for Chinese mountaineers to take it to the top of the Everest should be abandoned. This suggestion was reportedly accepted. Though no official announcement was made about it, Chinese officials in Beijing and Lhasa indicated that the ban on the travel of foreign tourists to Tibet would be lifted from May 1.
However, this position has been changed and Chinese officials have been saying that they are determined to take the torch to the top of the Everest whatever be the consequences and that the ban on the foreign tourists going to Tibet would continue even after May 1 till further orders. They apparently intend lifting the ban only after the torch has been taken to the top of the Everest, brought down and taken to other provinces.
The reiteration of the plan to take the torch to the top of the Everest is reported to have been the outcome of a strong opposition from a group of Neo Red Guards consisting of Mr Meng Jianzhu, the minister for Public Security, Mr Zhang Qingli, the head of the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet, and Mr Qiangha Puncog, the head of the Tibetan government. It is understood that the policy on Tibet is increasingly dictated by this group, which enjoys the support of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). This group reportedly argued that any plans to abandon the climb to the Everest with the torch could be seen by the Tibetans as a sign of weakness and could further worsen the situation. Its views prevailed.
In the meanwhile, after nearly a month of vicious attacks on the so-called Dalai clique, which was held responsible for the uprising in Tibet, the government-controlled media has now turned its guns on the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), whose activities are being compared to those of Al Qaeda and the Chechen terrorists in Russia. The government-owned People's Daily, which has been carrying articles on this subject, has avoided giving the impression that these are its views. Instead, it has been projecting them as the views of Chinese netizens, having their own blogs.
It might be useful to have a look at the text of an interview given by Mr. Zhang Qingli to Spiegel, the well-known German journal, on August 16, 2006.
B. Raman 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.