I’m not about to say that stories about the Tibet People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM) are getting spiked in some kind of journalistic omerta dedicated to keeping the existence of this awkward group out of reporting on the Tibetan disturbances…
…but I was interested enough in the issue to send a query about the absence of TPUM from news reports to a distinguished Asian correspondent.
He responded! and advised that he considered that TPUM was not important enough to merit mention in dispatches.
Not important! I sputtered to myself.
I think TPUM’s plenty important.
So do the Chinese, for that matter.
TPUM is a five-member coalition comprised of: the two biggest Tibetan NGOs: the Tibetan Youth Congress (30,000 members) and the Tibetan Women’s Association (13,000 members); the TYC’s political wing, the National Democracy Party of Tibet; Students for a Free Tibet, India; and Gu-Chu-Sum Association of Ex-Political Prisoners, which, if a critical post on a site called World Report is accurate, ranks second on the list of recipients of National Endowment for Democracy Tibet-related largesse, only behind Richard Gere’s International Campaign for Tibet.
TPUM is noteworthy for its fire-eating declaration calling for direct action inside as well as outside Tibet:
The Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement is a global movement of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet taking control of our political destiny by engaging in direct action to end China’s illegal and brutal occupation of our country. Through unified and strategic campaigns we will seize the Olympic spotlight and shine it on China’s shameful repression inside Tibet, thereby denying China the international acceptance and approval it so fervently desires.[emph. added]
We call on Tibetans inside Tibet to continue to fight Chinese domination and we pledge our unwavering support for your continued courageous resistance. [emph. in original]
On one hand, TPUM has only associated itself publicly with one action, a protest March to Tibet from Dharmsala that, thanks to a hostile attitude by the Indian government, has sputtered along ineffectually.
The concrete goals of the march have never been clearly articulated but apparently range from a best-case destination of Lhasa (they are rather coy about how they hope to get there) and a minimum objective of heightened Tibetan consciousness and independence-related militancy.
On the other hand, there’s the statement in the declaration that“we will bring about another uprising that will shake China’s control in Tibet and mark the beginning of the end of China’s occupation”, and a video message (undated, but apparently prepared prior to March 10) from the leaders of the five groups comprising TPUM.
Ngawang Woeber of Gu-Chu-Sam leads off with the longest message, concluding:
Our goal is to bring together all Tibetans inside and outside Tibet before the Beijing Olympics begin. We will join a unified campaign to restore Tibetan freedom. This is an historic opportunity we can’t afford to miss. This opportunity won’t come again. Secondly, China’s policies in Tibet are getting more destructive day by day. Chinese population transfer to Tibet has made matters even more urgent for us. Now it is time for Tibetans everywhere to rise up. In the spirit of the 1959 Tibetan national Uprising we must rise up and resist and bring about an even greater Uprising. An Uprising that will shake the Chinese government to its core. Those who can walk shall join the March to Tibet. Those with money shall support the movement. In short, whatever resources you have—skills, experience, wealth, courage—this is the time to bring it to the table and make a real impact on our struggle. We need everyone. [emph. added]
To me, that sounds like a call to action. Inside Tibet as well as outside. And it’s not coming from some slogan-spouting wannabe college revolutionary. Those are the words of somebody who did hard time in a Chinese prison and knows the terrible cost that anti-government words and actions can bring.
And it sounds to me like the kind of appeal that might bring several hundred monks out of their monasteries to protest fifty years’ worth of Chinese affronts to Tibetan freedom, religion, and culture on March 10—the 49th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day—and trigger the Chinese police response in Lhasa and the subsequent disturbances.
Two of the other spokespeople on the video, Tsewang Rigzin, president of the TYC, and B. Tsering, head of the TWA, have been all over the newspapers providing reports and commentary on events inside Tibet since March 11.
But nary a whisper about their affiliation with TPUM can I find, outside of a couple posts I wrote and a March 20 Wall Street Journal profile by Peter Wonacott , which reports Tsewang Rigzin’s denial of TPUM involvement in the unrest in Tibet and describes the group’s ambitions to act as a source for Western coverage:
Protests this month have unleashed a wave of violence inside Tibetan areas of China. Mr. Rigzin says the protests in Tibet were spontaneous, and had no backing from a group he helped establish in January, called the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement.
