New aggressive “counter-terrorism” campaign expands from Xinjiang to Tibet with increased militarization of the plateau

The Communist Party leadership is increasing its emphasis on the need of political control of Tibet and its central importance for the ‘stability’ of the whole of the People’s Republic of China. An important part of this policy has been the expansion of an aggressive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive to Tibet, as part of a larger effort taking place in Xinjiang and across China, which is resulting in an intensified militarization of the plateau.

  • Since last May, an expansive ‘counter-terrorism’ drive has been launched by the Chinese Government following some killings in Xinjiang and has expanded across China.
  • In Tibet, Chinese authorities have organized large-scale military drills, intensified border security and are holding training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolations and in monasteries in order to be ‘combat’ ready.
  • The counter-terrorism drive in Tibet has a particular political dimension, involving training of police in Buddhist monasteries, the characterization of religious teachings by the Dalai Lama as incitement to ‘hatred’ and ‘extremist action’ and the implication that Tibetan self-immolations can be characterized as ‘terrorism’.
  • The status of the political commissar of the paramilitary Armed Police Corps of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tang Xiao, has been recently upgraded to a rank equivalent to lieutenant general of the army, “indicating the central government’s determination to safeguard regional stability”, according to a report by the Chinese state media on October 8 (2014).[1]
  • Party officials connect political ‘stability’ in Tibet with the security of the entire PRC; Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region’s People’s Congress Pema Thinley (referred to as Padma Choling by Chinese media) underlined this approach on China’s National Day, October 1, when he said: “Tibet’s stability is tied to national stability, and Tibet’s security is tied to national security.”[2]
  • This hyper-securitized approach is imposed despite the Dalai Lama’s consistent emphasis on non-violence, and the lack of incidents in Tibet that could be defined as “terrorism”.

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said:

“China is using the excuse of antiterrorism operations that are taking place internationally, especially in Iraq and Syria, and attempting to project its unjustified crackdown in Tibet as “counterterrorism”. Labelling Tibetan self-immolators as “terrorists” is the ultimate offense to people who have sacrificed their life, harming no one except themselves, to raise the attention of the international community on the plight of the Tibetan people. The path chosen by Beijing – more oppression and more militarization – is very dangerous because it is destined to fuel resentment and further alienates an already distressed population. Democratic governments cannot and should not support the counterterrorism operations in Tibet and instead should make it clear that a distinction exist between terrorist activities and legitimate political dissent.”

“Counter-terrorism” drive extends to Tibet in recent months

The Chinese authorities have pursued a relentless ‘counter-terrorism’ campaign in East Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang) following the killing of 29 people in knife attacks at Kunming railway station on March 1 and a deadly bomb and knife attack in Urumqi in May as Chinese leader Xi Jinping concluded a visit to the region. From May 23, the drive was extended across the PRC, with the authorities announcing that every regional People’s Security Bureau has to consolidate its work in order to prevent terrorist activities.[3]

As a result of this policy shift, two major military drills were organized last May and June in Ngari[4] and in Kardze[5] in Tibet. In Ngari, the exercise was to combat “self-immolation, vehicle collision, arson attacks, and mobs” while in Kardze, it was an “exercise of anti-terrorism and stability maintenance combat” and included ways to suppress “thugs”. Such drills are being conducted despite the absence of any incidents taking place in the region, neither against civilians nor against Chinese authorities. Tibetans have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their commitment to non-violence; in symbolic expressions of their peaceful intent, in some areas of eastern Tibet, Tibetans have handed in their traditional knives at public areas.[6]

In the week that the ‘counter-terrorism’ drive was announced and promoted across the PRC last May, the authorities in the TAR announced a training session for police stationed in Tibetan monasteries. The establishment of police stations in monasteries is a key objective in rolling out the new agenda of intensified control.[7]

The state media reported that the Lhasa Public Security department had organized the training of security personnel in monasteries in order to respond to the dangers of terrorism and ‘complicated situation’ of ‘maintaining stability’.[8] The training course, held on May 22, provided instructions on the use of weapons and police equipment in order to ensure police stationed in monasteries were ready for ‘combat’.[9]

In order to promote the Party’s ramped-up security agenda, a number of Party officials have visited Tibet over the past few months from Beijing including the Deputy Director of the United Work Front in Beijing, Zhang Qiujun, who visited the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in July in order to discuss ‘counter-terrorism’ and border security.[10] Border security comes under the purview of the PAP, under the dual leadership of the State Council and the Central Military Commission.

