Anti-corruption crackdown in Tibet must focus on human rights abuses

Zhou Yongkang, China's former security czar used the prevailing anti-terror mood or 'war on terror' to engage in widespread and systematic abuse of human rights in Tibet [Photo:]
Zhou Yongkang, China’s former security czar used the prevailing anti-terror mood or ‘war on terror’ to engage in widespread and systematic abuse of human rights in Tibet
As part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, investigators are being sent to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) for disciplinary purposes. They will investigate not only official corruption, the focus of the campaign, but also officials who do not follow the central government’s policy of systematically violating human rights in Tibet. Since Xi Jinping was appointed President of the PRC, he has paired reform and repression. The repression has often been disproportionately harsher and longer lasting than the promised reforms, especially in Tibetan areas. The anti-corruption campaign is not an exception to this rule. However, if the goal of the anti-corruption campaign is to address the causes of social unrest, it is doomed to fail unless the government stops supporting the wanton violation of human rights in Tibet.

On Monday, discipline investigators were sent into the Tibet Autonomous Region [1] to investigate corruption. This is part of an escalation and expansion of the crackdown on systemic corruption within the Chinese Communist Party. After months of speculation [2], the PRC officially began [3] investigating Zhou Yongkang for corruption. Zhou Yongkang is a former member of the standing committee and the highest-ranking official to be openly investigated for a criminal offense since the Cultural Revolution. [4] Earlier this summer, the investigation of two executives of a State owned oil company [5]was also announced.

These developments would be more encouraging if the PRC was not simultaneously cracking down on people who advocate human rights and officials who are too lenient in abusing human rights. The discipline investigators in TAR have a second task—investigating officials who fail to effectively implement policies and decisions of the central government. [6] The policies and decisions of Beijing require that local officials maintain stability by denying Tibetans their fundamental human rights. Chen Quanguo implemented a similar strategy in 2012 after he became the Party Secretary for TAR. A number of government officials were fired or demoted for failing to strictly maintain stability. [7] This policy did not address the root causes of social unrest in TAR and therefore could not improve stability.

It is ironic that the government policies that the discipline investigators are working to enforce were championed by Zhou Yongkang. In 2001, as Party Secretary of Sichuan Province, Zhou Yongkang declared a “war on terror” in Tibet.[8] He then used that claim of legitimacy to arrest Trulku Tenzin Delek in 2002. Without any substantial evidence, Trulku Tenzin Delek was convicted of being involved in a bombing. Trulku Tenzin Delek was popular and trusted within the Tibetan community. He built numerous monasteries, hospitals, orphanages, and old people’s homes, in addition to providing teachings and approaching government officials on behalf of his community. In the 12 years since Trulku Tenzin Delek’s arrest, Tibetans have consistently called for his release. Four Tibetans were arrested in Beijing in 2012 petitioning for his release and in 2009 30,000 Tibetans signed a petition calling for his release. Despite this arbitrary abuse of authority and the instability it has caused, Zhou Yongkang is only facing an investigation for corruption and the discipline investigators in Tibet will work to ensure that the policies that put Trulku Tenzin Delek in prison are being followed.

The anti-corruption campaign recognizes that systemic corruption is a factor of social unrest, but it fails to address the direct causes of social unrest and instability in Tibet. Despite illegal mining, environmental damage, and the “ruthless” response to Tibetan protests directly responsible for the ongoing human rights protests and self-immolations in Tibet, the PRC is investigating officials who do not strictly enforce these policies as it cracks down on corruption.  “If the anti-corruption campaign is going to succeed in increasing stability it cannot be accompanied by support for coercive failed policies of human rights abuse,” said Tsering Tsomo, the executive director of TCHRD. “The Chinese government should take the opportunity of Zhou Yongkang’s criminal investigation to investigate his abuse of power and violation of the law in Tibet. First and foremost, the PRC should release Trulku Tenzin Delek and begin undoing, and not supporting, Zhou Yongkang’s destructive and counterproductive policies in Tibet.”


[1] Discipline inspectors look into Tibet, 28 July 2014, People’s Daily,
[2] The Coming Trial of Zhou Yongkang, 30 January 2014, The Diplomat,
[3] Zhou Yongkang: China investigates ex-security chief, 29 July 2014, BBC News,
[4] China Snares Biggest Tiger Yet With Probe of Zhou, 30 July 2014, Bloomberg News,
[5] CNPC Continues to Be Hit by Scandal as Two More Executives Fall, 23 July 2014, Caixin Online,
[6] Discipline inspectors look into Tibet, 28 July 2014, People’s Daily,
[7] China Demotes 6 Tibetan Officials in TAR, 18 May 2012, TCHRD,
[8] China releases four Tibetans detained for petitioning in Beijing, 6 August 2013, TCHRD,
[9] Ibid.
[10] CORRUPTION: The Unrecognized Threat to International Security, Working Group on Corruption and Security, June 2014, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,


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