Today’s Tibet presents an excellent living workshop for students of communication – especially those interested in understanding and developing skills in the art of propaganda and narrative building. Interestingly, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its media arms have quite successfully developed this art into a ‘fine-art’ over past decades. In the last week of June this year, Xinhua, the official news agency of China and a major arm of the CPC for its international outreach, published a news announcing a population relocation plan in Tibet which involves plucking out 17,555 Tibetan people from the Nagqu (pronounced ‘Nag-chu’) county and rehabilitating them into an already developed township in the Lhoka (Ch: Shannan) prefecture of ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (TAR).
Presented in a celebratory and self-congratulatory tone, the Xinhua refers to this plan as part of a “program to improve people’s living and protect the plateau region’s fragile ecosystem”. It says that “The people will move from places with an average altitude of over 4,500 meters above sea level to ‘more hospitable’ (emphasis added) areas of about 3,600 meters in Shannan City”. Quoting Wu Wei, a senior Chinese expert who also happens to be a government official as the Director of the regional forestry and grassland administration,it says, “The people had lived in places with harsh weather and relatively backward production and living conditions, where the grassland degraded”. He further claims that, “The relocation scheme reflects a people-centered development thought, taking consideration of both the ecological protection and people’s demand for a better life.”
In its enthusiasm to assure the world that this ‘people-centered’ plan, rolled out to help those Tibetans who are poor and have been cursed to live at ‘inhospitable’ altitudes since centuries, is not limited only to just 17,555 Tibetans of Nagqu region, the Xinhua has also revealed that, “The region’s overall relocation plan will cover more than 130,000 people in Tibet’s nearly 100 townships in eight years.”
On the face of it this brilliant peace of news journalism from the CPC mouthpiece presents a highly friendly, caring and benefactor image of CPC and its proxy rulers in China’s most celebrated colony called Tibet. But to those who have been keenly and closely watching China’s history since it occupied Tibet in 1951, this news is nothing short of the murder plan of a culture for which Tibet has been known since centuries. For the Tibetan people too, who have been crying hoarse since decades before the world community, the current phase of China’s plan of relocating 1,30,000 Tibetan nomads from highland pastures to matchbox like Chinese townships in lower lands, sounds like the final killing of Tibet’s Drugpa (nomad)community which, in original Tibet, accounted for nearly a third of Tibet’s six million population and has been one of the most prominent and colourful facets of Tibetan culture.
This process of plucking the Tibetan nomads out of their tradition highland pastures and forcing them to give up their animals and settle down into specially developed and congested concrete houses has been going on since decades in non-TAR parts of original Tibet which have been absorbed by Beijing in adjoining Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu during reorganization of Tibet in 1960s. In early years of first decade of 2000 this author drove through these provinces and photographed many such settlements which were being readied for accommodating the nomadic communities who belonged to traditional Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo.
The latest piece of Xinhua news is a very clever attempt at presenting one of the most inhuman campaigns of modern world history, aimed at relocating and grabbig the lands of an occupied people by their colonial masters, under an attractive garb if ‘resettlement’. Two prominent parallel examples of such kind of land snatching belong to modern North America and Australia where lands of the Red Indians and Aborigines were snatched by the colonial settlers on one or the other pretext. In a recent international webinar, organized jointly by the Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement (CHASE) and Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) on this 3rd July Kei Mueller, the Executive Director of German chapter of International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) observed, “The Chinese authorities have been using different notions for such programs, I should better say ‘pretext’ to exert population control. Sometimes relocations are to serve the ‘protection of the environment’, sometime for the sake of ‘poverty alleviation’, sometimes simply because Tibetans should not live in high altitudes. So the marketing changes, but the pattern has remained the same”.
Going by the example and experience of nomad communities of Kham and Amdo, whose relocation has been almost completed over past few decades, all Chinese claims like those of ‘poverty alleviation’, ‘protection of fragile environment’, ‘protection from harsh weather’ or ‘providing good living conditions’ have been exposed once and again all across Tibet. The vast mountain grasslands snatched from the nomads are being dug up for minerals or distributed among the Han settlers for farming and new industries. But a much bigger benefit has been for the CPC’s police and surveillance agencies who found it nearly impossible to check the freedom uprisings among the nomads in wide open spaces where they had easy access to foreign radio networks like the Voice of America, Voice of Tibet, and Radio Free Asia who kept them abreast with the Dalai Lama and international developments on Tibet.
As confirmed by the ICT and other Tibet support groups across the world, the real target of this Chinese campaign of relocation of Tibetan nomads and farmers is to grab lands and push two million Tibetan nomads and farmers into tightly bricked rat house colonies where they are cursed to live under tight surveillance of Chinese police, other security agencies and millions of their closed circuit cameras.