He says the group — comprising five different nongovernmental exile organizations including the Youth Congress — has swapped information since the protests began with those inside Tibet through phone calls and text messages. That information has often made its way into news releases emailed to journalists or has been posted on the group’s Web site.
Let me hasten to point out that the existence of TPUM is no secret, either to the Tibetans, journalists…or to the Chinese.
Its manifesto and activities have been covered by the Students for a Free Tibet blog and, when I discovered the TPUM website on March 16, it was already being disrupted, presumably by a Chinese cyber attack of the disruption of service variety.
At the time, I speculated that China would seize upon TPUM to discredit the Tibetan emigre movement and attempt to place the Dalai Lama on a cleft stick by forcing him to disavow either non-violence or the demonstrators.
On March 18, I wrote:
Regardless of what the TPUM did …and even if the TPUM just a collection of big-talk and little-action emigres, rest assured that the Chinese media will be happy to connect the TPUM dots as they see fit…
Sure as sunrise, the lead paragraph of an April 2 report on the official Chinese government website read:
China’s Ministry of Public Security said on Tuesday that it had gathered sufficient evidence showing that March 14 riots in Lhasa was not isolated or accidental but was part of the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” plotted by the Dalai clique.
The report continued:
“The ‘Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement’ plotted by the Dalai clique is intended to sabotage the peaceful, stable and unified social situation in China and use the Olympic Games to put pressure on the Chinese government, thus achieving their political aims,” a spokesman with the Ministry of Public Security said.
“The word ‘uprising’ means to overthrow the present regime through armed force and violence. So I’m wondering, is there any country that allows such an ‘uprising’ against the central government? Is there any country that tolerates such activities wantonly instigating the subversion of a state regime?” he said.
Police officers have also found copies of a “Declaration of Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement;” copies of the Dalai Lama’s speech on March 10; pictures of the clique’s members undertaking secessionist activities and computers used to contact officials of the clique’s “government in exile” in the residence of a person who allegedly took place in the riots.
The suspect was arrested on March 15 of charges of accepting the clique’s orders and undertaking secessionist activities, including beating, smashing, looting and arson, in Lhasa on March 14.
Xinhua reported additional allegations on April 2:
A large quantity of offensive weapons suspected to be used for riots were discovered in several Tibetan temples, China’s Ministry of Public Security said here on Tuesday.
The public security authorities turned up 178 guns, 13,013 bullets, 359 swords, 3,504 kilograms of dynamite, 19,360 detonators and two hand grenades in the rooms of lamas in some temples in Tibet with the information from lamas and other people, said ministry spokesman Wu Heping.
He said that the Dalai Lama and his followers had recently planned and organized activities around the world to support “Tibet Independence”, such as “Support Tibet” and “Global Action Day”.
“Their next plan is to organize suicide squads to launch violent attacks, according to our investigation,” Wu said, “They even claimed that they fear neither bloodshed nor sacrifice.”
“We now have sufficient evidence to show the March 14 Lhasa violence was part of the ‘Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement’, a scheme by the Dalai clique,” he said. [emph. added]
China’s play of the TPUM card did not provoke a flurry of reporting by Western journalists.
On the other hand, AFP mentioned TPUM, though it did present the existence of the group as an allegation by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security—not exactly a respected source.
There was an interesting glitch in the report by Reuters’ Chris Buckley, which did mention TPUM:
China’s Ministry of Public Security said it had arrested “key members” of an underground network in Lhasa working in concert with overseas pro-Tibet independence groups to spark a “Tibet People’s Uprising Movement.”
The Chinese accusation is not that local and overseas groups are trying to “spark a ‘Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement’”. It’s that the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement”—of whose existence in Dharmsala there can be no doubt—is responsible for fomenting unrest inside the PRC—an extremely dangerous and somewhat plausible claim.
