The Curious Role of PLA
China accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the revolt in Lhasa. The Dalai Lama has categorically denied this. He has gone on to allege that Chinese soldiers dressed as Tibetan monks perpetrated the violence in Lhasa. Much before Dalai Lama said this, Tibetan sources, following the Lhasa violence, had claimed to media that People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers dressed as monks had started the riots. After verifying this claim the Dalai Lama said: "The picture in which a monk is seen holding a sword is not a traditional Tibetan sword. It is a Chinese sword. We know that a few hundred Chinese soldiers have disguised themselves as monks."
Would the PLA instigate violence in Lhasa merely to damage the reputation of Dalai Lama and his Tibetan followers? In balance, damage to the reputation of the Chinese government itself has exceeded damage to the Tibetans. Why then would PLA soldiers be ordered to unleash violence in Lhasa? Yet the Dalai Lama's allegation should not be dismissed. Indeed it is strengthened by a more strange piece of evidence.
When the Lhasa violence burst on March 14, no foreign media person could remain on the scene except one British journalist. The journalist was James Miles of London's The Economist. He saw at close quarters the rioting in several parts of Lhasa as he traveled around the city. This, among other things, is what he said in the report he filed for The Times of London on March 15, one day after the riots: "I saw a group of a hundred or so residents breaking up pieces of concrete and throwing them at the windows of Chinese shops as hundreds of on-lookers cheered. There was no sign of any attempt by security personnel during all of this to restore order. For an entire afternoon and into the evening Lhasa was under the control of rioters'."
How could PLA soldiers, heavily entrenched in Tibet, as well as the police, remain helpless for one whole day? Subsequent events deepened this mystery. On March 27 the Chinese government invited foreign media to see for themselves the normalized conditions of the Tibetans living in Lhasa. The journalists were taken to the sacred Jhokang Temple in Lhasa. Once again things went horribly, and inexplicably, wrong. A group of monks disrupted the government-managed tour of the foreign reporters. The monks screamed there was no religious freedom and that the Dalai Lama was not to blame for the recent violence. There were just about 30 monks demonstrating. One young monk stunned the visiting group by yelling, "Tibet is not free! Tibet is not free!" He then started crying. How could security be breached by this small group when there is such tight arrangement in Lhasa?
The possibility of internal sabotage by a section of the Chinese government itself must be seriously considered. The differences between President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin need to be recalled. The chief editor of Hong Kong's usually well informed Open magazine, Jin Zhong, has claimed that Jiang is paralyzed and suffering from Parkinson's disease. Jiang's natural successor of the Shanghai group that he led is Zeng Quinghong. Zeng was Vice-President and number two in China's hierarchy until he was removed from his post by Hu during the 17th Communist Party Congress in October 2007.
Zeng is among China's "princelings", who are children of the Communist party elitists that brought about the revolution. Both his parents served Mao Zedong and participated in the Long March. The top echelons of the PLA are dominated by elitist Hans. It should not surprise if the PLA, which acts like a government within a government, might consider Zeng as the natural choice to lead China. Could the PLA and Zeng's sympathizers exploit the Tibet issue to disgrace President Hu?
President Hu was the architect of the repressive policy in Tibet. Failure of that policy will be seen as his personal failure. Hu's rivals would know that an autonomous Tibet within China would not diminish but enhance China's international standing. It is a tailor-made issue for striking at Hu. The curious role of the PLA and Tibetan security suggests that some such possibility cannot be discarded. The Tibet issue cannot be exploited by the Dalai Lama or by foreign powers to deliver a body blow to China. But powerful dissidents in China could deliver a fatal blow. President Hu Jintao is silent on Tibet. Premier Wen Jiabao appears ridiculous by constantly demanding that Dalai Lama give up his claim for independence -- which the Tibetan leader has repeatedly and publicly done so -- before China can talk with him. The Chinese government is busy accusing foreign enemies. But the real danger to it could come from enemies within. The August Olympics might prove this.