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In Tibet they’d die for a hung parliament

While we in peaceful democratic Australia have been conducting our political battles at public meetings and settling our disputes at the ballot box, in less fortunate places politics is being conducted by other means.

Tibetan protestors in India

In Tibet, where the Chinese authorities have launched a new crackdown, these include arrests in the night, secret trials, long prison sentences on spurious charges, and beatings and other forms of violence.

In early August He Guoqiang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo and head of its Central Commission for Discipline, visited Tibet. Apparently he was not pleased by what he found, despite the intensive repression that has taken place in Tibet since the riots in 2008 in which at least 200 people were killed. He ordered a fresh crackdown on Tibetan “separatists” and intellectuals, particularly the Buddhist monks and nuns who have been at the forefront of the protests against Chinese rule over the past few years.

A notable aspect of this crackdown has been the focus on Buddhist monasteries. The Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and the Chinese government claims that Tibetans are free to follow their particular form of Buddhism, with its emphasis on monastic life. But following He Guoqiang’s visit, Party officials have launched demands for tighter political control of the monasteries.

Du Qinglin, head of the United Front Work Department of the Party’s Central Committee, has demanded “democratic management” in the monasteries. “Monks and nuns who are politically reliable, learned and respected should be selected to monastery management committees,” he said. In
China “democratic management” is usually a code expression for “control by the Communist Party.”

In a letter to me last month, the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, reported that hundreds of monks and nuns are being expelled from monasteries, leaving only a few as guides for tourists. “The Chinese plan to turn the monasteries into mere showcases like museums, manned by only a few monks as caretakers. Such plans represent a systematic, long-term strategy to eliminate all remaining vestiges of Tibetan identity and cultural heritage,” he wrote.