Friday, April 4, 2008

Did China make stones fly in Burma and Tibet?

UPDATE: This past has been updated with new evidence (see here).

What is the strategic principle by which China's security planners operate? One clue to China's own modus operandi concerns how its ally, Myanmar dealt with the peaceful protests in September 2007. How had Myanmar prepared for protesters? With troops, indeed. But also with truckloads of bricks, as these reports indicate:
Another truck pulled up, full of bricks. Three men in the back began throwing the bricks on the road - ammunition for the protesters. But riot police were already trudging up Sule Pagoda Road. . . . Not one protester threw a brick at the soldiers. The truck roared off again. - Time
In chaotic scenes in the city centre, protesters also stopped a truck carrying bricks and used them to pelt a police post near the Traders Hotel. - The Age
This group of people had gotten very angry because the military had begun beating the monks. So they started throwing stones and bricks at the riot police and soldiers. . . At this point I tried to request to the people not to do violence. Although, of course, the troops had started the violence. . . - Monk leader Ashin Kovida, interviewed by Jotman
The security principle on the streets of Rangoon was relatively simple.

Were it to appear that otherwise peaceful protesters had "cast the first stone," a violent -- and presumably effective -- government crackdown is easier to justify. Domestic opinion in the wake of state violence is crucial and world opinion matters too. One core principle guiding Myanmar security planners: How do we incite peaceful protesters to violence?

At the time, there were suggestions that the Myanmar regime was getting its advice on how to handle the peaceful protests from Beijing (We have no reason think otherwise). Are we to suppose Burma's modus operandi for handling peaceful protests differs in principle from that of Beijing? Perhaps it should not come as any surprise that some testimony and video evidence regarding the riots in Lhasa seems suggestive of similar tactics. Allegations have been made that stones or bricks had been put in position in advance in Lhasa prior to the riot scenes. Commentator Mr. Chen Pokong said:

In this year's protest, the riot scene was quite similar to that of 1989. . .

The actions seemed well planned and coordinated, and were conducted with skill. At the crossroads near the Ramoche Monastery, someone prepared in advance many stones of a similar size, each weighing a couple of kilograms. These stones magically escaped the attention of numerous policemen and plainclothes agents who flooded the city.

The conspicuous presence of stones is alleged by an expose of a video which shows a helmeted motorcyclist getting stones thrown at his head (described in this post). The video commentary asks:
Is the street full of stones? No! Most of the stones used by the attackers are around the motorcycle! In fact the first attacker picked up a large stone right beside the motorcycle!
My post links to the video: you can watch it and decide what you think.

What else do we know the history of security planning in China concerning Tibet? China successfully quashed rebellions in 1989. Those protests occurred in two locations: Beijing and Lhasa, Tibet. Here's an account of the Lhasa protest of 1989:

In his "Events in Lhasa March 2-10, 1989", the Chinese journalist Tang Daxian revealed how the CCP orchestrated violence as part of a plan to suppress the 1989 protests in Tibet.

According to the article, "On the dawn of March 5, the Armed Police in Tibet received the action order from the Chief Commander of Armed Police headquarter, Mr. Li Lianxiu.…The Special Squad should immediately assign 300 members to be disguised as ordinary citizens and Tibetan monks, entering the Eight-Corner Street and other riot spots in Lhasa, to support plain-clothes police to complete the task.

"Burn the Scripture Pagoda at the northeast of Dazhao Temple. Smash the rice store in the business district, incite citizens to rob rice and food, attack the Tibet-Gansu Trading Company. Encourage people to rob store products, but, only at the permitted locations."

President Hu Jintao was Party Chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region at the time.

In Burma soldiers put bricks where protesters were expected to assemble -- an encouragement to violence. By contrast, we have been told that the Tibetan protesters in Lhasa went berserk. Were the Tibetan people prone to violence, whereas Burmese people are more peaceful? Or might the real difference here have concerned the regimes? We know Beijing to be more sophisticated than Myanmar. Might the protests have become violent quickly in Tibet because China planned for them to become so -- not just by dumping stones as in Burma -- but also by supplying rioters? I have explored the allegation in another post.

In the aftermath of the unrest in Tibet, China masterfully turned a regional protest movement to its own advantage. This much seems increasingly evident: fires, looting and murders in Tibet have given Beijing an excuse to sweep away anti-Party elements lurking in the attic, launch its own War on Terror, and discredit competing news sources.

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