x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

China puts spin on Tibet anniversary

As Tibet prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of its uprising against Chinese rule, China escalates its propaganda war.

China has ramped up a public relations blitz ahead of tomorrow's 50th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising, part of a long-time propaganda war that wins support at home but often distrust abroad. The nation's capital Beijing has in recent days hosted several plays and dance shows, as well as a large exhibition, celebrating what authorities say has been the improvement of Tibetan lives under Chinese rule.

A stream of articles in the state-run press have also painted a picture of happy calm in Tibet, while a 43-page government document was released hailing "momentous democratic reform" in the Himalayan region in the past 50 years. In contrast, Chinese officials and media have stuck by a long-time policy and refused to acknowledge claims by Tibetan exiles and activist groups of a myriad of problems in Tibet, chiefly religious and political repression.

"Much of this is designed with Chinese public opinion in mind, not that of Tibetans... nor in the West where the Dalai Lama has long won the PR battle," said Andrew Fischer, who is a lecturer at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. The anniversary marks 50 years since a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 that led to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, escaping into exile in India.

Every year, Tibetan exiles and many others living in the Himalayan region commemorate the date, angering China which maintains that 1959 was the year it liberated Tibetans from serfdom and started reforms. Last year, peaceful protests that began on the 49th anniversary escalated four days later into deadly rioting in Tibet's capital, Lhasa - unrest which quickly spread across the Tibetan plateau. The subsequent purge was widely condemned abroad, and for weeks Tibet was propelled to the top of the international news agenda.

China blamed the unrest on the Dalai Lama, whom it accused of trying to win Tibet's independence, and top officials have repeated those charges in recent days. Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, said Beijing was mobilising nationalistic feelings in case unrest occurs again. "This is a more achievable objective because the ordinary Chinese people are quite receptive to this kind of propaganda," he said.

An example of this is an exhibition in Beijing "to explain that Tibet is an inalienable part of China since ancient times". * AFP