ICT Inside Tibet: Rare admission of psychological impact on troops involved in counter-terror, oppressive policies

Pt, 12/05/2016 - 19:21 -- Kanat
This image shows troops confronting unarmed local Tibetans in Garchung Village in Dathang Township, Driru county, Nagchu, demonstrating the disproportionate use of force in the ‘stability maintenance’ drive that leads to psychological stress for armed police according to the document detailed in this report. It depicts unrest in Driru, Nagchu, the TAR, followed a drive to enforce loyalty to the CCP through compelling the display of the Chinese flag as part of the Party’s strategy to intensify control across

DECEMBER 5, 2016

A rare admission of psychological problems among police officers involved in implementing oppressive policies in the PRC, including trauma linked to the imposition of ‘stability maintenance’ and counter-terror policies, is made in a document obtained by ICT and published by a People’s Armed Police University College.

The document, published by the Department of Military Psychology at the college in Xian earlier this year,[1] expresses alarm at the dangers of long-term trauma, debilitating fear and anxiety and combat shock that arise from the policies of ‘stability maintenance’, which has involved the dramatic expansion of the powers of military and police in both Tibet and Xinjiang backed by grass roots propaganda work and electronic surveillance. “Studies have shown that during the normal carrying out of anti-terror and stability maintenance duties, psychological problems readily arise among officers,” the paper states, adding: “There is cruelty in the anti-terror struggle.”[2]

The paper from the Department of Military Psychology appears to confirm that troops are involved in a political struggle, rather than simply maintaining public order and a genuine fight to protect citizens against terror. Stating that: “The resolute training of political and psychological qualities is the most basic psychological training”, the paper cites a Soviet military psychologist and concludes that PAP officers must therefore “firmly establish the modern revolutionary’s core values of ‘loyalty to the Party, love for the people, service to the country, devotion to the mission, reverence for honor.’”[3]

The document, dated January 2016 and translated from Chinese into English by ICT, is a rare admission of the cost of such an approach to Chinese security forces across the PRC, warning that psychological difficulties among serving troops are so severe that they may increasingly compromise the ability of police officers to carry out their duties as normal, with some in danger of complete “psychological collapse.” The paper also recommends the use of a violent video game for training of troops to ‘prepare’ them and to counter stress in real life situations.

Tibet and Xinjiang are at the forefront of the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent and civil society across the PRC. In Chinese political language, ‘stability’ is a coded reference to the need to prevent any form of ‘social disorder’ and dissent and to ensure compliance to CCP policies; it has been emphasized at the highest levels by China’s President and Party Secretary Xi Jinping. In Tibetan areas of the PRC, ‘stability maintenance’ has effectively been carried out on a war footing and has involved violent crackdowns in specific areas such as Driru in Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu).

The crackdown in Driru in the TAR demonstrates the counter-productive nature and disproportionate responses of the ‘stability maintenance’ drive that the academic paper indicates are linked to the psychological trauma suffered by armed police.

Unrest began in Driru in 2013 after the authorities sought to compel display of the Chinese flag to enforce loyalty to the CCP, as part of official strategy to intensify control across the TAR as the answer to political ‘instability’. As a result, dozens of Tibetans were tortured and imprisoned and the authorities instituted more systematic oppression and deployment of troops. A harsh new ‘rectification’ drive was also imposed stating that monasteries deemed ‘illegal’ will be torn down and Tibetans who possess images of the Dalai Lama or place traditional prayer (mani) stones will be severely punished.[4]

Under the new rubric of counter-terror, in Tibet, the authorities have demonstrated their ‘surge’ capacity with large-scale military drills, intensified border security and training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolations and in monasteries. The ‘hyper-securitized’ environment in Tibet and a counter-terror drive since May 2013 has a clear political dimension, involving training of police in Buddhist monasteries, the characterization of religious teachings by the Dalai Lama as incitement to ‘extremist action’ and the implication that Tibetan self-immolations can be characterized as ‘terrorism’. This is despite the fact that self-immolations do not harm others, the lack of terror threats in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s consistent emphasis on non-violence.

The paper from the PAP University College, which was downloaded from a Chinese academic database, could be taken as providing justification for the large-scale and military drills held in Tibet in recent years that appear to underline a message of violent intimidation to a civilian population.[5] The importance of training in a “battlefield environment” is emphasized, with the document stating that: “Over time, the officers become used to terrorist scenes and will not manifest nervousness, confusion or anxiety.”

