VOA and China’s Latest Narrative on Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I am glad the Voice of America has lost no time in challenging the Chinese Government’s accusation that it is encouraging Tibetans to self-immolate. On February 6, 2013 VOA released a video and written statement in which its Director David Ensor said the allegations were “totally false and called on China Daily and CCTV to retract their stories.”
China first made this allegation in a TV report on its Chinese language television channel (CCTV 4) on February 5, 2013. An edited English version was broadcast on February 6, 2013 in English on CCTV 9. Xinhua also released reports based on the TV report.
These reports are but the latest attempt by the Chinese authorities to change the narrative relating to the spate of Tibetan self-immolations.
China is increasingly finding it difficult to justify its harsh crackdown on the Tibetan people. The Chinese security forces have no legal justification in taking the entire Tibetan people to ransom and denying them even the limited rights enshrined in China’s own constitution. China is punishing the entire Tibetan people even as it wants the world to believe that only “A few individuals with a strong sense of extreme nationalism showed sympathy with the self-immolators.” (Xinhua report of February 7, 2013 quoting Lu Benqian, Qinghai’s deputy police chief. ) Therefore, they have started what virtually seems to be a conspiracy theory.
There is a historical consistency in this Chinese strategy of blaming others for developments in Tibet. Initially, the Chinese Communists blamed “Western imperialist forces” of encouraging the Tibetans. In the post-1959 period, they have experimented with putting the blame on everything that happened in Tibet to “the splittists”, “Dalai Clique” Tibetan Youth Congress, etc. The much-maligned Cultural Revolution provided a slight change in the narrative. The Communist leaders found a new “other” to be blamed for everything bad that took place in Tibet during the period, as they did in the case of China, too. Since it serves their conspiracy theory and narrative, the Chinese Government does not hesitate to use the term “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” in its reports about the involvement of Tibetans abroad although they are the first to deny that such an entity does exist or is legal.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that in the course of the self-immolations, the Chinese Government had no qualms in blaming Tibetans outside for what is essentially a result of its misguided policies in Tibet.
The latest report by China has blamed the free Tibetan-language media, including VOA, that exist outside of Tibet, for virtually spreading propaganda in Tibet. This is ironical, if not laughable. VOA is right to be incensed by this Chinese allegation.
The Chinese don’t get it. Since they control all media in China, the Chinese authorities may be assuming that all the Tibetan-language media in the free world are under the control of the Tibetan leadership in exile. The CCTV documentary shows footages (I wonder what the rules say about copyright in such usage, but that is an aside!) from VOA TV’s Kunleng program as well as the websites maintained by other Tibet-related media houses.
As part of my work, I closely monitor Tibetan-language media, both those in Tibet and outside of it. They all do a commendable job of “serving as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (as the VOA’s Charter says). The information about the self-immolations is a case in point. News about these were broken by the free Tibetan language media like VOA, RFA, VOT (as well as Tibet Times, Tibet Express, Phayul, etc.) while the CCTV and Xinhua continued to maintain silence for a considerable period of time. As VOA Director Ensor said in his statement, “We report them. We certainly don’t encourage them,” It was only when China realized that it was losing control over the narrative that it began to acknowledge the self-immolations.
VOA’s Tibetan Service chief, Losang Gyatso, has “also denied that any news reports were influenced by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile. He noted that VOA Tibetan’s news reports often present the views of Chinese officials.”
I know this for fact because both VOA and RFA are based in Washington, D.C. whenever they are aware of Chinese officials giving a press conference on Tibet here, they make attempts to cover these events. However, on several instances it is the Chinese Embassy that indulge in racial discrimination by denying Tibetan-language media access to such events even as they allow others, including Chinese-American journalists, to cover them.
The latest Chinese narrative needs to be seen in the context of the international community’s assertion (see statements by the United Nations, United States, the European Union, etc.) that China needs to address the “deep underlying issues” in Tibet that are the cause of the self-immolations and not to use “heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.” It is China’s attempt to justify its violation of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.
China’s baseless allegation against VOA and other media is already starting a discussion on how the United States Government should look at its liberal policy of allowing the Chinese Government’s media to have a free hand in the United States. Currently, both CCTV and Xinhua are expanding their capacities in this country. China Daily has started an American edition. In the days to come I won’t be surprised if discussions touches on their activities.
As it is on February 7, 2013, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to a question about the Chinese accusation saying, “obviously VOA has made clear that they were not involved, and we support VOA in that statement.” She further said that she expected this issue to be taken up at the official level with the Chinese. Nuland also reiterated the U.S. position that “there are deep grievances within the Tibetan population which are not being addressed openly and through dialogue by the Chinese Government.”
Be that as it may be, I think the Chinese leadership needs to realize that such conspiracy theories are not the solution. The solution could begin with China’s Tibet-policy makers really following some recent advices by their new leaders, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
Xinhua has quoted Xi Jinping telling at a Chinese New Year event on February 7, 2013 that Chinese leaders needed to “be more tolerant of criticism and receptive to the views of non-communists.” “The CPC [Chinese Communist Party] should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not,” Xi is said to have added. Xi further said, “Non-CPC personages should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words jarring on the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations.”
What the Tibetans have been doing is just that.
Meanwhile, China’s potential Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said (this week) following a meeting with disadvantaged Mongols in Inner Mongolia: “You are living in bad conditions and we really feel sorry.” Will China have the courage to say that to the Tibetans?
May be we should watch VOA to get the answer!