On October 3, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Police Force Niu Zhizhong announced in Lhasa that the promotion of Tang Xiao by China’s Central Military Commission to a rank equivalent to lieutenant general, was based on the “special environment and strategic position of the Tibet Armed Police”.[11] As political commissar of the Armed Police Corps, Tang Xiao represents the Communist Party, and would normally rank second to the commanding officer of the force. While the promotion of the commanding officer is also expected, it is significant that Tang Xiao has been promoted first to the equivalent of lieutenant general in the armed forces.

The directive of the promotion “is intended to show that military must only answer to Party leadership and serve the best interest of the Party,” Shanghai-based military affairs expert Ni Lexiong was cited as saying in the South China Morning Post (October 8, 2014).[12]

The populist state media newspaper the Global Times reported: “Major General Tang Xiao, the political commissar of the Tibet Armed Police Corps, part of the Chinese People’s Armed Police, now enjoys the ‘treatment’ of a head of a corps-sized military body, which is equal to that of officials at a provincial or ministerial level.” (October 8, 2014).[13]

The Chinese state media linked the promotion of Tang Xiao to an enhancement of ‘anti-terrorism capability’ and the need for ‘absolute loyalty’ to the Chinese Communist Party in carrying out its work.[14]

Major religious teaching by Dalai Lama described as ‘incitement to terrorism’

Consistent with the strident official language used to emphasize the new counter-terror drive, a major religious teaching by the Dalai Lama in exile, the Kalachakra in Ladakh, was described by the Chinese state media in harsher language than before, saying that it incited terror. The authorities linked their attempts to prevent Tibetans from attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings in exile with ‘counter-terrorist’ work in the ‘frontline’ border areas of Tibet, including Ngari (Chinese Ali) in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which borders India.[15]

A Xinhua article published on July 7 said that the teachings, which attract thousands of Buddhists from all over the world including China, were “used by separatists for political ends”.[16]

Li Decheng, head of the religious studies at the China Tibetology Research Center, was cited in the same article by Xinhua as saying that the “[Kalachakra] ceremony incited hatred, terror and extremist action, seriously tarnishing the Kalachakra’s nature of solemnity and purity, and affecting the healthy development of Tibetan Buddhism.”

In line with their broader political objectives of undermining the influence of the Dalai Lama, the Ngari authorities stepped up border security just prior to the Kalachakra in Ladakh from July 3-14 (2014).[17]

Two months before the Kalachakra, Deputy Party Secretary of the TAR Deng Xiaogang visited border security and People’s Liberation Army bases in Purang (Chinese: Burang) county, where the important pilgrimage area Mount Kailash is located, and Dram, the town on the border of Nepal in Ruthok County in Ngari (Chinese: Ali), Tibet Autonomous Region. Several weeks later on June 14, Deng Xiaogang, who is also secretary of the Party Committee on Politics and Law in the TAR, visited a large-scale ‘counter-terrorism’ military drill in Ngari, providing training for police in dealing with self-immolations, explosions, and public demonstrations.[18]

This follows a more systematic approach in discouraging Tibetans from attending religious teachings by the Dalai Lama in exile, and penalizing those who did so, following the Kalachakra religious empowerment by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, India, in January, 2012, in which returning Tibetans were detained and compelled to undergo intensive ‘patriotic education’ sessions. Some were kept in prison or forced to do hard labor for longer periods, for instance if they were caught with photographs of the Dalai Lama or mementoes of the teaching.[19]

