DHARAMSALA, INDIA — China has further tightened control in its ethnic Tibetan region in recent weeks, exile groups say, even as it was ostensibly negotiating in good faith with the Dalai Lama's envoys.
Stepped-up patrols and increased paramilitary presence in Lhasa, the regional capital, and along major transport arteries coincide with a strategy meeting attended by exiles in northern India this week, members of exile groups say.
"We've monitored an even more intense crackdown in the past couple of weeks," Kate Saunders, communications director with the advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet, said Thursday.
The group said a source inside China this week reported seeing three convoys of up to 15 Chinese military vehicles west of the town of Kangding in Sichuan province, an area of significant unrest, along with roadblocks, bunkers and armed forces around bridges and government buildings.
Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, this month wrapped up several days of talks, the seventh inconclusive round in six years, after widespread unrest in the nation's ethnically Tibetan region in March.
More than 500 delegates from around the world have descended on Dharamsala, a mountain village near the Chinese border, home of the self-declared Tibetan government in exile, for six days of meetings on Tibet's future.
After supporting the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach for two decades, which acknowledges Beijing's right to sovereignty amid hope of securing greater autonomy over Tibetan religious and cultural affairs, a growing number of exiles have concluded the strategy is not working.
This week's meetings are designed to explore a new approach amid concern that the 73-year-old Dalai Lama may not have too many years of good health left. Last month, he was hospitalized and had an operation to remove gallstones.
One of the biggest challenges for the exile community is communicating with the 6 million Tibetans in their homeland, given Chinese restrictions on information and travel.
China seized control of Tibet in 1951, and since then the government has invested billions of dollars in roads, schools and other infrastructure, but it has fallen short in winning over hearts and minds. Beijing is bracing for the 50th anniversary of its March 1959 crackdown that saw the Dalai Lama flee to India.
Tsering, a senior monk at the Kirti Jepa monastery in Dharamsala, said his religious order relied primarily on telephone calls or hand-delivered messages to communicate with two affiliated monasteries in the eastern part of China's ethnically Tibetan region, referred to as Amdo by exiles. That became necessary after Chinese authorities seized the monks' laptops in March. "I don't know about a new crackdown, but we heard the number of military has increased not only in Amdo but Lhasa [as a] show to the Tibetan people," said Tsering, speaking through an interpreter.
The affiliated monasteries in China, the Aba Kirti monastery with about 2,700 monks and the Taktsang with about 700, have come under increased pressure since riots broke out in March, said Tsering, who goes by one name.
Dharamsala is a focal point for most of the estimated 500,000 exiles spread around the world. But the contrast is stark between this politically astute, cosmopolitan, often well-educated group and the largely rural, often illiterate Tibetans in the homeland.
The government in exile contends that its views are in line with those of many Tibetans. It says a secret survey conducted in China shows nearly 50% of Tibetans supported the Dalai Lama's policies.
But some are skeptical.
"Many say 'the Tibetan youth wants this or that,' " said Andrew Fischer, a lecturer with the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. "Give me a break. Who knows what the Tibetan youth wants when 95% of them are in Tibet?"
Tsering fled across the Himalayas at 19 because he faced arrest for posting "Free Tibet" posters and organizing fellow monks to resist Chinese indoctrination. A decade later, he is responsible for communicating with the two monasteries in the ethnically Tibetan region and acting as a liaison with the outside world.
He said several of the estimated 1,000 monks who participated in the March protests had received jail terms of four to nine years, with more sentences expected.
After the protests, China stepped up its "patriotic education" program at the monasteries. On May 23, a Communist Party work team asked monks at the Aba Kirti monastery to admit mistakes, renounce the Dalai Lama as a "splittist," state that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and acknowledge China's kindness, Tsering said.
He said China had in many ways won the decades-long standoff over Tibet and it was time for a new approach.