Signs of the Dalai Lama: Is China’s Tibet Policy Changing?

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Ashwini Bhatia / AP

The Dalai Lama greets devotees as he arrives to give a religious talk, requested by a Buddhist group from Vietnam, at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharamsala, India, on July 1, 2013

Can he be seen or not? Last week, different organizations that follow Tibet, including Radio Free Asia, reported that in certain Tibetan regions, local authorities appeared to be allowing images of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, to be openly venerated for religious purposes. The seeming policy shift in parts of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces with large Tibetan populations was seen as possible evidence of a gentler approach to the troubled region by the new Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief Xi Jinping. (Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, was once the hard-line party head for Tibet and his decade in power as China’s top leader was marked by continued repression on the Tibetan plateau.)

Adding to the positive indications, London-based advocacy group Free Tibet said on June 27 that local officials told monks at a monastery in Lhasa, the tightly controlled capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), that the Dalai Lama’s image could now be publicly displayed for the first time in 17 years. This report provoked particular interest because government suppression of Tibetan spiritual and cultural expression has been harsher in the TAR than in Tibetan parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces.

(MORE: As Tibetans Burn Themselves to Protest Chinese Rule, Communists in Beijing Stress Happiness in Tibet)

But on June 28, China’s Foreign Ministry told journalists in Beijing that there had been no change at all in the country’s Tibet policy. On July 1, Free Tibet reported that Tibetan residents of Qinghai province had received a text message on their cellphones saying that the government’s policy toward the Dalai Lama — whom Chinese officials have called everything from “a wolf in monk’s clothing” to a cult leader akin to David Koresh of Waco fame — remained the same. The text message, according to a translation provided by Free Tibet, was attributed to the spokesperson of the Qinghai Nationality and Religious Affairs Committee and said:

In the recent days, some people have spread rumors online, by SMS and on Wechat [a Chinese social-media service] saying a new policy has been introduced in the Tibetan Area [of Qinghai]. We clearly announce that there is no change in the policy of CCP and Government toward the 14th Dalai [Lama]. The policy is consistent and steady. So the rumors spread by some people are only exaggeration. It is their purpose to distort what they see and disturb the minds of the people. They intend to ruin development and security in the Tibetan area. Relying on the care and help given by Central Government for many years, economy and society in Tibetan areas of our province have been comprehensively improved. The life of farmers and nomads is conspicuously improved. The people are enjoying protection of freedom of faith and of the regular activities of religious practice. We should cherish this good state, which is rare to achieve. We should not make rumors, should not believe rumors, and should not spread rumors but should develop the economy of Tibetan area in our province and should spontaneously try our best to guard the social security of Tibetan area.

The text message was sent eight days before the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6, a date around which Tibetans have rallied despite earlier government diktats banning them from celebrating the date. Since 2009, around 120 Tibetans have burned themselves in protest of the Chinese government, which they accuse of heavy-handed repression. Many of those who have died in fiery dissent have chosen as their final words praise for the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed rebellion against the Chinese state. Last month the 77-year-old Dalai Lama said the self-immolations have had little ability to influence Beijing’s Tibet policy but that he understood the desperation that has led everyone from monks to young mothers to douse themselves with petrol and strike a match.

(MORE: How Many Self-Immolating Tibetans Does It Take to Make a Difference?)

For its part, the Chinese government accuses the Dalai Lama (and his supporters) of orchestrating the self-immolations, a charge he denies. Beijing says that the CCP has dramatically improved the living standard of Tibetans since its troops marched onto the high plateau in 1950. Certain Tibetan areas are, indeed, profiting from a mining boom, and cities in the region have expanded quickly. But some Tibetans say that members of China’s Han ethnic majority, who have poured into the region in recent years looking for economic opportunities, have profited disproportionately from that growth.

