Yesterday Reuters – citing Chinese state media – reported that Chinese police seized thirty firearms from a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province, late last month:
Police, responding to what they said was a tip-off from the public, found 30 firearms in the monastery in Aba prefecture of Sichuan province last month, state television said in a report, a transcript of which was posted on its Web site (www.cctv.com). “At the time these firearms were scattered around, some were where the monks keep the scriptures,” policeman Lan Bo told the programme. “They were modified semi-automatic weapons.”
Along with several other accusations of terrorist activities (or plans) by ethnic Tibetans and Uighers, this story has been greeted with no small amount of skepticism in the West. In some cases, I have heard open speculation that the Chinese government is actually staging these raids to justify a tougher crackdown in restive areas.
Now, I have no idea whether or not yesterday’s story is drummed up. But whether it is or not, I think it’s important to note that Chinese state-owned media have been reporting on weapons seizures in Tibet long before the current crisis, and that major seizures have taken place – in the past – in regions where there has been recent unrest.
- 19,676 guns (of which 577 were classified as â€œused military weapons”);
- 370,000 bullets;
- 4,725 kg of dynamite;
- 236 hand grenades
- 1,496 knives
Xinhua is careful to note that Garze’s herdsmen are (were?) allowed to register guns for self-defense on pasture lands. Alas, no explanation was given as to why the herdsmen might find it necessary to maintain hand grenade and dynamite inventories (might mining account for the latter?). In either case, weapons on the Tibetan Plateau are not always used for self-defense – a fact which probably hasn’t escaped the attention of the Chinese authorities. The most notable and notorious example of non-defensive used occurred in June 2007, when a full-fledged gun battle erupted between two Tibetan villages disputing ownership over access to a rare and valuable wild fungus. The death toll from this widely documented incident has been reported as six and eight, with anywhere from 44 to 100 people wounded.
Now, I don’t mean to be alarmist, or to suggest that armed revolution is imminent on the Tibetan Plateau. If it is, I wouldn’t know, anyway. But I do think it is worth noting that there have been – in the past – reliable reports of weapon inventories and usage in the region, that those reports were made at a time when they did not serve the immediate policy needs of the Chinese government (arguably, they were embarrassing to the government). I leave it to others to discuss the consequences, if any.