In the articles mentioning TPUM, there was plenty of aggrieved rebuttal from the Tibetan government-in-exile (and even Tom Casey of the State Department, who presumably knows zero about the issue) but, as far as I can tell, nobody said Hey, Tsewang Rigzin, he’s that guy who’s always sending tips to my Blackberry, he’s with TPUM, let’s get a quote from him!
Even though AP, Bloomberg, CNN, NPR, the Guardian, VOA, and Reuters and the London Times had all turned to Tsewang Rigzin for quotes on the Tibet unrest in his role as president of the Tibetan Youth Congress.
The difficulty of gaining traction in the Western press has not discouraged the Chinese on the TPUM issue.
The China Matters crystal ball was in good working order on March 18, when I wrote:
Don’t be surprised if the Chinese invoke the Global War on Terror, that magic elixir of oppressive state power, to justify going after TPUM, Tibetan monks, and any other source of actual or potential resistance.
Sure enough, Chinese accusations subsequently extended to the Tibetan Youth Congress itself—the most logical dot to connect after TPUM.
To wrong-foot potential American and European sympathizers with Tibetan freedom fighters, the bogeyman du jour, international terrorism, was summoned:
From Xinhua on April 10.
The violent incident in Lhasa on March 14 — including beating, smashing, looting and arson — exposed the terrorist nature of “Tibetan Youth Congress” (TYC) as the direct planner of the riot. The crimes made the organization look like a kin member of Al-Qaida, Chechnyan armed terrorists and “East Turkistan” separatists.
Founded in 1970, the TYC advocates “complete independence of Tibet” and has fully integrated into the “Tibetan government-in-exile”, entering the power core of the Dalai clique. It has long been involved in secessionist activities.
In February, the TYC held campaigns in Dharamsala to recruit participants for the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” and trained key members for the activity.
What makes the TYC a terrorist organization is not only what it has said but what it has done. Police in Lhasa seized more than 100 guns, tens of thousands of bullets, several thousand kilograms of explosives and tens of thousands of detonators, acting on reports from lamas and ordinary people.
These figures, in addition to the deaths of more than a dozen ordinary people in the Lhasa riot, show that the TYC is no different from Al-Qaida, Chechnyan armed terrorists, “East Turkistan” separatists and any other terrorist organization.
Under Chinese law, terrorist organizations are those which use violence to threaten national security, sabotage social stability, harm people and damage their property, those which have leaders and assigned missions, and those which have organized, planned, instigated, implemented or participated in terrorist activities, or are carrying out such activities.
Such groups also include those having built bases for terrorist activities, systematically recruited and trained terrorists, collaborated with international terrorist organizations to sponsor, train and cultivate terrorists, and have participated in terrorist activities.
Judging by these criteria, the TYC is a terrorist organization in a pure sense.
In case somebody didn’t get the point, other articles on the Xinhua site declared:
“Tibetan Youth Congress” is pure terrorist organization
TYC common enemy to all human
TYC. a terror group worse than Bin Laden’s
TPUM probably breathed a sigh of relief when high-profile actions against the Olympic flame relay provoked a blizzard of anti-Chinese press in the Western media and any chance of coverage of the Chinese allegations evaporated.
Nevertheless, the official Chinese media has persisted, albeit with the usual absence of international traction, in its efforts to make the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement the face of the Tibetan emigre movement.
After connecting the riots to TPUM and TPUM to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the next dot to be connected by the Chinese has been the Tibetan government in exile itself.
Most recently, a lengthy analysis of the “Current Conditions and Essential Character of the Dalai Lama Clique’s Tibetan Government in Exile”
on page 4 of the April 27 domestic dead tree edition of People’s Daily began:
An abundance of facts demonstrates that the March 14 riots in Lhasa were a major component of the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” of the Dalai Lama clique, and were carefully organized and planned.
The article winds selectively through the history of the Tibetan emigres to paint a picture of a theocratic government controlled by the Dalai Lama’s family and dominated by pro-independence radicals, promoting their objectives through control of NGOs like the Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibetan Women’s Association, and advancing the “Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement” for the purpose of achieving Tibetan independence.
