China Shutters Town Bordering Tibet
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
There've been several developments today surrounding China's crackdown on protests in Tibet. Those demonstrations began last week on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. It started peacefully in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and then grew violent and spread to other towns. China's state-run news agency said today that police shot and wounded four protesters in a town in Sichuan province early in the week. It claimed the police acted in self-defense.
The Dalai Lama, who heads Tibet's government in exile in Dharamsala, India, offered today to meet face to face with Chinese leaders, but only if there's a real concrete development.
Meanwhile, armed police and troops are moving into far-flung towns and villages in Tibetan areas of China to reassert control. Time magazine Beijing bureau Chief Simon Elegant is just back from one of those areas. It's the Chinese town of Li Tang in Sichuan province where nine out of 10 people are ethnic Tibetan.
Mr. SIMON ELEGANT (Beijing Bureau Chief, Time Magazine): This town is a historically very important center of Tibetan nationalism. Two Dalai Lamas were born there. It's a center of resistance in 1956. It's also the highest town in the world. It's some 15,500 feet above sea level, which is higher than anything, any mountain in the continental U.S. We got there and we managed to get in, but when we did get in, we were dropped to the edge of town and told that we couldn't drive in because cars are banned. All the shops are closed, schools are closed, people are not on the streets...
SIEGEL: But when you say that everything was closed, that the shops were closed, for example...
Mr. ELEGANT: Yeah.
SIEGEL: ...they're closed by the police? Or they're closed by...
Mr. ELEGANT: Yes.
SIEGEL: ...the owners in protest? What was going on?
Mr. ELEGANT: No, no, literally there was an order that no one - for three days no one would open a shop. The local TV channel, for example, just had a ban on all programming and were just cycling one announcement saying, don't associate with lawbreakers, the evil splittist Dalai Lama clique, you know, don't listen to them. Anybody who does will be arrested, and so and so forth. So it was in total lockdown, the place. And when we got up in the morning at 8, you know, normally a bustling time, all you saw on the street was street sweepers and dogs.
SIEGEL: And did the people whom you managed to speak with there - these were ethnic Tibetans, did they - first of all, were they generally sympathetic with the protests in Tibet and elsewhere?
Mr. ELEGANT: They were very frightened people. They were petrified people mostly. And they just didn't mostly want to deal with us. We did go into the main monastery; the police had not been in there yet. We did talk to the monks, generally they were - they gave us fairly anodyne answers to our questions. But we did figure out the reason for that, which was that basically the crackdown was coming. And when we left, we saw nothing but Chinese military vehicles and trucks, ambulances, field kitchens, paddy wagons, everything. They were taking an entire army in there. We must have seen enough trucks to probably transfer 10,000 people, so they were bringing an entire force fully armed. We saw these guys sitting in the back, you know, the kids sitting at the back with their assault rifles, they were moving in.
SIEGEL: When ethnic Tibetans there talk about the protests of this week or their situation more generally, do they seem to have an agenda that is in any way more modest, say, than outright independence from China? I mean, is there a reform agenda that ethnic Tibetans would like to see adopted, that might improve their life in China or is it simply, we're Tibetan and we'd like to be more in control of the life of Tibet?
Mr. ELEGANT: No, I think, and I've seen this across the border, in many places that I've seen. I think ordinary people - the people who are the participants in this -especially the younger people. You know, a lot of these people are kids obviously, relatively young, in their teens and 20s, they're very unhappy. And the reason is they don't see any future for themselves. They see their culture being extinguished. And these people have just generally said to us, listen, we just want to be left alone to worship. They just have to stop controlling us so closely.
SIEGEL: Worship is an important dimension of all of this.
Mr. ELEGANT: Enormously...
Mr. ELEGANT: ...important, yes.
SIEGEL: Simon Elegant, Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine. Thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. ELEGANT: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.