Dharamshala: – China has expanded its counter terrorism campaign from Xinjiang to Tibet and underscored the need for political control of the region. Communist Party officials have connected stability in Tibet with the security of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
In response to an increase in violence in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has mounted an aggressive counter terrorism campaign that has been expanding across the PRC since May. This expansion has included an anti-terrorism drive in Tibet resulting in an intensified military presence and adding resentment in an already alienated and distressed population.
The Communist Party has continued to highlight the need for political control of Tibet and on China’s National Day, October 1, Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s People’s Congress, Pema Thinley said, “Tibet’s stability is tied to national stability, and Tibet’s security is tied to national security.”
Last May when the counter-terrorism drive was announced and promoted across the PRC, training for Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR) security personnel stationed in monasteries was announced. The goal of the training is to ensure police are ‘combat’ ready to respond to the dangers of terrorism and ‘maintaining stability’.
The Chinese government also held ‘anti-terror’ training exercises for troops responding to self-immolations, acts which have been referred to as “suicide terrorism” by the Chinese authorities. They hold His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his supporters responsible for encouraging this and other forms of protest.
A report in July by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) entitled ‘Acts of significant evil’ said in some cases Party authorities have issued the charge of ‘intentional homicide,’ to anyone involved with someone who self-immolates – including simply witnessing it – leading to severe penalties such as long prison sentences and even the death penalty.
Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet said, “China is using the excuse of anti-terrorism operations that are taking place internationally, especially in Iraq and Syria, and attempting to project its unjustified crackdown in Tibet as “counter-terrorism”.
Labeling Tibetan self-immolators as “terrorists” is the ultimate offense to people who have sacrificed their life, harming no one except themselves, to raise the attention of the international community on the plight of the Tibetan people.”
Last year the Chinese government announced an expansion of a new security system throughout the TAR. First introduced in 2007 in Beijing, as the key to “social stability maintenance” in Tibet, it launched in April 2012 in Lhasa’s Chengguan district.
Official documents describe the system as “grid” management. In Chengguan the area is divided up into 175 grids, each grid is monitored by a leader and patrolled by community workers, known as “Red Armband Patrols”, who gather intelligence on potential troublemakers.
On February 14, 2013, Yu Zhengsheng, Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee confirmed that the system should be put into effect throughout TAR to form “nets in the sky and traps on the ground.”
In a Human Rights Watch report in March 2013Sophie Richardson, the China director,responded saying, “Chinese authorities should dismantle this Orwellian ‘grid’ system, which has been imposed while the government continues to avoid addressing popular grievances,its purpose appears to be surveillance and control, and it encroaches on Tibetans’ rights to freedom of expression, belief, and association.”
The increased militarisation and surveillance comes despite citizens peacefully expressing their views and an already heavy security presence.The counter terrorism policy has been implemented with limited evidence of violent threats to the state.
“China’s effort to impose pervasive surveillance on every street is not likely to make Tibet safer,” Richardson said. “But the increased surveillance will surely increase pressure in an already tense region, even while the Tibetan people are still waiting for Chinese attention to rampant violations of their rights.”
China’s current counter terrorism policies are part of a crackdown on Uyghur separatist violence and what China calls religious extremists in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. According to state media,”militants” from Xinjiang have been receiving “training” from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters for attacks at home.
A report by Xinhua news agency on 1 October said, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi highlighted China’s opposition to any form of terrorism and is willing to work together with the United States to counter the threat of terrorism internationally.
It is unlikely, however, that China will give military support in the fight against IS in Iraq and Syria but instead they may be hoping the ‘war on terror’ will help them deal with unrest at home. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “the international community should work together to fight terrorism, including giving support to relevant countries as they make efforts to maintain domestic security and stability.”