In a rare show of defiance, a Chinese military singer has spoken out against policies targeting ethnic Tibetans in China.
Tibetan singer hits out against discrimination
The security clampdown in the western border regions of Xinjiang and Tibet are usually taboo topics at highly-scripted political gatherings.
But Tibetan soprano Guowa Jiamaoji, a delegate to the country's top political advisory body, spoke out at an event during the annual legislative meetings, which are currently being held in Beijing.
She called on authorities to stop targeting an entire ethnic group in its fight against separatism.
“I don’t think they should impose measures intended to deter separatists on the whole Tibetan ethnicity,” the 54-year-old said. “It’s like there’s an order from above [for all] to follow.”
She said government-sanctioned discrimination against ethnic Tibetans was “detrimental to national unity.”
Tensions between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese authorities have been high since protests in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 2008 turned violent, killing at least 19 people.
China blamed the uprising on exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Human rights groups said the protests were caused by China’s suppression of Tibetan culture and religion.
Since then, the Communist Party has tightened security in the region, with a vast surveillance network of checkpoints, police stations and patrols.
Ethnic Tibetans in other parts of the country are also subject to scrutiny.
The government says it treats all ethnic groups equally, and the security measures are necessary to prevent violence and maintain social stability.
Born in a Tibetan area in the northwestern province of Qinghai, Guowa Jiamaoji is a singer with the People’s Liberation Army and has performed for high-ranking officials.
But she said being part of the political elite has not protected her from unfair treatment.
She has complained of being rejected by Beijing hotels because of her ethnicity, even after showing her military identification.
Party members who are ethnic minorities are also given fewer opportunities for promotion, she said.
James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic policies at La Trobe University in Australia, said her complaints were mild compared to the controls in Tibet, where any sign of disloyalty can lead to harsh punishment.
Still, he believed it was courageous for the established singer to publicly acknowledge a problem that many were afraid to address.
“This mild form of resistance might hopefully encourage others to speak out about the discriminatory policies faced by ethnic minorities in China.”
China officially recognizes 55 ethnic groups aside from the majority Han Chinese.
State-controlled media have been hailing ethnic harmony in the country, while online discussions of conflicts are often blocked by censors.