A Chinese passenger jet en route to Beijing from the Xinjiang region (known as Uighurstan or East Turkestan to its indigenous inhabitants, the Turkic and Muslim Uighur people) was forced to make an emergency landing March 7 after the flight crew prevented at least two passengers from trying to crash the airplane, state media reported. Meanwhile, Chinese officials announced that a police raid in January against an alleged terrorist group in Xinjiang had uncovered materials that proved the group was plotting an attack on the upcoming Beijing Olympics. (IHT, March 9)
At least three and perhaps as many as nine were killed in protests in Lhasa, Tibet, March 8, including two police and a Buddhist monk. The protests were sparked by the arrest of a monk who shouted pro-independence slogans during the closing rites of the Great Prayer Festival inside the Jokhang Temple, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest shrine. Last October, more than a dozen Tibetans were killed and some 80 monks arrested in pro-independence protests, most of whom have since been released. The Great Prayer Festival, which began Feb. 25, was boycotted by hundreds of monks in protest of the presence of nearly 2,000 armed Chinese police at the monasteries. (NYT, March 7)
Police in Dharmsala, India, March 10 barred several hundred Tibetan exiles from marching to Tibet to protest against China hosting this summer’s Olympics. The start of the planned six-month march from Dharmsala to Tibet was due to coincide with the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that forced the Dalai Lama and his followers into exile. Dharmsala regional police chief Atul Fulzele said an order banning the marchers from leaving the area had been issued. (The Guardian, March 11)
Tibetan activists held a torch-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia March 10 to protest China’s rule over Tibet, but police prevented the group—dubbed Team Tibet—from entering the stadium, and the ceremony took place outside the gates of the museum. Five Tibetan women in traditional goddess dresses performed a short ceremony, lighting a torch and handing it to Tibetan shot-putter Tsultim Golpe. Police stopped Golpe as she took the torch and began her run, returning it later with the flame extinguished. She and other activists were escorted back to their hotels in Olympia by police, but there were no arrests.
Team Tibet intends for its Tibetan Freedom Torch Relay to pass through 50 cities and finish inside Tibet on Aug. 8, the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. “The Chinese regime will try to use the games to advance its own political agenda,” said Tendon Dahortsang, a spokeswoman for the Team Tibet. “That’s why we took the protest to Ancient Olympia.” (AP, March 10)
While we do think it is possible that Uighur militants are planning attacks on the Beijing Olympics, we also think it very likely the Chinese state is instrumenting a terror scare for strategic reasons at this moment. The immediate reason is to portray “separatists” in China’s far west as “terrorists” so as to provide the proper climate for a crackdown on the anticipated Tibetan protests in the prelude to March 10—and win cooperation from the Indians and even Greeks. The more longterm reason is to undercut Western moves to boycott or protest the Olympics by invoking a common Islamic terrorist threat. Beijing’s recent PR offensive in Darfur also fits this bill.