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Deciphering Chinese Propaganda on Tibet

posted Feb 13, 2012, 7:01 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 13, 2012, 7:03 AM ]
By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review
With the self-immolation crisis spreading and Tibet under undeclared martial law, Chinese propaganda can be unintentionally revealing.  It shows what the Chinese regime is concerned with, trying to cover up, or having a hard time dealing with.

First, we see that the Chinese regime is so threatened by the Tibet protests -- or so unable to put together a unified and coherent response -- that it is failing to implement its own revised propaganda strategies.  According to Newsweek, after the 2009 demonstrations in Xinjiang/East Turkestan, Chinese authorities implemented a more sophisticated propaganda plan:
[Xinjiang in 2009] remains open to foreign journalists, a sign that Beijing has learned media-management lessons from the globally hostile coverage it got for barring reporters in Tibet [in 2008].  The day after the Urumqi bloodshed, the State Council Information Office set up a Xinjiang Information Office in Urumqi to assist foreign reporters.  It went further, inviting foreign media on a trip to Xinjiang to tour the riot zones, visit hospitals, and see the damage for themselves.  Journalists were given CDs loaded with photos and TV clips.  "They try to control the foreign journalists as much as possible by using this more sophisticated PR work rather than ban[ning] them," says Xiao.
In Tibet today, however, Chinese authorities have reverted to old methods of control, which in the memorable Chinese phrase is “close the door, beat the dog” (bimen dagou).  This shows that something is very, very wrong in Tibet.  The Chinese authorities in Tibet are in far more chaos than they let on.
Secondly, the official Chinese reports from Tibet hint at some of the problems that China is trying to cover up.  For example, a China Daily article from February 9, 2012 entitled “Lhasa Crowded With Pilgrims” operates under the propaganda tactic best described by the line from Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  Generally, one can assume that if Chinese propaganda tries to portray a certain situation, the opposite is true.
For example, the China Daily article rather laughingly describes how Lhasa is full of Tibetan pilgrims from as far away as Gansu Province (i.e. Amdo).  This directly contradicts confirmed reports that Lhasa is currently being emptied of non-residents. According to Radio Free Asia:
"Any migrants in Lhasa have been placed under surveillance as of [Tuesday]," Jampel Monlam said.  "Any Tibetans from outside Lhasa who haven't got a temporary residence permit are being thrown out of the city."
"Some of them are being transported back to [Tibetan] areas of Qinghai and Sichuan."
He said some Lhasa-based Tibetans had also been detained, apparently as a precaution.  "They are probably afraid that there will be some kind of political problem."
Perhaps even more interestingly, the China Daily article has a rather comical description of how a Tibetan pilgrim lost his son, and “noticed a police station” that was coincidentally near the Tsuklhakhang square.  Apparently the friendly police helped the father find his child within an hour; truly a “serve the people” moment.
The article does not mention that there are several police installations in and around the Tsuklhakhang square that replace one that was repeatedly burned down during the pro-independence demonstrations of the 1980s.
The article does, however, mention a curious list of ways that the police are “straining” to help so many visiting Tibetan pilgrims.  Apparently, the police are “on duty 24 hours a day to keep order and provide hot water, medicine, wheelchairs and fire extinguishers.”  Fire extinguishers?  That’s right; the China Daily has admitted that security forces in Lhasa are on duty around the clock with fire extinguishers.  Could this have anything at all to do with the self-immolation crisis?
Reading this Chinese propaganda between the lines, one can only guess the answer is yes.