April 3, 2008

Tibet: Diplomats Shown Tibet on Short Leash

Sample ImageChina has allowed diplomats to tour Lhasa, but supervised by state officials during a heavily orchestrated programme they saw little and were able to report even less.

Below is an article written by Geoffrey York and published by the Globe & Mail:

A group of diplomats making their first visit to Lhasa since the wave of Tibetan protests were prohibited by China from having any independent contact with locals - those imprisoned after the protests or even those on the street.

The visitors were not allowed to go anywhere outside the approved sites on the official program, a Canadian spokesman said.

A Canadian diplomat was one of 17 from 15 countries who were taken by Chinese authorities on a 20-hour visit to Lhasa on Friday [28 March 2008] and Saturday [29 March 2008]. No details were released by Canada until yesterday [1 April 2008].

Several countries said the diplomats were given assurances by Chinese officials in Lhasa that the monks who protested last week [Week 13, 2008] during the media visit would not be punished, but had no way to verify that during their tour.

"Diplomats were not permitted to deviate from the officially approved program and were not permitted to have unsupervised conversations with Tibetans," said Bernard Nguyen, a spokesman for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department. "Canada was disappointed that no contact was permitted with Tibetan detainees.

"While we appreciate this initial step towards greater transparency, we note that the program for the trip was very brief and tightly controlled by Chinese authorities."

The escorted tour was China's response to widespread condemnation of its decision to seal off Lhasa and evict all foreigners from Tibetan regions after the protests […] on March 14 [2008].

"All of the inspections, all of the meetings, all of the dialogue was conducted under supervision and in the presence of Chinese officials," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said this week after receiving a report from an Australian diplomat on the escorted tour.

Beijing also allowed a brief escorted visit to Lhasa last week by a small hand-picked group of foreign journalists. That visit, too, was tightly controlled, but it was disrupted by about 30 distraught Tibetan monks who embarrassed the Chinese officials by bursting into a briefing room, shouting that there was no religious freedom in Tibet.

The escorted tours for diplomats and journalists focused mainly on Chinese victims of the violent protests on March 14 [2008]. The visitors were taken to see burned-out buildings of Chinese shopkeepers and were brought to hospitals to meet injured police officers and other Chinese […].

Mr. Nguyen, the Canadian spokesman, said Canada is still "seriously concerned" by the situation in Tibet. He said Canada believes that China should open a dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, since this "may help to ensure an already tense situation does not deteriorate into further violence."

But there was no sign of compromise from Beijing yesterday [1 April 2008]. China claimed that the Dalai Lama's followers are organizing "suicide squads" to attack Chinese targets.

"To our knowledge, the next plan of the Tibetan independence forces is to organize suicide squads to launch violent attacks," said Wu Heping, a spokesman for the Chinese Public Security Ministry, at a news conference yesterday.

He said Chinese security forces had raided Tibetan monasteries and seized hundreds of guns, bullets, knives and explosives.

He refused to give any details or evidence of the "suicide squads." Tibet's government-in-exile, based in India, said the allegation was baseless.

China's military crackdown on the Tibetan protesters is partly driven by a fear of "splittists" among its restless minority regions in Western China, especially Tibet and the Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Yesterday [2 April 2008] there was news of two recent protests by the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Several hundred Uyghurs held protests on March 23 and 24 to demand greater autonomy for the region, but police swooped in and arrested about 400 of the protesters, according to a report by Radio Free Asia. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of a prominent Uyghur businessman in police custody, the report said.

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