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More Tibetan Buddhists behind bars in July

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On 6 July 2021, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, turned 86. For Tibetans around the world, the Dalai Lama remains their guardian; a symbol of compassion and hope to restore peace in Tibet, and ensure genuine autonomy through peaceful means. For Beijing, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who seeks to undermine China’s integrity by pursuing an independent Tibet, write Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy and Willy Fautré.

As a consequence, Beijing considers any country engaging with the spiritual leader or raising the situation in Tibet as interference in its internal affairs. Similarly, Beijing does not allow Tibetans to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Moreover, the communist government in Beijing applies harsh punishment for any such attempt, just as it continues its campaign to undermine the Tibetan language, culture and religion, as well as the rich history through brutal repression.

For year Beijing has continued to discredit and subvert the Dalai Lama. Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations and sharing of his teaching via mobile phones or social media are often harshly punished. This month, as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday many Tibetans were arrested according to Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Switzerland.

As such, Chinese officials in Sichuan province arrested two Tibetans. Kunchok Tashi and Dzapo, in their 40s, were taken into custody in Kardze in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). They were arrested on suspicion of being part of a group of social media that encouraged the reciting of Tibetan prayers to commemorate their spiritual leader’s birthday.

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Over the past years, the Chinese authorities have continued to intensify pressure on Tibetans, punishing cases of ‘political subversion’. In 2020, the Chinese authorities in Tibet sentenced four Tibetan monks to long prison terms following a violent raid by the police on their monastery in Tingri county.

The cause of the raid was the discovery of a cell phone, owned by Choegyal Wangpo, a 46-year-old monk at Tingri’s Tengdro monastery, with messages sent to monks living outside Tibet and records of financial contributions made to a monastery in Nepal damaged in a 2015 earthquake, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Choegyal was arrested, interrogated and severely beaten. Following this development, police and other security forces visited his home village of Dranak, raided the place and beat more Tengdro monks and villagers, detaining about 20 of them on suspicion of having exchanged messages with other Tibetans abroad or of having possessed photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.

Three days after the raid, in September 2020, a Tengdro monk named Lobsang Zoepa took his own life in apparent protest against the crackdown by the authorities. Soon after his suicide internet connections to the village were cut off. Most of the monks detained were held without trial for months, some are believed to have been released on the condition of committing to not carrying out any political acts.

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Three monks were not released. Lobsang Jinpa, 43, deputy head of the monastery, Ngawang Yeshe, 36 and Norbu Dondrub, 64. They were subsequently tried in secret on unknown charges, found guilty and given harsh sentences: Choegyal Wangpo was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Lobsang Jinpa to 19, Norbu Dondrub to 17 and Ngawang Yeshe to five years. These harsh sentences are unprecedented and indicative of the increase in restrictions on Tibetans to communicate freely, and practice their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Under President Xi, China has become more oppressive at home and aggressive abroad. In response, democratic governments across the world have amplified their condemnation of China’s human rights violations, with some taking concrete action, such as imposing sanctions. For the future, as China’s regional and global clout continue to increase, like-minded democratic allies across the world must hold Beijing to account concerning the situation in Tibet.

Willy Fautré is the director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a research fellow at Academia Sinica and an affiliated scholar at Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department. 

Guest posts are the opinions of the author, and are not endorsed by EU Reporter.

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US invites Taiwan to its democracy summit - China angered

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The Biden administration has invited Taiwan to its "Summit for Democracy" next month, according to a list of participants published on Tuesday, a move that infuriated China, which views the democratically governed island as its territory, write Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Humeyra Pamuk.

The first-of-its-kind gathering is a test of President Joe Biden's assertion, announced in his first foreign policy address in office in February, that he would return the United States to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

There are 110 participants on the State Department's invitation list for the virtual event on 9 and 10 December, which aims to help stop democratic backsliding and the erosion of rights and freedoms worldwide. The list does not include China or Russia. Read more.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said the government would be represented by Digital Minister Audrey Tang and Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's de facto ambassador in Washington.

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"Our country's invitation to participate in the 'Summit for Democracy' is an affirmation of Taiwan's efforts to promote the values of democracy and human rights over the years," the ministry added.

China's Foreign Ministry said it was "firmly opposed" to the invite.

"U.S. actions only go to show democracy is just a cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests," ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing.

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The invite for Taiwan comes as China has stepped up pressure on countries to downgrade or sever relations with the island, which is considered by Beijing to have no right to the trappings of a state. Read more.

Self-governed Taiwan says Beijing has no right to speak for it.

Sharp differences over Taiwan persisted during a virtual meeting earlier this month between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While Biden reiterated long-standing US support for the 'One China' policy under which it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, he also said he "strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," the White House said.

