The Riots in Tibet

Tibet erupted in ethnic based rioting over the past few days. Undoubtedly there is some outside interference, but this alone cannot explain what is going on. At the root of the problem is the uneven spread of wealth, which has been made worse by the introduction of market economics, compounding the feeling of national oppression of the Tibetans.

Faced with riots and bloodshed in Tibet, the Chinese government responded by casting the blame on the Dalai Lama and the campaign by Tibetan exiles to raise the Tibet issue internationally, in advance of the Olympic Games. Undoubtedly the Dalai Lama, with his followers and friends, have an interest in using these events to exert political pressure on Beijing in the media spotlight, but that alone cannot explain what is happening in Tibet today.

Tibet Autonomous Region
Tibet Autonomous Region

Chinese reporters at the Xinhua news agency reported the scene in Lhasa:

"Dense smoke blanketed the cloud dotted blue sky, burning wreckages emitted an irritating smell and hundreds wailed over the bloodshed.

"Vandals carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids smashed windows, set fire to vehicles, shops and restaurants along their path."

Friday March 14th in Lhasa is described as

"a day when the capital was left in chaos after an outburst of beating, smashing, looting and burning, which officials say, on ample evidence, was ‘masterminded by the Dalai clique'."

Although the attacks on people and property had no political content, they were sparked off by monks' protests on March 10th. According to the Peoples' Daily 300 monks from Zhaibung Monastery confronted security forces and provoked physical clashes. Onlookers then took up the torch and mobs

"set off on a destruction rampage and spared nothing and nobody on their way. Rioters set fire to buildings, torched dozens of police cars and private vehicles and looted banks, schools and shops. Innocent civilians were stabbed, stoned and scourged. At least 10 died, mostly from burns."

All reports of the violence speak of youths in their 20s being involved in the rampage. A Muslim steamed bun shop owner, who was stabbed, reported that several vandals broke into his shop in the tourist zone. "They came to beat us directly and we didn't dare put up any resistance, only begging," he said, "I know some of them. They were nice people before."

The explanation offered by the national and local Communist Party is hollow, although the spark for the riots and bloodshed was the monks' and the Dalai Lama's campaign; the cause of the riots was something totally different. Tibet has seen an influx of Chinese businesses; the wealth accumulated all over China by the newly rich has opened opportunities for investments large and small. Those who fail to benefit are the Tibetan unemployed and migrant workers from the villages.

In the state sector in Tibet, where employment opportunities are booming, Tibetan nationals are unlikely to get the jobs. They are easily out-skilled by the vast pool of potential recruits from every corner of China, thus fostering nationalist resentment.

The ‘average wage' in China represents the earnings of a specific group of employed people in China, known as 'staff and workers', including layers of public employees from upper-ranking cadres down to workers in public utilities or state-owned factories. It therefore excludes migrant workers or workers in small factories or workplaces.

The ‘average wage' in China's cities as a whole is 14,000 Yuan a year, (US$1800) but wages in Tibet are nearly double the average, higher than in Shanghai and second only to Beijing. In the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 94 percent of these "staff and workers" worked in state-owned units in 2003 compared to only 66 percent in China as a whole.

The problem is that such relatively well-paid state employment is disproportionately allocated to people of ethnic Chinese backgrounds. Higher wages are justified on the basis that living in Tibet takes you far from family and friends and often causes serious health problems due to the effects of high altitude. Tibetans, whose skills are generally lower than the ethnic Chinese migrants, look on them as a deliberately privileged layer.

Alongside the influx of state employees, engaged in administration and infrastructure projects, has come an influx of ethnic Chinese traders and to a lesser extent Hui Muslims, whose businesses thrive on the high spending power of state employees and tourists. Their nationwide networks mean Tibetans can't compete with them. The boom in Tibet has encouraged all manner of migrant entrepreneurs to open shop, including beggars' rackets and sex workers. Tibetans often think they too are subsidized by Beijing. Thus it is easy to see wherein the roots of ethnic discontent lie.

All over China the wage levels of workers have not risen in line with the economic boom. Under pressure from the army of migrant workers and the rapaciousness of private sector employers, wages for many have been frozen. According to the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) 26% of China's workers have not received a pay rise for five years despite the economy growing at an average of 10.6%. Profits have been boosted not only by new machinery and work methods but also by holding down wages. The ratio of overall labour costs to GDP has fallen from 53.4 percent in 1990 to only 41.4 percent in 2005.

Officials in Lhasa and Beijing, claim that the ‘Dalai clique', "organized, premeditated and masterminded" the bloody riots and discontent of young Tibetans. This claim is pure foolishness! It is the growing income and opportunity disparities that foster explosions of discontent, here in an ethnic riot or a labour conflict, there in a peasant revolt. It is almost comical, that with absurd income disparities fuelling the anger of tens of millions, the slogan of "build a harmonious society" should have become the Party mantra.

A genuine Communist, i.e. Marxist, policy would sensitively and harmoniously develop the nation and its minority regions on the basis of a democratically planned economy. Instead of this the leadership of the Communist Party of China pursues a bureaucratic plan to open up Tibet to the market.

The riots are not simply a plot by the ‘Dalai Clique'. Although it is clear that the major Western imperialist powers have an interest in weakening China and will exploit the discontent of the minorities in this vast country. The real, and most direct cause of this conflict is to be found in the policies of pro-capitalist forces in control of the party. This will bear bitter fruit all over the nation. While looking at the burnt out scene in central Lhasa, a Tibetan trader by the name of Rawan told the People's Daily, "It was once a shopping haven, but now it is all deserted, like a hell."

On the road to capitalism disparities of income and investment inevitably stir up regionalism, ethnic and national conflicts, resulting in violence and turmoil. Should Tibet ever successfully break away from China, then, as in the past, it would fall prey to one or other of the imperialist powers, "Tibetan Independence" under capitalism is a pipedream.

A united struggle by the Chinese workers together with the Tibetans and other minority groups against the capitalist transformation of China can lay the basis for a voluntary union of the peoples based on a genuinely democratic plan of production under the control and supervision of the workers and peasants themselves.

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