Liu Qibao, Beijing’s propaganda boss, headed the event, during which participants were given guided tours of key areas in Lhasa and Lhoka prefecture. Tibetan Autonomous regional television showed a few of the foreign participants, including Christine Davies, vice president of the Asia Society, and a French writer named Sonia Bressler, who last year was praised by Chinese official news sources for writing about Tibet and speaking positively about the situation in Xinjiang.
“Unfortunately for China, their wafer-thin veneer of good news can’t hide the rot underneath,” said Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, the director of Free Tibet, who said the forum served only to advance Beijing’s propaganda efforts in the region. “The reality of economic development in Tibet is that the majority of Tibetans are marginalized spectators as Chinese migrants and businesses harvest the benefits of Beijing’s policies.”
Free Tibet spokesperson Alistair Currie told VOA that some participants go to such events to “genuinely” try to learn about Tibet and others are there “because either their institutions or countries … benefit [from] Chinese investment.”
Full propaganda treatment
After the first Lhasa development forum in 2014, Chinese state media claimed that delegates had endorsed the “Lhasa Consensus”, acclaiming China’s policies in Tibet. The Communist Party “wined and dined them and gave them the full propaganda treatment,” Currie told The Los Angeles Times. But foreign delegates quickly disclaimed any knowledge of or support for the document.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has decreed a return to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, so he will have been pleased that last week’s forum attracted a fair number of what Lenin called ‘useful idiots’.
“The consensus reflects the concern from all sides on how to coordinate industrialization and social development in Tibet, and stresses that development should suit the unique geographic and climate conditions in the region,” Pedro A. Garcia Bilbao, a professor of Political and Social Studies of King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, told the Global Times, an official organ of the ruling Communist Party.
“I don’t understand why [Western] media would always say that Tibet has no human rights and religious freedom,” said Ecuadorean Hector Enrique Villagran Cepeda, deputy director of the Center for Latin American Language and Culture under Beijing Language and Culture University.
Lack of credibility
“China seems to cling to the ludicrous idea that showing that any Tibetans have benefitted from economic development somehow validates its occupation and oppression. said Free Tibet ‘s Byrne-Rosengren. Any delegates who are unable to see through that argument or unwilling to challenge it aren’t going to have much credibility left after they fly home.”
Other forum participants included Daniel Joseph Dudek, Chief Economist with the Environmental Defense Fund, USA, and Albert Ettinger, a purported expert on Tibet from Luxembourg.
“It was astonishing to see the modern part of Lhasa, and I am very glad to have seen the development,” said Ettinger, addressing the CCP forum “And let some of the Dalai Lama’s friends come. Maybe they can also learn something,” he sneered.
But that is unlikely.
A growing number of Chinese overseas putting off returning home for fear of not being allowed out of the country again, said Columbia University China expert Andrew Nathan.
“Police being police, and wanting to do their jobs and avoid mistakes, they would use their judgment and deny passports or exit permits for whatever reason made sense to them,” said Nathan, co-author of China’s New Rulers: the Secret Files.
The Communist Party’s effort to present an image of unity permeated the National People’s Congress proceedings earlier this year. Delegates from the restive Himalayan region of Tibet, for example, could be seen wearing lapel pins featuring Xi’s portrait to the first day of the congress, Bloomberg reported.
“The tightening up reflects a sense of siege — and this sense of siege is not a fantasy,” said Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.” “The regime indeed has many enemies and is creating more and more of them by virtue of its repressive methods.”
British politician Lord Neil Davidson spoke at a conference in Tibet as a guest of the Chinese government. While there, he was reported to have backed a public statement claiming that Tibetans are “happy” and praising China’s work in Tibet. During Lord Davidson’s visit, Chinese forces fired on peaceful protesters in Kardze, eastern Tibet killing four. Lord Davidson has not condemned the shootings or China’s human rights record in Tibet. He has ignored repeated requests from the media and Free Tibet to explain his position.
“The reality of economic development in Tibet is that the majority of Tibetans are marginalized spectators as Chinese migrants and businesses harvest the benefits of Beijing’s policies,” said Byrne-Rosengren. “The second problem with China’s approach is that only those who wish to be fooled by it, will be fooled by it. Intelligent people don’t like being herded, overseen and treated like idiots and most delegates will know that the desperate attempt to hide things from them reveals far more about Tibet under Chinese rule than what’s being shown to them.”
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) also raised questions with individual foreign participants at a conference which launched the Lhasa Consensus.
“We are appalled by the participation of foreign individuals in a conference which aims to distort the truth about the situation in Tibet and completely ignores the assessments of UN representatives, governments and independent NGOs on the situation in Tibet,” said Kai Mueller, Executive Director of ICT-Germany. “It will do no favors to the credibility of those participating, and it raises serious questions for the political parties and academic institutions that the foreign delegates represent.”