In Tibet, more than 500,000 “surplus” rural workers are indoctrinated in facilities similar to the Xinjiang internment centres. Buddhist farmers and shepherds are “trained” and moved to where labour is needed. The fight against poverty is used to extend social control. Maoist collectivisation is making a comeback.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Security and the fight against poverty are one and the same in Tibet, where China’s regime is “re-educating” hundreds of thousands of farm workers, then moving them to other parts of the region or to other provinces.
This is the same pattern adopted in Xinjiang for the indoctrination of Uyghur Muslims. Tibetan Buddhist families are forced to report on each other. Maoism is back as the Chinese Communist Party forces nomads and farmers to give up land and pastures to state cooperatives. The Tibetan linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage is in danger of being erased.
“Grid Management” and the “Double-Linked Household” System
Coercive elements play an important role during the recruitment process. Village-based work teams, an intrusive social control mechanism pioneered by Chen Quanguo, go from door to door to “help transform the thinking and views of poor households.” The descriptions of these processes, and the extensive government resources invested to ensure their operation, overlap to a high degree with those that are commonly practiced in Xinjiang (The China Quarterly, July 12, 2019).
As is the case in Xinjiang, poverty-alleviation work in the TAR is tightly linked to social control mechanisms and key aspects of the security apparatus. To quote one government document, “By combining grid management and the ‘double-linked household’ management model, [we must] organize, educate, and guide the people to participate and to support the fine-grained poverty alleviation … work.”
Grid management is a highly intrusive social control mechanism, through which neighborhoods and communities are subdivided into smaller units of surveillance and control. Besides dedicated administrative and security staff, this turns substantial numbers of locals into “volunteers,” enhancing the surveillance powers of the state.
Grid management later became the backbone of social control and surveillance in Xinjiang. For poverty alleviation, it involves detailed databases that list every single person “in poverty,” along with indicators and countermeasures, and may include a “combat visualization” feature whereby progress in the “war on poverty” is visualized through maps and charts (TAR Government, November 10, 2016). Purang County in Ngari spent 1.58 million renminbi (US$ 233,588 dollars) on a “Smart Poverty Alleviation Big Data Management Platform,” which can display poverty alleviation progress on a large screen in real time (TAR Government, February 20, 2019).
Similarly, the “double-linked household” system corrals regular citizens into the state’s extensive surveillance apparatus by making sets of 10 “double-linked” households report on each other. Between 2012 and 2016, the TAR established 81,140 double-linked household entities, covering over three million residents, and therefore virtually the region’s entire population (South China Morning Post, December 12, 2016). An August 2020 article on poverty alleviation in Ngari notes that it was the head of a “double-linked” household unit who led his “entire village” to hand over their grassland and herds to a local husbandry cooperative (Hunan Government, August 20).
Converting Property to Shares Through Government Cooperatives
A particularly troubling aspect of the Training and Labor Transfer Action Plan is the directive to promote a “poverty alleviation industry” scheme by which local nomads and farmers are asked to hand over their land and herds to large-scale, state-run cooperatives. In that way, “nomads become shareholders” as they convert their usage rights into shares.
This scheme, which harks back to the forced collectivization era of the 1950s, increases the disposable incomes of nomads and farmers through share dividends and by turning them into wage laborers. They are then either employed by these cooperatives or are now “free” to participate in the wider labor transfer scheme. In Nagqu, this is referred to as the “one township one cooperative, one village one cooperative scheme, indicating its universal coverage. One account describes the land transfer as prodding Tibetans to “put down the whip, walk out of the pasture, and enter the [labor] market” (People.cn, July 27, 2020).
Clearly, such a radical transformation of traditional livelihoods is not achieved without overcoming local resistance. A government report from Shuanghu County (Nagqu) in July 2020 notes that: In the early stages, … most herders were not enthusiastic about participating. [Then], the county government…organized…county-level cadres to deeply penetrate township and village households, convening village meetings to mobilize people, insisted on transforming the [prevailing attitude of] “I am wanted to get rid of poverty” to “I want to get rid of poverty” as the starting point for the formation of a cooperative… [and] comprehensively promoted the policy… Presently… the participation rate of registered poor herders is at 100 percent, [that] of other herders at 97 percent.
Importantly, the phrase “transforming [attitudes of] ‘I am wanted to get rid of poverty’ to ‘I want to get rid of poverty’” is found in this exact form in accounts of poverty alleviation through labor transfer in Xinjiang.
Given that this scheme severs the long-standing connection between Tibetans and their traditional livelihood bases, its explicit inclusion in the militarized vocational training and labor transfer policy context is of great concern.
Militarized Vocational Training: Examining a Training Base in Chamdo
The Chamdo Golden Sunshine Vocational Training School operates a vocational training base within Chamdo’s Vocational and Technical School, located in Eluo Town, Karuo District. The facility conducts “military-style training” of rural surplus laborers for the purpose of achieving labor transfer; photos of the complex show a rudimentary facility with rural Tibetan trainees of various ages, mostly dressed in military fatigues.
Satellite imagery (see accompanying images) shows that after a smaller initial setup in 2016, the facility was expanded in the year 2018 to its current state. The compound is fully enclosed, surrounded by a tall perimeter wall and fence, and bisected by a tall internal wire mesh fence that separates the three main northern buildings from the three main southern ones. The internal fence might be used to separate dormitories from teaching and administrative buildings. Independent experts in satellite analysis contacted by the author estimated the height of the internal fence at approximately 3 meters. The neighboring vocational school does not feature any such security measures.
In both Xinjiang and Tibet, state-mandated poverty alleviation consists of a top-down scheme that extends the government’s social control deep into family units. The state’s preferred method to increase the disposable incomes of rural surplus laborers in these restive minority regions is through vocational training and labor transfer. Both regions have by now implemented a comprehensive scheme that relies heavily on centralized administrative mechanisms; quota fulfilment; job matching prior to training; and a militarized training process that involves thought transformation, patriotic and legal education, and Chinese language teaching.
Important differences remain between Beijing’s approaches in Xinjiang and Tibet. Presently, there is no evidence that the TAR’s scheme is linked to extrajudicial internment, and aspects of its labor transfer mechanisms are potentially less coercive. However, in a system where the transition between securitization and poverty alleviation is seamless, there is no telling where coercion stops and where genuinely voluntary local agency begins. While some Tibetans may voluntarily participate in some or all aspects of the scheme, and while their incomes may indeed increase as a result, the systemic presence of clear indicators of coercion and indoctrination, coupled with profound and potentially permanent change in modes of livelihood, is highly problematic. In the context of Beijing’s increasingly assimilatory ethnic minority policy, it is likely that these policies will promote a long-term loss of linguistic, cultural and spiritual heritage.
By : Adrian Zenz – AsiaNews