While thousands of Tibetans from inside Tibet once travelled to attend such major teachings, at this year’s Kalachakra in Ladakh the numbers of Tibetans from Tibet in attendance were much lower than before.[20]

Counter-terrorism training drill in dealing with self-immolations and protests

As in Ngari, a military drill in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi), Sichuan, the Tibetan area of Kham, held as part of the ‘counter-terrorism’ drive depicted police being trained in how to deal with a person on fire. Since the wave of self-immolations began in Tibet in 2009, the Chinese authorities have sought to represent these acts as criminal and ‘terrorist’, and have responded by intensifying the military buildup in Tibet and strengthening the very policies and approaches that are the root causes of the acts, such as aggressive campaigns against loyalty to the Dalai Lama.[21]

The training session held in Kardze earlier this year in May was held in order to “crack down on terror” and “violent protestors”.[22] Images published in the state media depicted troops dealing with a self-immolation and protestors bearing weapons in order to demonstrate tactics for cracking down on demonstrations. Although protests in Tibet have been overwhelmingly non-violent, the Chinese authorities have sought to represent the unprecedented unrest across the Tibetan plateau since 2008 as one ‘violent riot’, referring solely to the events of March 14 in Lhasa.[23]

‘Legal opinion’ on counter-terrorism and ‘religious extremism’

The Chinese authorities underlined the significance of the counter-terrorism drive in the context of intensified levels of militarization and emphasis on security in both Eastern Turkestan (Chinese: Xinjiang) and Tibet in a legal opinion published on September 22 in the state media. The legal opinion, which sets out the Party position on the handling of the counter-terrorist drive, conflated “violent terrorist ideology” with actions that may be completely non-violent, such as “splittism” and undermining of “ethnic unity”. Definitions of what may be characterized as ‘terrorist ideology’ are opaque and subject to interpretation according to the political climate and the authorities’ drive to secure convictions. The opinion, published in Xinjiang Daily, states that: “Those who spread online or promote the dissemination of religious extremism, violent terrorist ideology, incite others to split the country and undermine ethnic unity will be convicted and punished for incitement to splitting the country.”

The ‘legal opinion’ is translated into English from Chinese by ICT below.


Since Xi Jinping assumed full power as China’s Party Secretary and President in March, 2013, the crackdown across Tibet has deepened, particularly in areas where there have been self-immolations or unrest. Policies and measures that undermine Tibetan culture and religion that in 2008 led to the protests and unrest in the first place have been strengthened.

The new emphasis on counter-terror measures, combined with the heightened troop presence that is particularly visible during religious festivals in eastern Tibet,[24] on the streets of Lhasa, and at the time of sensitive anniversaries[25] is indicative of this approach, as well as China’s more systematic and aggressive response to the wave of Tibetan self-immolations. It is a response that ignores the root causes of the more than 130 self-immolations that have swept across Tibet since 2009.

As the Chinese authorities wage counter-insurgency without insurgents, and against citizens who peacefully express their views, there is an urgent need for re-evaluation of this dangerous and counter-productive approach.

Standardizing the handling of violent terrorist and religious extremist criminal cases

From Xinjiang Daily, September 22, 2014[26]
Translation into English by ICT

According to the Supreme People’s Court, in order to punish violent terrorism, religious extremism and criminal activity, and in order to effectively prevent cases of violent terrorism, the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security recently jointly issued the “Legal opinion regarding issues in the handling of violent terrorism and religious extremism criminal cases” norms for relevant cases.

The opinion requests that, when handling criminal cases of violent terrorism and religious extremism, one should properly grasp strict accordance with the law, combine leniency and severity, distinguish between religious and nationality policy and implement their basic principles, correctly grasp crime and non-crime, between different types of crime, and the boundary between one crime and multiple crimes. For criminal suspects, the treatment of the defendant, combined with the subjective greatness of their evil, their behavior and the degree of harm done, and the role played by other factors in the case should ensure that each is treated differently, and that there is a strict distinction between criminal religious extremism and normal religious activities, and respect is paid to the criminal suspect, to the defendant’s human dignity, religious beliefs, and nationality customs.

