BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s troubles in Tibet have been stoked by crisis-stricken Western forces seeking to divide and weaken the emerging power and distract voters from their own economic woes, the government said on Monday.
Beijing faces a volatile month of anniversaries in Tibet, where 12 months ago monk-led protests against Chinese rule in the regional capital, Lhasa, gave way to bloody riots that killed 19 people and ignited protests across ethnic Tibetan areas.
Fifty years ago, Tibet’s Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing brands a separatist, fled into exile after a failed revolt against China.
But a government policy document and the People’s Daily, the paper of the China’s ruling Communist Party, both said contention over the remote mountain region was stoked by Western governments and groups seeking to contain the country’s rise.
“It is thus clear that the so-called ‘Tibet issue’ is by no means an ethnic, religious and human rights issue; rather, it is the Western anti-China forces attempt to restrain, split and demonize China,” said a policy “white paper” issued by the State Council Information Office, a publicity arm of the government.
Such white papers are used to sum up official thinking on issues.
In similar phrases, a front-page commentary in the People’s Daily said Western forces were exploiting Tibet to mount “a challenge to Chinese sovereignty.”
“In recent years, China’s overall strength has constantly grown...and this has aroused the anxiety and disquiet of some Westerners. The provocative actions around the so-called ‘Tibet issue’ in 2008 were by no means a coincidence,” said the commentary, also widely circulated on official media Web sites.
With these broadsides, the Party appears determined to cast friction over Tibet as a wider conspiracy against Beijing at a time when rich nations are looking for China to help pull them out of an economic slump.
The People’s Daily commentary noted that North America and Western Europe face “multiple economic, political and social crises.”
The idea that they lie behind Tibet’s tensions may help shore up Chinese public support against Western criticism or renewed Tibetan protests, said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based group critical of many Chinese policies.
“The only people they can persuade on this is their own public opinion, not opinion abroad or in Tibet itself,” said Bequelin in a telephone interview.
But such a stance risked ignoring real discontent among Tibetans about Chinese policies, he added.
“If the Chinese government reads Tibet’s problems only in these terms, it will be sowing the seeds of trouble there for years to come.”
In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games last year, China rallied patriotic support against Western protests over Tibet that disrupted the Games international torch relay.
The Party has also privately shown officials an instructional video claiming China is the target of the same Western subversion that the video says brought “color revolutions” to former Soviet nations in central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Over the past year, Beijing has voiced rising anger over the Dalai Lama’s meetings with Western leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met him late last year. Ties with France are still frigid.
The newspaper claimed that some Western politicians have declared “to control Tibet is to control China.” Some were using Tibet to distract electorates from their own failings, it said.
“(They) believe that in this way, they can achieve their ambitions of oppressing and containing China and that deliberately fixing on this topic can divert the attention of their own publics,” said the paper.
Beijing has reviled the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” whose “clique” instigated the unrest last year. The Dalai Lama has said that he wants real autonomy, but not outright independence, for his homeland. He has also said he rejects violence.
The policy paper said Tibet suffered harsh poverty, brutal exploitation of serfs and economic stagnation until Chinese Communist forces “liberated” it in 1951 and then pushed through “democratic reforms” in 1959.
The Dalai Lama and his supporters abroad had ignored those sufferings and the immense improvements in Tibet since then, the policy paper said. In 1959, average life expectancy in the region was 35.5 and now it was 67, it said.
Editing by Nick Macfie