Newsweek via Cankao Xiaoxi: The Tibetans Have Never Had it So Good

In the run-up to Obama’s White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, Isaac Stone Fish (Newsweek’s Beijing correspondent) penned an interesting piece that argues that China’s rule has indeed brought indisputable benefits to the Tibetans. It’s all part of a grand “bargain”:

It’s true that, so far, all the money has failed to buy Tibetan loyalty. Beijing won’t deal with the Dalai Lama, even though Tibetans revere him, nor will it let his monastic followers build any power or voice any nationalist sympathy. Instead, the government is offering Tibetans the same bargain it has offered the rest of the country: in exchange for an astronomical rise in living standards, the government requires citizens to relinquish the right to free worship and free speech. The Chinese government has kept its end of the deal. Even if Tibetan residents never signed the contract, they have benefited from its enforcement—a fact Obama might keep in mind when he meets the Dalai Lama.

Newsweek’s report has now—just one day after Obama met with the Dalai Lama—been translated by Cankao Xiaoxi (参 考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. As noted in my past pieces, virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often deleted or reshaped.

To show you how censorship works in the People’s Republic,  the original article from Newsweek is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that were deleted from the Chinese version published in Cankao Xiaoxi, while words that have been added are noted [in brackets]. Tellingly, the description of the tit-for-tat bargain—economic prosperity in lieu of free speech and worship—has been radically “repackaged” in Cankao Xiaoxi’s version for China’s masses.

Charity Case
Whether they like it or not, China has been very good for Tibetans

President Obama’s controversial meeting with the Dalai Lama [will take place] this week has already infuriated China and stirred up Tibet advocates who thought it should have come sooner. China says Tibet is part of its territory, and that the meeting represents an unwanted intrusion into its domestic affairs. But most Americans still see the Dalai Lama as the representative of a people oppressed by Chinese rule. Tibetans feel chafed by the restrictions on their political and religious freedoms; many are dissatisfied with Chinese rule, and this has led to widespread rioting over the past few years. They want self-determination; fair enough. But that seems to be the only story about Tibet that is ever told. The other story is that, for [Despite] China’s many blunders in [Tibet] mountainous region, it has erected a booming economy there. Looking at growth, standard of living, infrastructure, and GDP, one thing is clear: China has been good for Tibet.

Since 2001, Beijing has spent $45.4 billion on development in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). (That’s what the Chinese government calls Tibet, even though many Tibetans live in neighboring provinces, too). The effect: double-digit GDP growth for the past nine years. About a third of the money went to infrastructure investment, including the train connecting Beijing to Lhasa. “A clear benefit of the train was that it makes industrial goods cheaper for Tibetans, who, like everyone else in the world, like household conveniences, but [before] normally had to pay very high prices,” said Ben Hillman, a Tibet expert from the Australian National University’s China Institute. The train also provides an opportunity for Tibetan goods to be sold outside of the region and for a massive increase in number of tourists, reaching more than 5.5 million in 2009—up from close to 2 million in 2005, the year before the train. The Chinese government’s Tibet tourism bureau expects the numbers to keep climbing. While Tibetan independence groups like Free Tibet raisesustainability concerns about the increase in tourism, Hillman points out that “tourism is an important industry that can benefit [residents of] local Tibetans.”

Infrastructure improvements have not only helped grow the economy but also have aided in modernizing remote parts of the Tibetan plateau, an area with 3 million people about twice the size of France. Paved roads allow herders easier access to hospitals and the capital, where they sell handicrafts. “Cellphone service in parts of western Tibet is better than in parts of New Jersey,” said Gray Tuttle, an assistant professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University.

