Reuters reporter Emma Graham-Harrison has a very revealing article about her hyper-managed trip to Tibet, dealing with a tour where certain impressions were forced on her by Chinese government minders.
“It’s amazing. The day before you arrived, Lhasa became suddenly peaceful again,” quipped one taxi driver.
When we were taken to a provincial town, police lined many of the villages along our route, their backs to the road so they could keep a close eye on clusters of locals. Officials would not explain why they were there.
The message Beijing seemed keen to convey was that Tibet was stable and prospering. Yet the careful attempts at managing our perceptions served only to create the opposite impression.
The watchful police, disappearing soldiers, sequestered monks, and days packed with irrelevant visits left me convinced that China thinks Tibet is dangerously volatile, and worries about both its grip on the place and international opinion.
The one thing I am still unsure about, despite my best efforts, is the opinions of ordinary Tibetans outside the government apparatus that showed us around.
Beyond a raised eyebrow or an unhappy grimace, none wanted to open up.
“It’s difficult here. We don’t dare talk” was the best I could get.
This is a different style of censorship than what we regularly see inside Tibet, but something that is familiar for foreign reporters. After last year’s national uprising, China did a couple of hyper-supervised media junkets. At that time a group of monks effectively crashed the party and spent time pouring their hearts out to the journalists, telling them about the crackdown and their desires for rights and freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama. Obviously that didn’t happen again for Graham-Harrison, but as she says, the supervision of the junket shows disorder, not order, in Tibet.