A Human Rights Watch report released on June 27 estimated that since 2006 more than 2 million Tibetans have been relocated, often forcibly, as nomads and farmers are pushed off the land and into resettlement enclaves or so-called New Socialist Villages. In late June, the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the CCP, announced that the extensive reconstruction of Lhasa’s old town, where some of Tibetan Buddhism’s most sacred monuments exist, had the support of 96% of locals. Nevertheless, 100,000 people worldwide have signed a petition asking UNESCO, which has designated Lhasa a World Heritage site, to investigate reports that the city’s cultural legacy is being destroyed.

And what of the Dalai Lama’s image? When I was in a Tibetan part of western Sichuan in late 2011 to report on the rise of self-immolations, I saw his photos displayed discreetly in countless places: in small provisions stores, in monks’ quarters, on cellphone screens, even in large temples where Han Chinese tourists flock to. No one I talked to seemed clear as to whether his image was formally banned or not. But that didn’t stop them from quietly worshipping his picture.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups who follow Tibet have been hampered by the strangulated flow of information from the high plateau. Often when a self-immolation happens, phone and Internet access to the area is compromised. For such a vast, lightly populated region, the security apparatus in Tibet is fearsome. Still, Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, the director of Free Tibet, has sounded a guardedly optimistic note: “For the present, the regional government believes it is necessary to deny any such change in policy,” she says. “But this does not preclude the possibility that a change may be introduced later.”

PHOTOS: Happy 77th Birthday, Dalai Lama!

28 comments
TibetAnna
TibetAnna

Why are all comments with such hait? Why are you so angry about? 

TibetAnna
TibetAnna

HH Dalai Lama is the best man on the all world. If we could have more like Him and the world will have peace and justice. He His the spiritual leader of all human mind. Even if you do not believe. We believe. Bhod Gyalo. Tashi delek la. 

thuan.lam
thuan.lam

Dalai Lama is a piece of junk. As a Buddhist monk, he should get involved with politic. He violated what Buddhist Mink believd. He will be punished in hell.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

(sigh)

This article is hopelessly rooted in wishful thinking, especially given the author's concluding sentiment that, 

""Meanwhile, advocacy groups who follow Tibet have been hampered by the strangulated flow of information from the high plateau. Often when a self-immolation happens, phone and Internet access to the area is compromised. For such a vast, lightly populated region, the security apparatus in Tibet is fearsome. Still, Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, the director of Free Tibet, has sounded a guardedly optimistic note: “For the present, the regional government believes it is necessary to deny any such change in policy,” she says. “But this does not preclude the possibility that a change may be introduced later.”"

By quoting Ms. Byrne-Rosengren, the author expresses her tacit agreement with the statement.  Such agreement misses the point that China in no way, shape, or form will change its views towards the Dalai Lama, Tibet, etc.  China has an iron grip on the area, and will not risk revolution by softening its vice.  

To think China will even give a little freedom is foolish and naive.  A TIME writer/reporter should know better than to mislead readers with her own wishes and feelings towards such a serious and destructive issue.

839841531
839841531

In my country, this people is really a bitch.Ha, Ha, Ha.

PauVelascodC
PauVelascodC

@TIME @TIMEWorld when China stop killing innocent Tibetans, when Tibet is a free country, when the Dalai Lama can go home then it's changing

jesse
jesse

I'm not sure if Dalai is better than the government. The history of Tibet showed the sovereign governed those greedy "noble" monks had the worst human right.  I prefer democracy than that monk. 

RekhaVikas
RekhaVikas

@TIME @TIMEWorld It's a great news if there's not any hidden agenda of the Govtof China.Listen the voice of people.Democracy is the best way

duduong
duduong

Dalai signed up with the CIA in 1953 as an agent against China while working for the Chinese government as part of the local administration. CIA fired him 1972 when Nixon visited Mao, and, although he was deeply involved in numerous terrorist attacks in those 20 years, he reincarnated as the new peace-loving Gandhi in 1974. This history has been declassified and theoretically available to any US citizen for several years, but any reporting, including the Ameican film "CIA in Tibet", remains censored in the US and the UK. Propaganda hacks like Ms. Beech continue to pretend these evidences do not exist. 