Of course, the objective of this over-the-top Chinese bluster is not to get favorable Western ink for their accusations. With the non-stop Chinese attacks on the accuracy of foreign coverage of the Tibetan disturbances, the hostility of the Western press on this issue is a foregone conclusion.
The purpose, as always, is to split the Tibetan emigre movement by creating a rift between the militants and the engagement-minded moderates around the Dalai Lama, so that the credibility and effectiveness of the Dalai Lama as a spokeman for the Tibetan community is undermined.
People’s Daily’s lengthy bill of indictment against the Tibetan government in exile didn’t gain any foreign coverage to speak of, but an editorial on the same page did.
, the brief editorial heaped scorn on “the Dalai Lama clique” for allegedly pursuing Tibetan independence under the guise of the “Middle Way” policy of Tibetan autonomy.
The coverage in the Western media was exemplified by the headline provided for Tania Branigan’s article in the Guardian: China Ridicules Dalai Lama, despite ‘talks’ .
The Chinese media must be slapping its forehead in frustration at the gormless inability of capitalist correspondents to understand calibrated socialist invective and goal-post setting.
The editorial didn’t attack the Dalai Lama personally; it attacked the “Dalai Lama clique”, meaning the stubbornly radical members of his family who serve in the government or as his advisors.
The Chinese government has not yet decided to connect the next available dot in the political chain it has constructed from the March 14 disturbances in Lhasa…the Dalai Lama himself.
The Chinese are offering the Dalai Lama the opportunity to disassociate himself from the independence movement, or even avail himself of the dubious privilege of implying he was personally held captive by the malign forces of the pro-independence clique.
You know, like the Manchu Last Emperor.
By the way, the Dalai Lama isn’t the last possible dot. The ultimate accusation available to demonize and marginalize the Tibetan emigre movement would be that the United States and the UK used the Tibetan government in exile as their cat’s paw to subvert China.
You know, like the Japanese with Manchukuo.
But that’s a maybe for the future. Right now, the focus is on the Dalai Lama.
And the Chinese are signaling that, if and when any further meetings are held between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s envoy, the Dalai Lama will have to come up with a new formulation to replace the Middle Way—one that precludes demands for withdrawal of Chinese troops or asserts Tibet’s right to handle some of its foreign relations directly–if he wants to pursue engagement with China.
The Chinese strategy of driving a wedge between the Dalai Lama and the militants can be seen from an April 11 report in Xinhua Chinese entitled:
United Front Department: the Door will be Forever Open for the Dalai Lama
The United Front Department is, of course, the Chinese department in charge of negotiations with non-sovereign political organizations.
The vice director of the department listed the extensive contacts between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government; contacts that, to the most militant of emigres, will always carry the whiff of appeasement:
According the UFD, 20 visits have occurred since 1979, by the Dalai Lama’s older brother, his second (younger brother), his brother-in-law, his younger sister, and other close associates, including(?) six visits from the Dalai Lama’s personal representatives since 2002, featuring tours of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Guangdong (to see the results of economic reform); and Yunnan and Guangxi (to see multi-ethnic polities).
The UFD declared that the door to dialogue with the Dalai Lama will “forever remain open” as long as the Dalai Lama renounces Taiwan independence, ceases “splittist” activities, openly acknowledges that Tibet as an inseparable part of China, and acknowledges that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.
It is unlikely that the Dalai Lama will renounce the advocates of Tibetan independence.
But it is likely that he will have to deal with an awkward, open split within the emigre Tibetan community as a result of this year’s unrest that calls his leadership and tactics into question.
The Dalai Lama has consistently labored to square the political circle between the militants and moderates, not abandoning his policy of engagement while not capitulating to the Chinese government.
Most recently, he endorsed China’s hosting of the Olympic Games, in direct contradiction of the TPUM declaration, which demands “Cancel the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and never again consider China as a potential host country of the Olympic Games until Tibet is free.”
The Dalai Lama even offered to attend the games—while Western leaders are talking boycott—“under one condition, that is there must be a relaxation of suppression in Tibet…China must release all prisoners in Tibet and treat the injured.”
I hope the Dalai Lama gets tickets for the opening ceremony, but I’m not optimistic.
