In this image taken from Cable TV video and provided by APTN, armored personnel carrier equipped with guns drives down street in Lhasa, capital of southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region Sunday, March 16, 2008.. (AP Photo/Cable TV via APTN)
The news from China’s Tibetan areas has been both unsettling and contradictory. After the protests began to turn violent about a week and a half ago, finding credible news sources became harder, as China blocked websites, and I was even unable to do web searches on Google News with the terms “Tibet” and “violence.”
In Beijing, where I just spent five days, the tension was obvious as well. Crowds that flowed in and out of the Forbidden City were carefully monitored by police, and told constantly to keep moving. Airport security was heightened, most noticeably when I was about to board my return flight at Beijing Airport. The search process took over five minutes, and innocuous items such as deodorant, shaving cream, and hand lotion were confiscated from my luggage by security personnel.
Here in Chengdu, the “gateway to Tibet,” rumors have been rife. Ethnic Tibetans are watched carefully by police. People express fear about going out alone. Today’s New York Times carries an interesting reflection of the local situation:
From this city of 10 million people in the middle of China, all roads leading west have been closed — except to convoys carrying soldiers and riot police officers to subdue Tibetan antigovernment protests. Chengdu has always been a gateway to the remote Tibetan plateau, but now it feels like a border outpost, tense and anxious, at the eastern edge of what several Tibetans here described as a war.
If it is a war, it is one the outside world cannot see. Police roadblocks have closed off a mountainous region about the size of France, spanning parts of the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. Foreign journalists trying to investigate reports of bloodshed are turned away or detained. Even in big cities like Chengdu, Tibetans say they are wary of police retaliation. They pass along secondhand accounts of clashes mostly on condition that their names will not appear in print.
The area around Wuhouci, a major temple and tourist attraction in Chengdu, is home to many Tibetans. The area has been surrounded by armed police for some time now.
The police said Chengdu itself is secure. But the Wuhouci neighborhood is enduring its own lockdown. Armed police officers now surround the neighborhood. White patrol cars cruise the streets, flashing their lights as officers bark through megaphones at vehicles to keep them moving.
Last week, the local police called a news conference to dispel rumors of a bomb threat. Chinese shopkeepers gossiped about reports that a Tibetan man from Aba had stabbed and killed two Han Chinese in the city. The police confirmed that a stabbing had occurred but said a single victim had only minor injuries.
Violence erupted in some of the areas of western Sichuan that I visited last summer, in the towns of Ganzi and Luhuo. There was a protest by Buddhist monks in Ganzi, and “The sound of gunfire can be heard in Luhuo,” [a] monk said. “A lama died. A soldier died. They are fighting a war now.”
In the tiny community of Bamei in western Sichuan, where the family of one of my Tibetan friends lives, the police presence was also strong: one press account said that the town was filled with 1,000 police.
The Chinese press, in the buildup to the Olympics, is reticent about giving many concrete details about the violence. The English-language issue of China Daily that I read on the airplane had a lead article that “debunked” several of the Western press accounts of the violence. [Lhasa riot reports show media bias in West]
As might be expected, the Chinese government claims that the Lhasa riots were “plotted by the Dalai clique,” labeling the protests as “secessionist” activities. The impetus to the unrest, the anniversaries of the Tibetan uprisings of 1959 and 1989, was heightened by the Olympic Year in China, just the before the Olympic torch is set to make its way across the country, through Tibet, and up Mount Everest.
Here’s the link to the NY Times story, which also has a video about the local situation in Chengdu:
Unrest at Shuttered Gateway to Tibet
New York Times, March 26, 2008