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Rapid reforms could have led to riots in Tibet

By Pranay Sharma, IAN, July 17, 2008

Beijing/Lhasa, China -- China’s rapid economic reforms could have been one of the main reasons for the violent riots in Tibet in March in which Buddhist monks played a major role, a senior Chinese official has said. The frank admission is perhaps the first of its kind by Chinese rulers who are yet to get over the shock of what they - and the world - witnessed in Tibet.

“In my view, the reforms moved at such a fast pace that it surpassed the people,” Dong Yunhu, director general of the state council information office, told a group of Indian journalists. The official stressed that ways and means should be found to ensure that the marginalized monks were part of Tibet’s development in future.

Beijing and also the authorities in Tibet claim to have spent billions of dollars on the development of the region in recent decades.

The Chinese official admitted that what happened in Tibet was bothering many people in the country and was being debated by the Chinese leadership. The “violent protests” of March 14 left 18 people dead, injured more than 800 and destroyed shops and buildings worth millions of dollars.

The unrest raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the Chinese government’s Tibet policy.

“This question is being asked by many people, and it’s very difficult to answer,” Dong admitted.

A visit to Lhasa showed that though the Tibetan capital was limping back to normalcy, there was tension in the air.

Few on the streets wanted to speak about the riots that ravaged the city. Those who spoke in private feared there could be instability if more violence erupts.

In some monasteries, senior monks tried their best to dissociate themselves from the protests and put the blame on those who had come there from outside to study.

“Our job is to pursue Buddhist teachings and spend time on self-cultivation,” a senior monk at the Sere monastery in Lhasa said.

A number of monks from Sere had taken part in the demonstrations but most were dubbed “outsiders” who had scant regard for the law.

Baima Chilin, the vice chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, was reluctant to talk about what led to the March 14 riots.

Instead, Chilin shot back: “How many schools were built before 1959 (when the Dalai Lama fled to India)? And what development did the Dalai Lama undertake when he was here?”

He was asked whether the riots in Lhasa showed a failure in the current Chinese policy being pursued in Tibet.

But the state council information office in Beijing was not evasive.

Dong argued that though serfdom was abolished in Tibet in 1959 and people opted for a People’s Republic, some remnants of the “old system” could have continued there.

“Why did so many Lamas take part in the protests?” he asked. According to him, the reason for this was because many of the lamas once at the centre of power felt marginalized under the new system.

“The reshuffling of interests could have created the imbalance in Tibet,” Dong added.

He pointed out that the need was to strike a balance between reforms and stability since many people may feel somewhat tired with the pace of development.

“There is no doubt that everybody should get a share of the development. That is why we are talking of building a harmonious society. To protect social justice is a big challenge for China.”


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