CHENGDU, China — With restive Tibetan areas swarming with troops and closed to scrutiny from the outside world, China’s government turned up efforts Saturday to put its own version of the unrest before the international public.
Information barely trickled out of the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other far-flung Tibetan communities, where foreign media were banned and thousands of troops dispatched to quell the most widespread demonstrations against Chinese rule in nearly five decades.
The Chinese government was attempting to fill the vacuum with its own message. It disseminated footage of Tibetan protesters attacking Chinese and accusations of biased reporting by Western media via TV, the Internet, e-mail and YouTube, which is blocked in China. The communist government’s leading newspaper called to “resolutely crush” the Tibetan demonstrations.
The media barrage underscored that the government campaign is moving into a new phase of damage control ahead of the much-anticipated Beijing Olympics in August.
While China’s rigorous policing of the Internet is far from foolproof, its official Internet is pervasive and there is no easy access to an alternative in the country. The difficulty of confirming what is going on inside Tibet may also be hindering a stronger world reaction.
“They’ve successfully managed the messages available to the average Chinese citizen, and this has fueled broad public support for a heavy-handed approach to controlling unrest,” said David Bandurski, a Hong Kong University expert on Chinese media. “There will be no nuances to Tibet coverage.”
CNN’s bureau in Beijing has been deluged in recent days by a barrage of harassing phone calls and faxes that accuse the organization of unfair coverage. An e-mail to United Nations-based reporters purportedly from China’s U.N. mission sent an Internet link to a 15-minute state television program showing Tibetans attacking Chinese in Lhasa.
China raised its death toll from the violence in Tibet by five, to 22, with the Xinhua News Agency reporting that the charred remains of an 8-month-old boy and four adults were pulled from a garage burned down in Lhasa’s last Sunday — two days after the city erupted in anti-Chinese rioting. The Dalai Lama’s exiled government says 99 Tibetans have been killed, 80 in Lhasa, 19 in Gansu province.
The ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper struck an uncompromising line.
“We must see through the secessionist forces’ evil intentions, uphold the banner of maintaining social stability … and resolutely crush the ‘Tibet independence’ forces’ conspiracy,” People’s Daily said in an editorial.