As long as Dalai and the US refuses to apologize for their treacherous subversion that led to thousands of death and western media refuses to tell the truth, China will not deal with Dalai, a traitor to the nation, any more than the US will deal with Snowden, a traitor to the government only. He will die in a few years given his age, and those worshipers of this new-age guru will no longer have a convenient propaganda cover to bash China with.


SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@jesse Odd since the Tibetans almost universally want their former government back. Also strange considering that China had to invade, ruthlessly police and eventually exterminate much of the population in order to force communistic "enlightenment" onto them.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@duduong  

you're an idiot if you think his death is the end of it. his supporters will just support the next dalai lama, seeing as how there will be another one, and another, and another, etc. 

Bookevil
Bookevil

The idiot here is definitely you. It is the history, tradition and law that a new Dalai Lama has to been officially recognized by the ruling government (or emperor in the old times) of China. Plus, the religious and legal processes of recognizing a new Dalai Lama have to be performed in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa. These are common senses even to the least educated Tibetans. So, if the current Dalai Lama and his exiled Tibetans believe that they can religiously and legally select a new Dalai Lama among the exiled Tibetans, then they are not even convincing the most careless Tibetans, that their selection can be titled as Dalai Lama.

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@Bookevil  

that doesn't mean she hasn't been. she could've gone, seen that, and interpreted it differently. or not seen it at all. just because someone has a different point of view than you doesnt mean she hasn't been

Bookevil
Bookevil

Cause she talks with nonsense. The recent deaths in Tibet are the religious extremes, who burn themselves, as they believe Dalai Lama would give the blessing, which guarantees their happy next lives. In another word, they were pushed to death by Dalai Lama and his anti-China activists, not by government.

lambda
lambda

@Bookevil I cant agree with you ANYMORE, I am curious,why so many people think Tibetan is suffer from Chinese Govt? And how did they know that?! On the other hand, All Chinese are suffer from the situation that a country's rising too fast with little allocation unbalanced, but NOT just for Tibetan...

Bookevil
Bookevil

(contiuing above)

In reality, although there are some extremes burning themselves in protesting government, the majority of Tibetans are simply watching the protests with cold eyes. In summary, the Tibetans in Tibet recognize Chinese government's legitimacy, as it providing them livelihood and a promising future.

Bookevil
Bookevil

Glad to see you gone mad, and finally show your emtional and unreasonable mind.

First, it is unquestionable that a new Dalai Lama has to be recognized officially by the ruling government (or emperor) of China. Indeed, there were some people in history claiming to be Dalai Lama without Chinese recognization. However, as Tibet is a historical terriroty of China since many centuries ago, no Chinese governments (or emperors) could leastly tolerate a Dalai Lama, who refused their authority. Therefore, all the people, dare to claim themseleves as Dalai Lama without official recognizations, were all ousted (like the current one) or simply executed. As time goes, the official recognization from Chinese ruling government in succeeding the throne of Dalai Lama has become unquestionable in Tibet.

Second, you r really the naive and retarded one, if you believe the Tibetians in Tibet are too anti-Chinese to recognize Chinese government's legitimacy, as the exiled ones in India. What is the most desirable thing to the general Tibetian population, religious freedom or the right of free speech? You are naive, if you pick either one. The MOST DESIRABLE thing for the current Tibetians is a good and improving livelihood. That is the exact thing, which Chinese government are working on, actually doing it very well. In reality, although there are some extremes burning themseleves

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@Bookevil  

that's what the chinese government claims.  doesn't really matter what china claims if tibetans don't recognize the chinese government as legitimate.  but tell yourself whatever you want.  i'm sure after the current one dies tibetans will just give up and forget about their desire for freedom huh?  you're naive and retarded if you think that's the case but tell yourself whatever you want.  you're obviously chinese, so you obviously have a very biased view, so your opinion is pretty much worthless in my eyes.  you're way too emotionally invested to look at it from an objective standpoint.  must be nice living in ignorance