From the Chinese perspective, the Dalai Lama is unable to control and unwilling to renounce militants within the Tibetan community, which means an olive branch like this is being offered from a position of weakness and can be safely spurned.
It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government takes the politically inflammatory and diplomatically costly step of calling on the Indian government to dissolve the TPUM NGOs as terrorist organizations.
It’s cruel to say it, but China may decide it’s unnecessary. The TPUM NGOs may be more useful to the PRC if they survive as impotent scapegoats for Tibetan unrest inside China, and as a focus for polarization and division within the emigre movement.
TPUM’s absence from international reporting may be a function of its true unimportance, the result of careless journalism, or a conscious refusal by reporters and editors to enable cynical Chinese propaganda and be party to the persecution of some very nice, noble people who also happen to be their sources.
But it doesn’t really matter.
By now it’s irrelevant if TPUM directed or encouraged or dropped plausible-deniable hints to monks inside Tibet to emerge from their monasteries for the March 10 demonstrations, or did absolutely nothing except make big, empty talk on its website and its videos for overseas consumption.
The Chinese government has the footage of the riots and they have people in detention whose confessions they can extract, coerce, or fabricate. They also have the documented professions of TPUM militancy, and the will to broadcast their allegatiions and connect the dots as they see fit.
Below is the transcript of the video appeal by TPUM.
Rev. Ngawang Woeber, President, GuChuSum Association of ex-Political Prisoners
Representing the five leading NGOs in Dharmsala, we’re hereby launching the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement. Our goal is to bring together all Tibetans inside and outside Tibet before the Beijing Olympics begin. We will join a unified campaign to restore Tibetan freedom. This is an historic opportunity we can’t afford to miss. This opportunity won’t come again. Secondly, China’s policies in Tibet are getting more destructive day by day. Chinese population transfer to Tibet has made matters even more urgent for us. Now it is time for Tibetans everywhere to rise up. In the spirit of the 1959 Tibetan national Uprising we must rise up and resist and bring about an even greater Uprising. An Uprising that will shake the Chinese government to its core. Those who can walk shall join the March to Tibet. Those with money shall support the movement. In short, whatever resources you have—skills, experience, wealth, courage—this is the time to bring it to the table and make a real impact on our struggle. We need everyone.
Mr. Tsewang Rigzin, President, Tibetan Youth Congress
50 years have passed since China invaded Tibet. In a few months the Olympics will be held in China. In our struggle for independence, culture, and religion, there has never been a better opportunity. So I request each and every one of us to take action and fulfill our duty to the six million Tibetans.
Mr. Tenzin Choeying, President, Students for a Free Tibet, India (in English)
This is a message to all Tibetans and non-Tibetans, Tibetan supporters…This is a request from us, here, in India that this is a crucial period, a crucial year for us in our cause to struggle in a year-long campaign. For us from India, we will be organizing a march back to Tibet and we hope that every Tibetan and Tibetan supporter join us in our campaign and also with that, along with that, the Chinese are organizing the torch relay as well as doing the games also, we request every people [who] support us to do whatever they can.
Ms. B. Tsering, President, Tibetan Women’s Association
The time has come for all Tibetans to unite and rise up and join the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement. Every Tibetan on the face of the earth, every Tibetan organization, and every Tibet Support Group must join forces. This initiative is being launched by the coalition of five organizations, but it is a people’s movement, a people’s uprising, so only the full involvement of the Tibetan people can make this movement successful.
Mr. Chemi Youngdrung, President, National Democratic Party of Tibet
In the history of nations, there are critical junctures and watershed moments. Those who siezed these moments have achieved victories and changed the course of history. Today, we Tibetans are at a crossroads. And we must seize this moment. In March 1959 Tibetans all over Tibet rose up against Chinese invasion. In the same spirit of resistance, let us rise up again and make this Uprising event a watershed event in our struggle. Let’s be Tibetan. Let’s be proud. Let’s work together. Let’s achieve victory. Let’s change the course of Tibetan history. RISE UP!!!
RISE UP. RESIST. RETURN.
Tibet will be free.