Following up on an earlier post commenting on protesters opposed to the Chinese government’s actions in Tibet, it seems that as reporters fan out and come to understand the causes and effects of the riots in Lhasa that then spread to other towns, critics are, to paraphrase the FT.com, ‘Trying to understand what happened in the days leading up to the riots’.
What happened is simple. The Tibetans wished to protest the occupation and their treatment at the hands of the Chinese. The Chinese did not want that to happen, and so moved swiftly to suppress peaceful protest. When peaceful protest is forbidden, violent protest will eventuate. There is one more step in the chain; when violent protest is forbidden and suppressed, an insurgency will start. The introduction of mobile telephony to Tibet will only enable the insurgency to operate more effectively, but by using methods unpredictable and unforeseen by the Chinese authorities.
This insurgency is unlikely to start today or tomorrow. However, if the Chinese authorities continue to maintain their current stance, at a time when the eyes of the world are upon them, it is likely – not certain, but likely – that the next step is an insurgency, unsure at first, perhaps a soldier killed here or there, a patrol or barracks overrun for the weapons, but it could grow quickly, given the strength of feeling now obvious in Tibet. That a riot was allowed to happen is regrettable from the Chinese perspective, because now the Tibetans understand the potential effect of violence, particularly when it is likely to be tacitly supported on the international stage.
What should the Chinese have done? This rhetorical question is asked and answered from a tactical and operational standpoint only, not a political one; the Chinese authorities should have recognized the level of feeling and created a platform for the Tibetans to feel that they had vented their frustration. They did not do this, and so a moderately difficult public order situation is about to become exponentially worse, and there will be significant support from outside organizations seeking to push support and resources to the Tibetans simply to ‘make mischief’ for the Chinese.
Those who wish to protest must be given a platform to do so. The wise politician and police commander does so, and uses the ground and situation to their advantage in order to limit the potential damage, both political and physical, that the protestors can do. The Chinese failed to do so, and unfortunately for them are likely to reap what they have sown.