May 23, 2011

Tibet: US Senators Return, But Maybe Without The Full Story

Following a 12-day visit to Tibet, a delegation from the US Senate has now issued a report on its findings, but it may reflect more Beijing’s efforts to project ‘harmony’ than the reality on the ground.

Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia and translated by High Peaks Pure Earth:

A report based on the visit of a delegation of representatives of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Central Tibet and the Amdo region of Tibet was recently made public and even translated into Chinese. As someone who has been in contact with this delegation, I am naturally interested in this report and have already discussed it with several fellow Tibetans. The general opinion is that after rushing through Tibet in 12 days, accompanied by Chinese officials, producing a report that touches upon such a vast variety of issues is quite an achievement.

However, first, it needs to be pointed out that the report states that “staff members enjoyed several hours of unaccompanied time each morning and evening”, during which they could “travel unescorted around Lhasa, observing city life and chatting with a variety of residents and visitors to the city”. To me, this just sounds like a wonderful thing.

Last year, I returned to Lhasa twice, and altogether spent four months there, witnessing with my own eyes the great show that is put on in the streets of Lhasa. For example, one day, the military police suddenly vacated the bustling streets of the city, the officers patrolling the old town changed their outfits into yellow sportswear or jeans and even the special police forces on the roofs of Tibetan houses covered up half of their bodies, making visible only a broad line of black hats appearing and disappearing on the roofs. The next day, it was reported on Tibetan TV that a group of domestic and foreign journalists had come to Lhasa to conduct interviews, and government officials asked them in all seriousness to report on the “real Tibet”. These kinds of big shows are often put on, Lhasa people have already grown accustomed to them. Hence, the report’s following sentence stating that “China’s willingness to open Tibet to foreign official visitors reflects growing confidence among Chinese authorities that conditions in Tibet have stabilised”, should be changed into “reflects the confidence among Chinese authorities in their presentation of the stable conditions in Tibet”.

In view of this, although the report touches upon many important problems, some of its conclusions are still worth questioning. For example, looking at the case of immigration, the report states that “indeed, a surprising finding is that Han migration appears to be occurring organically, and does not appear to be the result of a deliberate Chinese government policy to populate Tibet with non-Tibetans. The migration of ethnic Han settlers to Tibet is more the byproduct of Chinese economic development strategies than a goal of them”.

In reality, however, already before the protests in March 2008, Tibet went through a reform of the household registration system, so as to encourage people from inside China to settle in Tibet and provide them with a Tibetan hukou (household registration). Workers from Sichuan, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and other provinces who came to build houses, open restaurants, repair cars, grow vegetables etc all had a “double hukou” and quite a few even changed their ethnic status. Many migrants bring their entire families along, so special migrant workers schools have been set up to cater to these people and even in local experimental primary schools or in Lhasa middle school, the proportion of non-Tibetan pupils is high. As for “college entrance exam migration”, out of the over 60 Tibetan students admitted to Beijing’s main universities, almost half are non-Tibetans who have changed their ethnic status and are officially registered as Tibetans.

Simultaneously, in the name of development and the need for outstanding talents and investment opportunities, a series of preferential policies was passed; for example in the 2000 “provisional regulations to attract talent” in Lhasa it is declared that “special preferential policies should apply to talent with regards to job title, research funding, salary, bonuses, accommodation, and household registration”. After the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, “Phoenix Weekly” reported in a special article titled “Gun Shots Startle Potala Palace”: “in 2006, the Tibet Autonomous Region formulated a series of policies and measures to encourage Chinese and foreign business people to participate in mining activities by providing them with special assistance regarding tax, land seizure, finance and other formalities”. In 2009, the “the summary of preferential policies for Lhasa Economic and Technological Development Zone” was launched, which placed emphasis on “combining the preferential policies regarding Tibet put forward by the Fourth Work Forum on Tibet with the actual situation of the Development Zone” and provide attractive preferential policies regarding land, tax, loans, foreign trade, industry and commerce, and administration. In terms of household registration, those who invest more than 100 thousand RMB will be promised to obtain a non-rural hukou for “themselves, their spouse and their children”. The rural hukou can solve the problem of the so-called special “blue-print hukou; after having worked or lived in the Tibet Autonomous Region for 3 years, people’s hukou will change into a non-rural, permanent one”.

Furthermore, the state examination to become a civil servant does not require a test in Tibetan language, which also represents an invisible encouragement to migrate. As for taxi drivers, which are even required to have a local hukou in the capital city Beijing, in Lhasa out of the over 1300 taxi-drivers, only a minority number are actually Tibetan. Also, after 2008, Tibet has started offering positions to former members of the PLA; for example, in the Tibet Autonomous Region Federation of Literary and Art Circles, which I used to work for, many non-professional former members of the PLA have been employed over recent years.

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