The use of violent video games is also encouraged, with the paper saying that “playing video games such as CS [assumed to mean ‘Counter-Strike’, a popular multiplayer shooter video game in China involving terrorist scenarios] can […] produce results of forging fast reaction times.”[6]

The paper appears to reflect an increasing focus by the authorities on dealing with the issue of trauma among security forces; it references a further paper on common psychological problems among soldiers and their countermeasures published by Beijing National Defense University Press in 2010. In 2008, the PAP published a manual covering questions and answers on how the People’s Armed Police Force can cope with the psychological trauma caused by the violent nature of the People’s Armed Police Force in Tibetan areas of Sichuan.[7]

Tibet is a top priority target for the new counter-terror campaign and the ongoing ‘stability maintenance’ drive that is the subject of the PAP paper. One recent paper in a police journal stated that: “The current threat of violent terrorism faced by our country comes primarily from Tibet independence forces and the ‘three evil forces’ in Xinjiang.”[8] The same paper directly blamed the Dalai Lama in exile as “leader” of the “Tibetan independence elements who have fled abroad.” The same author makes a direct correlation between incidents of violence in Xinjiang such as the March 1, 2014 attacks at Kunming railway station with the overwhelmingly peaceful resistance and protests in Tibet.[9]

In a similar vein, another document monitored by ICT from the Sichuan Police College is indicative of the highly militaristic language used by the police and armed forces, with content high in political, inflammatory rhetoric consistent with the disproportionate response demonstrated by the authorities. In exactly the sort of example specified in the paper on conditions leading to psychological trauma among the PAP, this 2014 document by Guo Lin refers to the need for a police officer to be “battle ready” at all times to cope with “the special conditions in the Tibetan areas of our province.”

The paper, entitled ‘An in-depth analysis of the “four strikes” for handling sudden emergencies in stability maintenance in the Tibetan areas of our province’,[10] states that: “The violent terrorist criminal activities in the Tibetan areas of our province are rather particular” – which is perhaps a reference to the lack of evidence for any such activities. Making the political nature of the ‘stability maintenance’ campaign in Tibet clear, the Police College document further states: “The degree of difficulty to deal strikes is great, risks are high, and policies are strong, which is a major test for Politics and Law departments [Chinese: zhengfa bumen], and for public security agencies in particular. In pursuit of rapid, stable, accurate and fierce strikes against [splittists], concentrate on taking the initiative in the battle, on the entire battle, and making it a crucial battle. Conscientiously raise the effectiveness of strikes, ensuring that when one place is cleansed it is then rectified, and when it is rectified it is then consolidated, and when it is consolidated it is then improved.”

A translation from Chinese to English by ICT of the document on psychological trauma in the PAP follows below:

Commonly seen psychological problems and their countermeasures among officers during anti-terror and stability maintenance duties

Cheng Yin
PAP University College of Engineering Department of Military Psychology,
Xi’an, Shaanxi 710000

January, 2016[11]

Abstract: Studies have shown that during the normal carrying out of anti-terror and stability maintenance duties, psychological problems readily arise among officers. Preparatory work must be carried out as soon as possible and counseling and advice must be provided to those officers who exhibit psychological problems, thereby eliminating hidden dangers and being beneficial to improving the completion of duties.

1. Commonly seen psychological problems among officers during anti-terror and stability maintenance duties

1.1 Fear and anxiety
There is cruelty in the anti-terror struggle. On the one hand, officers live for long periods in a relatively stable and harmonious environment never seeing the bloody scenes of a battleground, but such scenes can have an enormous impact on officers’ psychology making it very difficult for those who do not have strong psychological qualities to continue operating. On the anti-terror battleground when officers predict that the security of their lives are being threatened or they are facing serious danger, their sense of fear can escalate. On the other hand, officers’ primary avenue for understanding terror activities is reports of terrorist incidents in the news media. Terrorist elements’ cruel tactics can place serious psychological pressure on officers. Due to the sudden and random nature of terrorist activities, officers do not know when or where a terrorist attack may occur, and their predictability is very low. Terrorist activities are currently as rampant as ever, and anti-terror and stability maintenance have the characteristics of being normalized. Officers are therefore left in a long-term state of fear, anxiety, nervousness, panic and irritability, which seriously affects officers’ normal training and work lives and is deleterious to the completion of duties in the anti-terror struggle.

