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In War on Terror, China Takes Aim at Tibet

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China Power

In War on Terror, China Takes Aim at Tibet

China’s broad definition of terrorism includes following the teachings of the Dalai Lama.

In War on Terror, China Takes Aim at Tibet
Credit: Tibetan monk image via Shutterstock

The government of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region will offer rewards of up to 300,000 RMB ($48,000) for tips on potential violent terror attacks, Chinese media reported over the weekend. Offering rewards for tips is a strategy that has been incorporated across China as part of a broader “people’s war” against terrorism.

Xinhua, citing a document from Tibet’s regional public security department, said that “the reward will cover tip-offs on overseas terrorist organizations and their members’ activities inside China, the spreading of religious extremism, terror related propaganda, those producing, selling and owning weapons, activities that help terrorists cross national borders and terror activities via the internet.”

In general, China’s anti-terrorism activities have centered on Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to the Uyghur minority group. After a series of deadly terrorist attacks allegedly perpetrated by Uyghurs with ties to foreign terror networks, Beijing launched a year-long crackdown on terrorism centered in Xinjiang. In addition to preventing terror attacks, the crackdown also sought to prevent the spread of religious extremism. Chinese authorities believe jihadist materials from abroad, particularly those posted onto the internet, are inflaming ethnic and religious tensions within Xinjiang.

However, while there have been a number of violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang within the last year, Reuters reports that “there is little indication that any such attacks have occurred in Tibet.” However, China’s draft anti-terrorism law features an extraordinarily broad definition of terrorism, one that includes not only violent attacks but also “thought [or] speech” that aims to “subvert state power” or “split the state.”

That new definition has implication for Tibet. China has repeatedly denounced the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, as a “splittist,” arguing that his talk of a “middle way” and increased Tibetan autonomy is merely code for outright Tibetan independence. Chinese authorities have vowed to crack down on officials within Tibet that “follow the 14th Dalai Lama to split the country, break ethnic unity, participate in illegal organizations and activities, and spread reactionary opinions.”

Beijing also accuses the Dalai Lama of encouraging violence (including self-immolations by Tibetan monks) even while publicly embracing a message of non-violence. Last summer, Chinese media directly accused the Dalai Lama of inciting “hatred, terror, and extremist action” through the Kalachakra ceremony.

Speaking with Global Times, Gong Fanglin of China’s National Defense University said that within China, Tibet and Xinjiang were the areas where “terrorism manifests intensely.” However, Gong noted, in Tibet the tendency for terrorists to actually go on the offensive was “weak” compared to Xinjiang – in Xinjiang, citizens are at great risk of brainwashing and bodily harm, Gong said.

The International Campaign for Tibet warned about the implications of China’s anti-terrorism campaign for Tibet last fall. The organization argued:

The counter-terrorism drive in Tibet has a particular political dimension, involving training of police in Buddhist monasteries, the characterization of religious teachings by the Dalai Lama as incitement to ‘hatred’ and ‘extremist action’ and the implication that Tibetan self-immolations can be characterized as ‘terrorism.’”

ICT also noted that the Chinese government had “organized large-scale military drills, intensified border security and [held] training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolations and in monasteries.” ICT adds, “Such drills are being conducted despite the absence of any incidents taking place in the region, neither against civilians nor against Chinese authorities.”