Conflict & Justice

Tibet eyewitness

(What did you see?) I was walking out on the main thoroughfare through Lhasa and I saw a crowd of 100 Tibetans, normal Tibetans, not monks, throwing stones at buildings. People around me said these were Chinese owned businesses and so the early violence was ethnically motivated. I saw members of the crowd throwing stones at cyclists going past because they appeared to be ethnic Han Chinese, and stones at taxis which are mainly driven by Han Chinese. It very rapidly erupted across entire groups of people who were then smashing into Chinese shops and setting fire to things. Many ethnic Chinese ran away or hid. (Did the protesters say what they wanted?) The answers were mixed: one was about government interference into private life, but the other was also economic and had to due with price increases. Another factor is that many of these small shops are run by ethnic Han Chinese and that the Chinese have been the real winners in Lhasa's rapid economic growth and not Tibetans. (The authorities did not go in with guns blazing and said the cordoned off the worst trouble spots, but what's behind this more measured response?) That's a difficult question. My impression at the time was they were not prepared for this kind of protest. And then the unrest escalated at a fast-changing and sudden pace and the Chinese were worried about escalating too much the tensions. The result was inaction. (Does the fact that ordinary Tibetans and not monks took to the streets raised the stakes?) It does make it more difficult. The authorities know what to do about monks, but having ordinary civilians take the lead changes the tactics.