Tibet InterContinental hotel opens its doors for first time - to Chinese propaganda event
Visit by Communist party strongman, “laughable” Tibetan language translations and low Tibetan employee targets also undermine company’s Tibet-friendly PR
The controversial InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise in Tibet – the subject of an ongoing campaign by Tibet supporters worldwide – will open its doors for the first time this weekend to host an event forming part of a prestigious Chinese government jamboree under the banner of "Beautiful home, Happy Lhasa" (1). The hotel will also host a “celebration” on 25 August, featuring a “ceremony full of ethnic characteristics” (2). InterContinental Hotels Group does not expect more than half of its employees in Lhasa to be “local Tibetan” (3).
According to the Lhasa government website’s schedule of “Happy Lhasa” events, the new hotel will host the “Shoton trade fair” between 24-28 August. The fair is part of the week-long government programme surrounding the annual Tibetan Buddhist Shoton festival (4). Despite extensive attempts by the Chinese government to demonstrate support for religious activities, suppression of religious freedom in Tibet has been heavily criticised by no fewer than three independent international reports this year alone (5). Last year, the religious festival itself was subject to a huge military and security presence (6, pictures available).
The hotel’s participation in the propaganda events follows a recent visit to the hotel by senior city Chinese Communist Party official, Qizhala (7). Qizhala is heavily involved in China’s repressive security apparatus in the city, including the so-called “Grid Management System” which uses party members in local neighbourhoods to monitor Tibetans for signs of opposition to Chinese rule. (photographs of Qizhala with security forces available, 8)
Chinese language media reports Qizhala’s support for “counter-terrorism riot control” and the “taut” maintenance of social stability (9) - Chinese government language for the repression of Tibetan protest. In 2013, he said that the grid system was aimed at “fighting against the 14th Dalai Lama and other overseas Tibetans, and hostile foreign forces” (10). Human Rights Watch has described the system as “Orwellian” and aimed at “surveillance and control . . . while the Tibetan people are still waiting for Chinese attention to rampant violations of their rights” (11).
In March – a traditional time of unrest in Tibet and the anniversary of the fatal shooting of more than 100 Tibetan protesters in Lhasa in 2008 – Qizhala was one of a select group of politicians reviewing troops at a military exercise on the streets of the capital (12, photos available).
IHG’s attempt to demonstrate sensitivity to the Tibetan community has also backfired significantly. Online publicity about careers in IHG issued the Tibetan language (the first time IHG has used Tibetan online) has been described by a Tibetan speaker as “the worst translation I’ve ever seen”. Within two paragraphs, the company uses three different spellings of its own name. The same material on IHG’s website is written in perfect Chinese (13).
The hotel is not expected to open for paying guests until next month.
Free Tibet’s director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said:
“IHG has kept the hotel opening very quiet and has nothing about the event on its English-language website. That’s not as strange as it sounds, given that what they are doing makes clear that their loyalty lies with China’s government in Tibet, not the local people whose human rights are abused by it. Anyone with any knowledge of Tibet knows that the festival is an exercise in propaganda, designed to mask the intense and brutal suppression of religious freedom. Anyone with any knowledge of the Tibetan language knows that their attempts to communicate in it are laughable and tokenistic.
IHG has blundered on with this hotel hoping that some superficial and badly-advised Tibetan set-dressing will disguise the fact the project exists to serve the Chinese government’s agenda. A multinational hotel company has no excuse for its ignorance of the local conditions in which it operates and no excuse for cosying up to the government responsible for the ongoing human rights crisis in Tibet. We’re left to conclude that the ‘Lhasa Paradise’ is designed to curry favour with a Chinese government whose cooperation and indulgence is central to IHG’s strategic vision of expansion in China.”
IHG’s Chinese partner in the hotel, Deng Hong of Exhibition & Travel Group, is currently jailed as part of a major corruption investigation in China. Mr Deng faces charges relating to the illegal purchase of land (14).
More information about the campaign and the hotel at www.freetibet.org/intercontinental
For more information or comment, contact Free Tibet media and campaign manager Alistair Currie
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605
Notes for editors
(1) Chinese government website http://en.tibetol.cn/01/01/201408/t1390492.htm
(2) IHG Weibo account (Chinese, translation by Tibet Watch): “Intercontinental Lhasa Paradise will hold a trial operation celebration on 25th August, also the first day of Shoton Festival. We will launch a ceremony full of ethnic characteristics to celebrate the IHG brand Lhasa Paradise” http://weibo.com/p/1006065174535207/weibo
(3) Letter from IHG to Free Tibet 13 March 2014: “. . . our hotel will directly employ over 600 people in Lhasa, over 40% of which we hope will be local Tibetan”. Copy available.
(4) Lhasa government website (Google translation) http://news.eastday.com/eastday/13news/auto/news/china/u7ai2246695_K4.html
(5) US State Department (2014) http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/07/229861.htm; US Commission on International Religious Freedom (2014) http://www.uscirf.gov/files/USCIRF%202014%20Annual%20Report%20PDF.pdf ; Human Rights Watch World Report 2014 http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/china?page=2
(6) Free Tibet news story, 6 August 2013 http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/military-intimidate-tibetans-and-tourists-festival Photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/sets/72157634952428005
(7) Qizhala (known in Tibetan as Choedak) Lhasa Municipal Committee Secretary, visited the hotel under construction on 25 June 2014 http://www.weibo.com/p/1006065174535207/weibo#_loginLayer_1406821452082 (Chinese)
(8) Photographs (including of inspection of hotel) at https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/14803332179/
(9) Lhasa Evening News (Chinese, translation by Tibet Watch) 30 May 2014 http://www.lasa.gov.cn/Item/65824.aspx
(10) Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, 2013, http://www.tchrd.org/2013/10/beatings-detention-threats-after-tibetans-reject-chinas-mass-line-policy-in-diru/
(11) Human Rights Watch, March 2013 http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/20/china-alarming-new-surveillance-security-tibet
(12) Centre for China Analysis and Strategy http://ccasindia.org/insightdetails.php?tid=44; Free Tibet news story http://freetibet.org/news-media/na/show-force-lhasa; photographs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/freetibetorg/14803332179/
(13) http://www.ihgjobs.cn/about/hotels/intercontinental/LXAHA Translation (by Tibet Watch) available from Free Tibet
(14) Caixin online 30 July 2014 http://english.caixin.com/2014-07-30/100710806.html