China's crackdown in Tibet complicates US-Chinese ties
China's foreign minister will visit Washington today amid tension over Tibet and a US-China naval clash in the South China Sea.
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China is marking 50 years since a failed Tibetan uprising against Beijing's rule this week with a wide-reaching security clampdown in the Himalayan region, one year after the anniversary sparked violent rioting across western China.
The crackdown has drawn international attention to the Tibet issue, and sparked the ire of the Dalai Lama. The move comes as China's foreign minister arrives in the United States. Originally meant to shore up goodwill between the two countries, the trip must now address a US-China naval dispute in the South China Sea and outcry over Tibet, reports the Associated Press.
Located on a high Himalayan plateau, Tibet makes up about one-quarter of China's landmass and was conquered in 1951. Since then, it has been divided between the Tibet Autonomous Region and China's Qinghai Province. (Click here to see a map of the region.)
The Times (of London) reports that regular police, riot police, and units of the state-backed paramilitary People's Armed Police have flooded Tibet's capital city, Lhasa. Brandishing firearms, they have taken up positions on street corners, rooftops, and around the perimeter of the Jokhang Temple, one of the holiest sites in Tibetan Buddhism.
Chinese authorities have also disrupted cellphone service, in the hopes of impeding the organization of any demonstrations.
Few pilgrims were to be seen yesterday. Stalls selling marigolds and hunks of yak butter were closed. One Lhasa resident, who declined to be named, said: "The atmosphere is pretty tense. There are more armed police than normal but it isn't as much as when the Olympic torch was here. Then every road was closed off."
One hotel employee said: "There are armed police around the temple. You need to keep your ID with you because the police are checking."
Mobile phones in the city were virtually useless because of signal interference, residents said. China Mobile had notified subscribers that the system would undergo maintenance from March 10 until April 1 — a move seen as intended to prevent Tibetans from sending text messages, thereby spreading word of any unrest.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says the number of arrests and detentions in Tibet has spiked in the weeks leading up to the anniversary. They say that China has apparently created massive ad-hoc prisons, or "large-scale administrative detention outside of police stations and formal detention facilities."