Prayer flags en route to Aba in Sichuan Province.
For weeks, reports have been circulating of a growing crackdown on Tibetan areas in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
In counties of Aba Prefecture, a remote region on the Tibetan Plateau--at best, a full day’s drive from the provincial capital of Chendgu--police and other security officials are said to be detaining monks (and killing two residents in the process) from and around Kirti Monastery after a young monk set himself on fire last month to protest Beijing’s Tibet policies. Earlier this week, activists released footage of the self-immolated monk and widespread security.
It’s the same region that saw major unrest just over three years ago, when Tibetan monks tried to protest peacefully against China’s religious restrictions. The protests escalated into violent demonstrations that targeted ethnic Chinese and inflamed tensions throughout ethnic Tibetan communities in Chinese provinces outside Tibet—including Aba.
The Tibetan government-in-exile in India has expressed concern about the extent of the current crackdown, saying it could become “genocide.” The U.S. government, which said it’s monitoring the situation closely, has urged the Chinese to respect religious freedoms.
In response, official Chinese media have quoted local officials accusing Tibetan monks of “lewd” behavior and, as Beijing often does, have blamed the current unrest on the Dalai Lama. An editorial earlier this month in the state-run Global Times also challenges Washington over religious sensitivity:
“Each country handles religious friction very carefully, trying to avoid expanded social influence, especially when this can spill over into political events. U.S. activists and U.S. military troops overseas have desecrated the Koran many times, the impact of which has been suppressed by the U.S.”
As in March 2008, the foreign media have not been able to confirm independently the crackdown reports.
And as it was back then, authorities are now banning foreigners from traveling into parts of Aba as well as all of Ganzi Prefecture--which unlike Tibet itself are normally open to non-Chinese.
Click here for our report from March 2008, when NBC News first tried to enter the area to verify reports of clashes between Tibetan monks and Chinese security. Beijing’s strategy seems virtually unchanged.
The Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan Province.