From CNN – With restive Tibetan areas swarming with troops and closed to scrutiny from the outside world, China’s government has turned up efforts to put its own version of the unrest before the international public.
Information barely trickled out of the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other far-flung Tibetan communities, where foreign media were banned and thousands of troops dispatched to quell the most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in nearly five decades.
The Chinese government was attempting to fill the information vacuum with its own message, saying Sunday through official media that the restive areas were under control.
The government has also disseminated footage of Tibetan protesters attacking Chinese and accusations of biased reporting by Western media via TV, the Internet, e-mail and YouTube, which is blocked in China. The media barrage underscored that the government campaign is moving into a new phase of damage control ahead of the much-anticipated Beijing Olympics in August.
On Sunday, Communist Party newspapers accused the Dalai Lama of orchestrating the riots in Tibet to try to mar the Olympics and overthrow the area’s communist leaders. It was China’s latest attempt to demonize the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the eyes of the Chinese public, which is strongly supportive of the Olympics.
“The Beijing Olympics are eagerly awaited by the people of the whole world, but the Dalai clique is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence,” the People’s Daily said.
The Dalai Lama has advocated nonviolence and denies being behind the riots.
While China’s rigorous policing of the Internet is far from foolproof, its official Internet is pervasive and there is no easy access to an alternative in the country. The difficulty of confirming what is going on inside Tibet may also be hindering a stronger world reaction.
“They’ve successfully managed the messages available to the average Chinese citizen, and this has fueled broad public support for a heavy-handed approach to controlling unrest,” said David Bandurski, a Hong Kong University expert on Chinese media. “There will be no nuances to Tibet coverage.”
CNN’s bureau in Beijing has been deluged in recent days by a barrage of harassing phone calls and faxes that accuse the organization of unfair coverage. An e-mail to United Nations-based reporters purportedly from China’s U.N. mission sent an Internet link to a 15-minute state television program showing Tibetans attacking Chinese in Lhasa.
A slideshow posted on YouTube accused CNN, Germany’s Der Spiegel and other media of cropping pictures to show Chinese military while screening out Tibetan rioters, or putting pictures of Indian and Nepalese police wrestling Tibetan protesters with captions about China’s crackdown.
Though of uncertain origin, the piece at least had official blessing, with excerpts appearing on the official English-language China Daily and on state TV.
China raised its death toll by six, to 22, with the official Xinhua News Agency reporting that the charred remains of an 8-month-old boy and four adults were pulled from a garage burned down in Lhasa last Sunday — two days after the city erupted in anti-Chinese rioting. The Dalai Lama’s exiled government says 99 Tibetans have been killed, 80 in Lhasa, 19 in Gansu province.
Xinhua issued several reports Sunday saying life was returning to normal in areas where protests took place in the wake of the Lhasa riots.
It said “more than half of the shops on major streets were seen reopened for business” in Aba, the center of northern Aba county in Sichuan province. It quoted county Communist Party chief Kang Qingwei as saying government departments and major enterprises were “running normally” and that schools would reopen on Monday.
Aba is where Xinhua has said police shot and wounded four rioters in self-defense. It was the first time the government acknowledged shooting any protesters.
Xinhua also said Xiahe in Gansu province was returning to normal after rioting last week.
The government was in control in Maqu, also in Gansu, Xinhua reported, quoting the local government as saying 70 percent of the shops in the city were looted or damaged by rioters.
There was no way of independently confirming Xinhua’s reports.
Shops reopened in Lhasa and a few tourists arrived, nearly a week after most foreigners were told to leave, said residents reached by phone Saturday. But paramilitary police kept a heavy presence, “patrolling the streets around the clock,” said an employee of the Shambhala Hotel, who refused to give her name due to fear of reprisals from authorities.
Though the European Union and the United States have so far said they opposed boycotting the Beijing games over the crackdown, an EU politician said in remarks published Saturday that European countries should not rule out threatening a boycott if violence continues.
“Beijing must decide itself, it should immediately negotiate with the Dalai Lama,” European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering was quoted as saying by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “If there continue to be no signals of compromise, I see boycott measures as justified.”
A group of 29 well-known Chinese dissident writers, lawyers, political activists and other intellectuals decried China’s approach to the unrest.
“At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation,” said a letter signed by the 29 and circulating via e-mail.
Their appeal, however, was likely to go unheeded by a government that has blacklisted many of the signers for their activism.
Beijing has released tallies of statements of support from foreign governments — 100 of them, it said, from North Korea to Sudan and Tonga.
“It is a clear proof that the international community is on the side of China,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to Xinhua.