1.2 Pessimism
A pessimistic state of mind [Ch.: beiguan xinli] refers to the emotional experience when an object of fondness or passion is lost or broken, and it is linked to the disillusionment of things that were wished for. In fierce anti-terror struggle activities, officers can easily be injured leaving them disabled or even losing their lives, which can cast a psychological shadow over officers. They are powerless to know whether their lives will be affected after being injured, whether or not they will be able to remain in the corps, or if indeed something could happen to their close comrades in arms beside them. These are all setbacks that anti-terror and stability maintenance officers will likely encounter, and when such setbacks occur they are likely to produce a pessimistic state of mind in some officers. If this is not immediately discovered and treated with counseling and advice it could be deleterious to the individuals’ pace of development and the smooth carrying out of their work, and the satisfactory completion of their duties.

1.3 Combat shock
Combat shock [Ch.: zhandou xiuke] refers to an incapacitating psychological reaction in the moment of anti-terror combat or within several hours after anti-terror combat, and is also known as acute battlefield psychological stress reaction [Ch.: jixing zhanchang xinli yingji fanying]. Its principal characteristics are its sudden onset, officers are physiologically hyper-aroused, the duration is short, life-threatening actions may occur, but recovery is usually straightforward with timely and appropriate treatment. Combat shock many manifest in physiological or psychological aspects. Physiologically, breathing is short with a rapid heartbeat, and there is general weakness and sweating; psychologically, there is an inability to concentrate, fear and irritability, etc. Combat shock is extremely common in anti-terror and stability maintenance duties, and in the face of atrocious terrorist elements, many officers psychologically experience fear and tension, and even when the terrorist elements rush forward and attack they remain rooted to the spot, forgetting that they have a gun in their hand, forgetting they are there to perform a duty, forgetting everything. Even if they are aware and are able to attack the terrorist elements, their military actions are very standard during peacetime and are likely to be malformed in the face of the enemy. Under such conditions it becomes very difficult for officers to protect themselves, and even less likely that they can efficiently fulfill their duties.

2. Countermeasures for targeting officers’ commonly seen psychological problems
The targeting of commonly seen psychological problems in officers during normal anti-terror and stability maintenance duties should set out from the two aspects of training the strengthening of psychological qualities during anti-terror activities and raising the quality of psychology services for anti-terror activities. A western military psychologist has pointed out: “If troops suddenly encounter a certain kind of situation and the situation then changes suddenly, the troops will not experience fear if they have been trained; but even well disciplined troops encountering a certain kind of situation may well collapse into panic if they have not been well trained.” One can see the importance of anti-terror psychological training.

2.1 The resolute training of political and psychological qualities is the most basic psychological training
The former Soviet military psychologist[12] […] said, “If a soldier does not believe in the correctness of the undertaking in which he is personally engaged, if he has no hatred of the enemy, if he does not love the Motherland, and if he does not have the determination for combat and a belief in victory, then he does not have the inner strength to withstand the enormous physical demands and psychological pressures produced in the modern combat environment.” Therefore, officers must firmly establish the modern revolutionary’s core values of “loyalty to the Party, love for the People, service to the country, devotion to the mission, reverence for honor.”

2.2 Sensory terror scene environment training
By employing modern high-tech methods and integrating previous actual terrorist incidents, a battlefield environment can be modeled. First in the process of modeling terrorist activities is to announce the situation and have officers respond by entering onto the battlefield and play out an actual confrontation with play-acting terrorist elements. The confrontation has to be sudden and battle-like to give the officers a true sense of an actual battle, familiarizing them with every kind of terrorist environment, and then changing the situation so that the officers have to respond. Over time, the officers become used to terrorist scenes and will not manifest nervousness, confusion or anxiety.

2.3 Rapid response abilities on the battleground or scene
Training in rapid response abilities should be taken in hand from the following three aspects: one, tactical training. Have officers complete all of their various duties during activities, but where the duties are random, forge behavioral rapid response abilities among officers. Two, thought training. Have officers carry out reflection during their movements such as answering various intellectual questions during re-entry runs [Ch.: zhefan pao], which can forge an ability in officers to make rapid decisions when facing a sudden incident during the course of carrying out their duties. Three, make use of equipment and games training. Reaction time training equipment can be used for training people’s reaction times, and playing video games such as CS [‘Counter-Strike][13] can similarly produce results of forging fast reaction times.

