Sunday, March 16, 2008

China's crackdown reaches beyond Tibet

In a sign that the government is feeling more confident that its security measures are working, two representatives of the Tibetan administration’s Foreign Affairs Office visited this hotel in the riot-torn area. They offered to help arrange a flight out if needed, but gave no order to depart. The Economist remains the only foreign news organisation with official approval to be in Tibet—which was applied for and granted well before the unrest broke out.

If residents are not to starve or run out of that daily necessity, yak butter (used in the tea Tibetans drink), a signal will have to be given soon that it is safe to venture out to buy essential supplies. Even when they give this, the authorities will still want to maintain a conspicuous force in the alleyways. Tensions are unlikely to subside rapidly. There are numerous anti-Chinese protests in what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as in the adjoining ethnic-Tibetan areas of China. Some of the biggest have occurred around Labrang in Gansu Province, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s biggest and most important monasteries. Many Tibetans see the approach of the Olympic games in Beijing in August as an unmissable opportunity to draw attention to their plight.

In Lhasa the authorities fear Tibetans might disrupt an Olympic torch-carrying ceremony planned for May. It will be deeply embarrassing for them if they have to cancel this or hold it with troops filling the streets. But embarrassment will be hard to avoid. China’s main hope is that Western governments will resist demands from Tibet’s sympathisers for a boycott of the games. Of that it is still confident.

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