The opinion emphasized that the nature of each case should be exactly identified. Organizers, leaders, and participants in terrorist societies who launch or establish a terrorist organization or a training camp for the purpose of engaging in terrorist activities, with physical training for committing terrorist acts, skill training or other acts, which cause or are intended to cause casualties or cause chaos in society, will be convicted and punished for their crimes. Those who spread online or promote the dissemination of religious extremism, violent terrorist ideology, incite others to split the country and undermine ethnic unity will be convicted and punished for incitement to splitting the country. Those who incite ethnic hatred and serious cases of ethnic discrimination done to incite ethnic hatred will be convicted and punished for ethnic discrimination. Those who knowingly providing funding and equipment for a terrorist organization will be convicted and punished of financing terrorist activities. Those who beat, chase, intercept, and insult others on the grounds of being “infidels” or “heretics,” disrupting social order to a serious extent, will be convicted and punished for causing disturbances.

The opinion also clarified the place of propaganda materials, meeting the standard of “knowingly,” and the case principles of jurisdiction.

[1] Global Times, October 8, 2014

[2] Tibet Daily, October 3, 2014,

[3] Documented by numerous media sources, including South China Morning Post, April 30, 2014,

[4] People’s Daily, June 16, 2014

[5] Website of China’s Ministry of National Defense, May 27, 2014

[6] See images with this report, and ICT report, ‘Storm in the Grasslands: Self-Immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy’,

[7] See ICT report,

[8] State media report, May 29, 2014,

[9] Paraphrasing based on ICT translation from Chinese from the same state media report.

[10] United Front Work Department official Zhang Qiujun also visited troops stationed on the border in Ngari during his visit to the TAR in July, specifically referring to their work as part of the ‘counter-terrorism’ initiative. Chinese state media report, July 10, 2014:

[11] Tibet Daily, October 6, 2014, cited by South China Morning Post, October 8, 2014


[13] Global Times, October 8, 2014, at:

[14] Tibet Daily, October 6, 2014, cited by South China Morning Post, October 8, 2014

[15] At a conference in Ngari on September 2 (2014), officials asserted the “key importance” of counter-terrorist work across Tibet but in particular in the border, ‘frontline’, areas. The article in the state media ( reported comments at the meeting by Dorjee Tseten, Vice Chairman of the TAR and He Wenhao, the deputy secretary of the Regional Party Committee Political Committee.


[17] ICT report,


[19] ICT report, February 22, 2012,

[20] Until the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya in 2012, the scale of the security operation had not been seen before following a Dalai Lama teaching in India, and it indicated the authorities’ concerns about a spread in unrest and Tibetan solidarity following a series of self-immolations and protests in eastern Tibet. The detentions and intensive ‘patriotic education’ also indicated a systematic implementation of the Party’s objectives in Tibetan areas since March, 2008, of tightening control in the context of a pervasive campaign to oppose the Dalai Lama and his influence.

[21] An ICT report, ‘Acts of Significant Evil: The Criminalization of Tibetan Self-Immolations’, documents how the Chinese leadership has responded with an intensified wave of repression in Tibet, by punishing those allegedly “associated” with self-immolators, including friends, families and even entire communities. ICT report:

[22] The session was held on May 26, 2014, and reported by the Chinese state media online on May 27, 2014

[23] The ICT report, ‘Tibet at a Turning Point: The Spring Uprising and China’s New Crackdown’ documents the peaceful protests and the March 14 incidents in Lhasa:

[24] See images at:

[25] Such as the anniversary of Tibetan’s uprising in 1959, and the beginning of the protests in 2008, on March 10 every year.

[26] Xinjiang Daily, September 22, 2014 (the safety of the link cannot be guaranteed:

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