2.4 Officers sometimes have difficulty concentrating during psychology-oriented anti-terror activity training on the battleground or scene; psychology-oriented training on the battlefield or scene resolves this problem
Training should start from the following three aspects. One, duty-oriented training. No matter what happens and in whatever environment, the best scenario must be selected and duties must be completed in an exemplary way. Two, objective-oriented training. Officers’ attention must be constantly focused on the objective for which they are responsible, and should not change. Three, responsibility-oriented training. Officers must constantly maintain clear thinking, and not be affected by any situation and keeping their responsibilities and mission firmly in mind.

2.5 Training in lasting psychological stamina and strengthening psychological endurance
The anti-terror struggle might be lasting, and this will present a test for officers’ psychological stamina. Psychological stamina and physiological stamina are similar, with both needing to go through repeated training, constantly challenging their limits, before psychological stamina is able to withstand the test of war. Modern anti-terror warfare place extremely high demands on officers’ psychological endurance, and it is only with adequate psychological endurance that officers’ can avoid psychological collapse in a battleground environment.

During the course of carrying out anti-terror duties, officers can easily succumb to psychological pressure having spent a long time in a condition of nervous anxiety, and psychological services and work are required to resolve this problem in order to assist officers to raise their ability to adapt and to maintain a strong will to fight.

3. Conclusion
In summary, against the background of increasingly prominent contradiction between the frequency of such anti-terror front-line officers’ psychological problems and the inability of current psychological work to adequately resolve officers’ psychological problems, greater attention must by placed on studying officers’ psychological problems and the construction of a corps or talented psychological workers in the PAP as well as improving the relevant institutions and systems to resolve this contradiction by taking all aspects of the work into hand.

[1] PAP University College of Engineering Department of Military Psychology, Xi’an, Shaanxi, January, 2016

[2] See ICT new report, ‘Dangers of China’s counter-terrorism law for Tibetans and Uyghurs’, published November 15, 2016, https://www.savetibet.org/dangers-of-chinas-counter-terrorism-law-for-tibetans-and-uyghurs/

[3] The cite from the Soviet psychologist is as follows: “If a soldier does not believe in the correctness of the undertaking in which he is personally engaged, if he has no hatred of the enemy, if he does not love the Motherland, and if he does not have the determination for combat and a belief in victory, then he does not have the inner strength to withstand the enormous physical demands and psychological pressures produced in the modern combat environment.”

[4] ICT report and translation of new regulations, https://www.savetibet.org/harsh-new-rectification-drive-in-driru-nuns-expelled-and-warning-of-destruction-of-monasteries-and-mani-walls/

[5] Also see Human Rights Watch report on ‘stability maintenance’, May 22, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/22/china-repression-expands-under-stability-maintenance-tibetan-areas

[6] Counter-Strike (officially abbreviated as CS) is a series of multiplayer first-person shooter video games, in which teams of terrorists and counter-terrorists battle to, respectively, perpetrate an act of terror (bombing, hostage-taking) and prevent it (bomb defusal, hostage rescue).

[7] In an analysis of the handbook, which was obtained by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy based in Dharamsala, India, Matthew Akester wrote: “Since the events of 2008, most Tibetan areas have remained in a state of undeclared martial law requiring the large-scale deployment of security forces to maintain the status quo and prevent signs of dissent from reaching the outside world. In this climate mass protest have been replaced by individual acts of self-immolation. This document provides rarely seen low-level testimony that China’s security forces see themselves as engaged in a taxing counter-insurgency in Tibet, despite the absence of armed opposition, or indeed any substantial threat to their personnel.” Guest Post: Placing psychiatric health manual of Chinese armed police in Tibet in context, November 28, 2013, http://tchrd.org/guest-post-placing-psychiatric-health-manual-of-chinese-armed-police-in-tibet-in-context/

[8] ‘Problems and their countermeasures existing within our country’s current anti-terrorism work’ by Sun Xiaojuan (Railway Police Academy, Zhengzhou, Henan), published May 2015, Journal of Hubei University of Police, extracts translated into English from the original Chinese by ICT.

[9] Three Uyghurs were executed after masked men killed 31 people with knives and machetes at the railway station in Yunnan. See ICT Inside Tibet report November 8, 2016, https://www.savetibet.org/ict-inside-tibet-news-and-analysis-of-emerging-developments-in-tibet/#18

[10] Journal of Sichuan Police College, October, 2014, by Guo Lin

[11] The document was obtained by ICT from an academic database in the PRC.

[12] The name of the psychologist is unclear. The Chinese transliteration is: Balaban Xikefu

[13] The initials CS are likely to refer to the video game Counter-Strike, which is extremely popular in China. See: https://www.techinasia.com/why-counter-strike-succeeded-in-china

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