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Friday, March 28

Rent-a-mob: A second look at the Lhasa, Tibet riots. Part 4

6:15 PM Update
Evidence has emerged that China authorities staged the Lhasa riots.
* * * * * * *
Thanks to Nitin at Acorn website for sending me the Washington Post report I quote in this post.

The set-up
Watch carefully, don't blink (emphasis throughout mine):

From the CNN interview with James Miles about what he saw of the riots in Lhasa on March 14:
What I saw was calculated targeted violence against an ethnic group, or I should say two ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Han Chinese living in Lhasa, but also members of the Muslim Hui minority in Lhasa. [...] Those two groups were singled out by ethnic Tibetans. They marked those businesses that they knew to be Tibetan-owned with white traditional scarves. Those businesses were left intact.[...] (1)
The Bharkor, where much of the destructive rioting took place, and where most of the scarves were hung, is like a small town. All the Tibetans and Chinese know who runs which shop. So why would it be necessary to mark the Tibetan shops to prevent their destruction?

From a Washington Post compilation of interviews with nine eyewitnesses to the rioting and events that led up to it:(2):
The city was fairly quiet Wednesday and Thursday. But late on the morning of Friday, March 14, Rune Backs, a 35-year-old tourist from Copenhagen, saw trucks of riot police driving in circles near the Potala Palace, the onetime residence of the Dalai Lama and now one of the region's biggest tourist attractions.

Backs did not see police advance farther into the city, but a line of officers blocked the square in front of the palace, letting no one through.

After watching the scene, Backs turned and headed back downtown, puzzled by what he had seen and figuring he could visit the palace another day. That's when he saw the smoke.
The smoke signaled the outbreak of rioting. So, as soon as a large contingent of riot police got settled in place to protect the big tourist attraction, by coincidence rioting broke out in the Bharkor.
Zhang Bing Quan saw [the smoke] too. The 38-year-old Beijing native was standing on the roof of the hostel he owns in Lhasa, watching the tendril of smoke rise [...]

[Later] Back at Zhang's hostel, guests began pouring in from the streets. Many headed to the roof, transfixed by the sight of a city in flames. Five Tibetan neighbors crawled over nearby rooftops to join them, Zhang said.

Then, about 3 p.m., he heard a "strange, high-pitched sound." He looked down to see a gang of 30 to 40 people swing into his street, howling. He was surprised to see that most in the mob were young women, who had masks over their mouths and were wearing backpacks.

"They were attacking even more fiercely than the boys," he said. The mob began kicking down doors and wrenching open shops, including the offices of the state-run Tibet Daily newspaper and the local bureau of the official New China News Agency.

Zhang saw a man in his 30s shouting into a megaphone and a woman nearby, pointing. They appeared to be directing the mob where to attack, he said.

One group grabbed a white barrel of gasoline, poured the liquid into the doorway of a shop and ignited it. In the space of about 30 minutes, seven fires were blazing on the block, including one in the building next door. [...]

A firetruck soon arrived, though, and the flames were extinguished. Zhang's street remained quiet the next day. A few riot police officers appeared and positioned themselves in front of the news bureaus.

Zhang said the police ordered him and his guests to stay inside. They did, discussing Friday's chaos and swapping stories of rioters they felt certain could not have been local Tibetans; many of the guests said they had heard different dialects.
It's on the basis of such eyewitness accounts, which also support James Miles's claim that on the 14th he saw no police presence around the rioting (even though there were a few minor confrontations that he was unaware of), that many are coming to believe what I suspected from the start: The bulk of the damage during the rioting was done by a rent-a-mob.

The question is who rented the mob. Some Chinese officials are claiming that the Dalai Lama and his 'clique' are the culprits. But that makes no sense. In fact, it's laughable.

The Buddhist monks in Tibet are not the Buddhist monks in Burma. Western journalists outside the United Kingdom first had to find Burma on the map when the protests broke out there; remember? The Burma monks protested to bring the world's attention to the situation in Burma -- a situation that relatively few outside Burma knew about.

But Tibet's monks didn't have to protest to bring their plight to world attention. Veritable armies of human rights activists, Tibetan Buddhist practitioners around the world, and expat Tibetans had been gearing up for the Big Year of Tibet -- to protest worldwide on behalf of the Tibetans in the run-up to the Olympics.

So all the Tibetans in Tibet had to do was know their lines and not bump into the furniture. They only needed to wait for the world's camera crews to show up in June when the Olympic torch arrived. They would have been crazy to undercut their cause by initiating highly destructive rampages.

But it would not be a crazy move on the part of Hu Jintao to see that the Tibetan cause was marred by accusations of violence and ethnic hatred.

Does all the above mean I've abandoned my working hypothesis about the paddy wagon routine? (See Part 1) Yes, I think the situation is deeper than I originally assumed.

If I'm near the mark, then why didn't the Dalai Lama call for an investigation of the riots before his spokesperson described the riots as pent-up Tibetan rage exploding? I don't have a crystal ball but some guesses: It's fairly certain that Tibetans who were not part of the rent-a-mob did join in the rampage. And maybe he wanted to move quickly to express disapproval for the violence while at the same time highlighting Tibetan anger about their situation in Tibet.
(Update: Last week the Dalai Lama's translator did accuse China's government of instigating the riots; see the update link)

For background to this post see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

1) CNN interview with James Miles.

2) How a Protest Became a Rampage
By Jill Drew, Washington Post Foreign Service, Thursday, March 27, 2008; Page A01
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