Report Says Valid Grievances at Root of Tibet Unrest

A group of prominent Chinese lawyers and legal scholars have released a research report arguing that the Tibetan riots and protests of March 2008 were rooted in legitimate grievances brought about by failed government policies — and not through a plot of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The lengthy paper is the result of interviews conducted over a month in two Tibetan regions. It represents the first independent investigation into the causes of the widespread protests, which the Chinese government harshly suppressed. The government blamed the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala for the unrest.

The government has quashed the expression of any dissenting opinions on the causes of the protests, which spread quickly across western China. The research paper was quietly posted last month on Chinese Web sites, and an English translation was released this week by the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group based in Washington.

The authors of the report are members of a Chinese group called Gongmeng, or Open Constitution Initiative, which seeks to promote legal reform in China. Lawyers in the group also tried to file lawsuits on behalf of families whose babies suffered in the tainted milk scandal last year, and two members have defended Tibetans in court this year.

The authors of the report concluded that Chinese government policies had promoted a form of economic modernization in Tibet that left many Tibetans feeling increasingly disenfranchised over the decades. The researchers found that Tibetans had enormous difficulty finding work in their homeland, while ethnic Han Chinese migrants seemed to have a monopoly on jobs in restaurants, hotels and stores. When violent rioting broke out in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on March 14, 2008, after four days of peaceful protests, businesses owned by Chinese were looted and burned. At least 19 people were killed, most of them Han Chinese.

“An important perspective for interpreting the 3/14 incident is that it was reaction made under stress by a society and people to the various changes that have been taking place in their lives over the past few decades,” the report said. “The notion that appears impossible to understand is the implication that reasonable demands were being vented, and this is precisely what we need to understand and reflect upon.”

The report also said: “When the land you’re accustomed to living in, and the land of the culture you identify with, when the lifestyle and religiosity is suddenly changed into a ‘modern city’ that you no longer recognize; when you can no longer find work in your own land, and feel the unfairness of lack of opportunity, and when you realize that your core value systems are under attack, then the Tibetan people’s panic and sense of crisis is not difficult to understand.”

The Dalai Lama said in an interview last week that migration by ethnic Han Chinese to the Tibetan plateau was one of the main threats to the future of Tibet, and he contended that the government in Beijing should allow a regional autonomous authority run by Tibetans to limit future migration as well as make policy on education, language and use of natural resources.

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place,” he said.

Chinese leaders have long said that the Dalai Lama ruled over a feudal system that kept a majority of Tibetans enslaved. They argue that when the Chinese Communist Party dissolved the old Tibetan government in March 1959, about a million Tibetan serfs were set free.

The report also cast blame on the governing structure in Tibetan regions, saying that there had been problems adapting Tibetan culture and society to the “ruling state’s systems.” It also criticized the central government for putting into power incompetent Tibetan local officials who, the researchers said, play up the threat of separatist movements to acquire more power and money from Beijing.

The report quoted Phuntsok Wangyal, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party in Tibet, as saying, “They are unable to admit their mistakes and instead put all of their effort into shifting accountability onto ‘hostile foreign forces.’ ”

Xu Zhiyong, a member of Gongmeng, said in a telephone interview that the report had been submitted to the government, but that there had been no response.

Edward Wong, New York Times, DHARAMSALA, India

The full report in English can be found on the ICT website.