Xi said that those in Taiwan who seek independence, and their supporters in the United States, were "playing with fire", according to state news agency Xinhua.

Rights groups question if Biden's Summit for Democracy can push those world leaders who are invited, some accused of harboring authoritarian tendencies, to take meaningful action.

The State Department list shows the event will bring together mature democracies such as France and Sweden but also countries such as the Philippines, India and Poland, where activists say democracy is under threat.

In Asia, some US allies such as Japan and South Korea were invited, while others like Thailand and Vietnam were not. Other notable absentees were US allies Egypt and NATO member Turkey. Representation from the Middle East will be slim, with Israel and Iraq the only two countries invited.

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Xi tells south-east Asian leaders China does not seek 'hegemony'

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured) told leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Monday (22 November) that Beijing would not "bully" its smaller regional neighbours, amid rising tension over the South China Sea, write Gabriel Crossley, Rozanna Latiff and Martin Petty, Reuters.

Beijing's territorial claims over the sea clash with those of several Southeast Asian nations and have raised alarm from Washington to Tokyo.

But Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with ASEAN to eliminate "interference".

"China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN," Chinse state media quoted Xi as saying.

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China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.

The Philippines on Thursday (18 November) condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.

The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions "dangerous, provocative, and unjustified", and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Xi that he "abhors" the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute. He referred to a 2016 international arbitration ruling which found China's maritime claim to the sea had no legal basis.

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations," said Duterte, who will leave office next year and has been criticised in the past for failing to condemn China's conduct in the disputed waters.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Xi told the summit that China and ASEAN had "cast off the gloom of the Cold War" - when the region was wracked by superpower competition and conflicts such as the Vietnam War - and had jointly maintained regional stability.

China frequently criticises the United States for "Cold War thinking" when Washington engages its regional allies to push back against Beijing's growing military and economic influence.

U.S. President Joe Biden joined ASEAN leaders for a virtual summit in October and pledged greater engagement with the region.

The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Monday. The reason for the non-attendance was not immediately clear, and a spokesperson for Myanmar's military government did not answer calls seeking comment.

ASEAN sidelined Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power on 1 February, from virtual summits last month over his failure to make inroads in implementing an agreed peace plan, in an unprecedented exclusion for the bloc.

Myanmar refused to send junior representation and blamed ASEAN for departing from its non-interference principle and caving to Western pressure.

China lobbied for Min to attend the summit, according to diplomatic sources.

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Taiwan says China can blockade its key harbours, warns of 'grave' threat

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Taiwanese domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) take part in the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang military exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

China's armed forces are capable of blockading Taiwan's key harbours and airports, the island's defence ministry said on Tuesday, offering its latest assessment of what it describes as a "grave" military threat posed by its giant neighbour, write Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control and has been ramping up military activity around the island, including repeatedly flying war planes into Taiwan's air defence zone.

Taiwan's defence ministry, in a report it issues every two years, said China had launched what it called "gray zone" warfare, citing 554 "intrusions" by Chinese war planes into its southwestern theatre of air defence identification zone between September last year and the end of August.

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Military analysts say the tactic is aimed at subduing Taiwan through exhaustion, Reuters reported last year.

At the same time, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is aiming to complete the modernisation of its forces by 2035 to "obtain superiority in possible operations against Taiwan and viable capabilities to deny foreign forces, posing a grave challenge to our national security", the Taiwan ministry said.

"At present, the PLA is capable of performing local joint blockade against our critical harbours, airports, and outbound flight routes, to cut off our air and sea lines of communication and impact the flow of our military supplies and logistic resources," the ministry said.

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China views Taiwan as Chinese territory. Its defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is already an independent country and vows to defend its freedom and democracy.

Tsai has made bolstering Taiwan's defences a priority, pledging to produce more domestically developed weapons, including submarines, and buying more equipment from the United States, the island's most important arms supplier and international backer.

In October, Taiwan reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern theatre of the zone over a four-day period, marking a dramatic escalation of tension between Taipei and Beijing. Read more.

The recent increase in China's military exercises in Taiwan's air defence identification zone is part of what Taipei views as a carefully planned strategy of harassment.

"Its intimidating behavior does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale, but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of 'seizing Taiwan without a fight'," the ministry said.

To counter China's attempt to "seize Taiwan swiftly whilst denying foreign interventions", the ministry vowed to deepen its efforts on "asymmetric warfare" to make any attack as painful and as difficult for China as possible.

That includes precision strikes by long-range missiles on targets in China, deployment of coastal minefields as well as boosting reserve training. Read more.

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