“Tibetan area calmed by Chinese tolerance”

Financial Time’s Jamil Anderlini on the relatively calm situation in the parts of Amdo today partitioned into Qinghai, as opposed to the parts partitioned into Sichuan:

As demonstrations against Chinese rule swept across the Tibetan plateau in March 2008, the monks of Gartse lamasery led hundreds of lay people from the surrounding town in a protest march.

But unlike other Tibetan-majority areas, where Chinese troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, the Gartse monks were allowed to protest in peace. Now, as fresh protests and a grisly wave of self-immolations ripple through Chinese-ruled Tibetan areas, the situation around Gartse and most of what is today Qinghai province remains relatively calm.

From the wall of his small monk’s room, a large framed photo of the Dalai Lama, the deeply revered Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959, beamed down on him, despite the fact the picture is banned in China.

“Oh that, no, we don’t have a problem with the authorities over that, they know about them but they let us have these as long as we keep them in our personal space,” he explained with a wave of his crimson-robed arm.

“We have a cocktail of sensitive factors here which the authorities in Sichuan don’t seem to know how to handle appropriately but interestingly, they do seem to know how to handle them in Qinghai,” says Robbie Barnett, director of modern Tibet studies at Columbia University.

“There have been immolations and protests there too, large ones with hundreds of people, but there was no violence. It looks like they have different rules of engagement on the ground in Sichuan and Qinghai.”

The government’s more moderate approach was apparent in discussions last week with dozens of monks and lay people throughout Tibetan areas in Qinghai and neighbouring Gansu province.

Unconcealed pictures of the Dalai Lama, whom Chinese officials have referred to as a “terrorist” were present inside almost every home.

Unfortunately, analysts say that areas such as Qinghai are more likely to be ordered to emulate the ruthless methods of Sichuan than vice versa. That is especially true in a year when a new crop of officials will take over the reins of the Chinese Communist party and none can afford to look weak on a core issue of national sovereignty.

Of course, even the two self-immolations that Qinghai has seen is still more ever occurred in Tibetan history until the start of this crisis, and there are still serious applications of police-state governance taking place there, but it’s getting harder and harder to deny that the current situation in Sichuan is almost exclusively the fault of the provincial and prefecture governments.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

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