Since 2006, the Chinese central government has been shifting its Tibet development strategy from funding massive infrastructure projects to programs intended to bring greater benefit to individual Tibetans. While Han migrants may compete for jobs with Tibetans in urban areas, diffusing the benefits more broadly among Chinese, the net per-capita income of rural residents was $527 in 2009, an increase of more than 13 percent from the 2008 figure and the fourth year in a row where growth exceeded 13 percent. While still low, it represents an increase in wealth creation at the lowest levels. Although Chinese statistics on Tibet, like Chinese statistics in general, are impossible to verify, it seems clear that material living standards among the 80 to 90 percent of the population living in rural Tibet are rising rapidly.

“I was amazed at the amount of money actually being spent in these villages,” said Melvyn Goldstein, codirector of the Center for Research on Tibet at Case Western Reserve University. Through extensive rural fieldwork in the TAR, Goldstein found that “health-insurance plans are getting better, bank loans are now more accessible, schooling is free for primary school and middle school, and access to electricity and water is improving.” At the improved schools, students learn Mandarin, which gives Tibetans access to work opportunities in government offices in Tibet and in companies throughout China.

Last month, President Hu Jintao held the Communist Party’s fifth Tibet planning conference, the first since 2001, to strategize on the upcoming years. He said that Tibetan rural income will likely match China’s average by 2020. And he stressed the need for Tibet, beset by the “special contradiction” of the Dalai Lama, to develop using the “combination of economic growth, well-off life, a healthy eco-environment, and social stability and progress.”

It’s true that, so far, all the money has failed to buy Tibetan loyalty. Beijing won’t deal with the Dalai Lama, even though Tibetans revere him, nor will it let his monastic followers build any power or voice any nationalist sympathy. Instead, the government is offering Tibetans the same bargain it has offered the rest of the country: in exchange for an astronomical rise in living standards, the government requires citizens to relinquish the right to free worship and free speech. The Chinese government has kept its end of the deal. Even if Tibetan[s] residents never signed the contract, they have benefited from its enforcement—a fact Obama might keep in mind when he meets the Dalai Lama.

Comments

  1. Love these kinds of articles, thanks for doing them.

  2. You get it right every time, Bruce. No one else has illustrated so vividly the way that China-related western journalism is translated, altered and re-packaged in the Chinese press. Someone ought to be paying you for your efforts. China Digital Times (chinadigitaltimes.net) should employ you as a regular columnist.

  3. Gyame Kyaktsar says:

    Increasingly, many western ‘freelance’ reporters and ‘friends’ living in China become the mouthpiece for the Chinese regime. Is it Stockholm Syndrome?

    Isaac seem to argue that the Tibetans should be grateful for China’s treatment of Tibetans because they have brought economic ‘prosperity’ in the cities. If Isaac was truly interested in knowing why Tibetan loyalty is not achieved, he needs to talk to the Tibetan people in Tibet. As well, the money that is spent in Tibet is simply a tool to maintain power. How much of it truly benefits the Tibetans? And how much of it has gone to the leaders?

    China is a master manipulator. If Tibet has truly been part of China — as China claims since the seventh century (recently modified to 13th century) — why do they feel the need to still assert it 1300 years after the ‘fact’. The fact is Tibet was NEVER part of China and Tibetans have NEVER identified as a Chinese.

    Tibetans cannot be bought should have been the headline of this story.

  4. It’s a fresh perspective never reported in the Western press. I applaud the reporter for taking the steps to write this article. It is a hard pill to swallow for some, but facts are facts. No drinking the kool-aid here. Just reporting a side many have neglected to see.

  5. Marta Tomczak says:

    the first tv news on tibet in chinese tv i remember was that of Jiang Zemin bringing hundreds of computer sets to poor tibetan schools. it was a regular topic for a week years back. last years much have been filled with only more.
    the mentioned computers probably ended up in the schools with han-kids majority anyway.
    and probably it is han part of the pocket there which is becoming better off.
    there are permissions to start business, applications to open restaurants, etc etc, things are going on and people are encouraged to lift up the economy of tibet, it is just that this is a certain part of the society which gets access to it.

    Bruce, you are doing a great job!

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