‘We are so divided now’: how China controls thought and speech beyond its borders

2 months ago 68

It was a pleasant, breezy time successful precocious September 2020 erstwhile the FBI showed up extracurricular the location of a antheral named Baimadajie Angwang. Angwang, who lived successful Long Island with his woman and two-year-old daughter, was a assemblage liaison serviceman with the New York constabulary department, wherever his relation was to physique relations with the neighbourhood successful the 111th precinct successful Queens. He had arrived successful the US successful 2005, a 17-year-old asylum-seeker from a Tibetan enclave successful Chinaw. He joined the marines successful 2009 and served 1 circuit successful Afghanistan. And then, successful 2019, helium showed up astatine the Tibetan Community Center successful Queens. He wanted to beryllium portion of the community, helium told people. He was determination to assistance Tibetan migrant youth. He was also, according to the charges against him, successful regular interaction with 2 members of the Chinese consulate. “Let them know,” helium had told a consular authoritative sometime successful November 2018, “that you person recruited idiosyncratic successful the constabulary department.”

Certainly, if helium was a spy, arsenic charged, by astir measures helium wasn’t a precise bully one. According to the documents that outline the charges against him, helium contacted consular officials connected his idiosyncratic mobile phone, placing calls portion FBI officials were listening in. In the recordings released to the court, Angwang flatters and brags. “I’m thinking, the full satellite is promoting diversity,” helium tells a antheral referred to arsenic PRC OFFICIAL-2, suggesting they attack number groups successful the Tibetan assemblage to enlistee informants. Angwang tries to person the authoritative to get him a visa to spell backmost and sojourn China. Other informants volition privation them, helium says. They volition deliberation the PRC doesn’t admit them. Especially, helium says, the “100%-type” – the existent believers. “It is hard to find radical similar us,” helium complains. “So enthusiastic.”

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Enthusiasm aside, Angwang seemed to person small existent quality to offer. The charges filed soon earlier helium was taken into custody attest to his comparatively lowly status. He is facing allegations of ligament fraud, making mendacious statements and of acting arsenic an unregistered overseas agent: a conception of the US transgression codification wide known arsenic “espionage light”. Of the galore questions raised by Angwang’s case, possibly the astir striking is wherefore the Chinese consulate would person bothered talking to him astatine all.

In the past 9 years nether Xi Jinping’s leadership, the Chinese Communist enactment (CCP) has thrown itself into what Freedom House, a US-based quality rights NGO, calls “transnational repression”. Every limb of the PRC authorities has been called upon to articulation successful the enactment of influencing opinions, stifling code and controlling dissent wrong and beyond its borders. In a tally of nonstop carnal attacks originating from China since 2014, a recent Freedom House report uncovered 214 incidents successful 36 antithetic countries, from abductions successful Thailand to carnal assaults successful Canada – acold much than immoderate different state successful the study.

More galore than these blatant attacks are the incidences of harassment and intimidation. Exiles and activists each implicit the satellite person reported threatening telephone calls and cyber-attacks; Chinese students studying successful the UK and Australia person reported being threatened and harassed if they criticise the PRC; successful California, a antheral was apprehended driving a car made to look similar a Chinese constabulary conveyance done an migrant neighbourhood; constabulary officers successful the PRC often marque calls to exiles utilizing their relative’s phones (“You indispensable carnivore successful caput that each your household and relatives are with us,” a Chinese serviceman told 1 Uyghur exile from China’s Xinjiang province). “China conducts the astir sophisticated, global, and broad run of transnational repression successful the world,” reads the Freedom House report. Of the groups targeted for repression, Tibetans successful exile person agelong been the entity of peculiar attention.

Globally, determination are astir 150,000 Tibetans surviving extracurricular China’s borders. It’s a tiny radical of radical with an outsized planetary voice, partially acknowledgment to their charismatic leader, the Dalai Lama. The People’s Republic of China took power of Tibet successful 1950, and the Dalai Lama escaped to Dharamshala, India, successful 1959, wherever helium acceptable up the Tibetan authorities successful exile. Ever since, the Tibetan diaspora has been increasing and the PRC has viewed the Tibetan radical – with their allegiance to a person extracurricular the Communist enactment strategy and an independency question with global support – arsenic a unsafe enemy.

One of the biggest Tibetan diaspora communities extracurricular Dharamshala is successful and astir New York City, wherever an estimated 15,000 Tibetans live. In Jackson Heights, Queens, Tibetan restaurants and groceries enactment the streets astir the Roosevelt Avenue subway station. There is simply a assemblage centre, opened successful 2019, a temple and a schoolhouse for Tibetan connection and culture. Along a agelong of 74th Street that is hung with strings of lights, Tibetan and Nepali restaurants stock sidewalk space, supplication flags flutter, and a discount store is named Namaste.

Angwang’s apprehension seemed to corroborate what the Tibetan assemblage had agelong suspected: that the Communist enactment of China is watching them. Tibetans successful New York applying for visas to sojourn China are directed to a abstracted entranceway to the PRC consulate successful the city, wherever an authoritative – usually of Tibetan descent – meets them for an extended interview. They are asked to constitute a biography, listing each their friends and household successful Tibet, on with their jobs, addresses and interaction information. Many interest that their applications could harm loved ones successful China. They fearfulness their regular activities are documented and tallied. Some applicants person been shown photos of themselves attending a protest, oregon a teaching led by the Dalai Lama. In 1 case, a visa applicant successful San Francisco recovered that the interviewer knew the sanction and breed of their dog.

“We spell betwixt overestimating and underestimating the menace (of surveillance),” said Tenzin Dorjee, a PhD pupil successful governmental subject astatine Columbia and 1 of the astir recognisable faces successful New York’s Tibetan community. Dorjee goes by the sanction Tendor – galore Tibetan boys are fixed 1 of the Dalai Lama’s names (he has seven), truthful nicknames are common. Tendor was the kid of Tibetan exiles successful India and moved to the US arsenic a teenager. He spent 4 years arsenic the manager of Students for a Free Tibet, wherever PRC surveillance was considered a given.

Tendor has watched arsenic paranoia has grown successful his community. Tibetans, helium believes, are brave, but successful the past decennary the PRC has managed to exploit their vulnerabilities: their ties to household and friends inactive successful China, and their hopes of obtaining visas to sojourn Tibet. The PRC has sowed divisions and near Tibetans successful exile frightened and suspicious of each other. “You tin fundamentally person nary spies successful the community,” Tendor told me, “as agelong arsenic you make the cognition that determination are spies successful the community.”


Not agelong aft Angwang’s arrest, I met Tendor astatine a edifice successful Jackson Heights connected a acold November night. When I arrived, helium was sitting extracurricular with 2 friends, beers connected the array successful beforehand of them, hats connected their heads. Tendor wears rectangular glasses and has a constrictive face. A antheral named Lobsang Tara sat adjacent to him, a disguise hanging from 1 ear, and crossed the table, the existent caput of Students for a Free Tibet, Dorjee Tseten, was leaning guardant implicit his bare plate, hands successful his pockets. The assemblage was successful uproar. Tara was wondering if Angwang truly was Tibetan astatine all. He had met Angwang astatine a edifice 1 nighttime a fewer months earlier the arrest. Angwang didn’t look Tibetan, Tara said – helium was excessively pale. He didn’t enactment Tibetan. (“We’re much … disordered,” Tara told me.)

Across Queens, Tibetan groups were rushing to region themselves from the alleged spy. “The mode helium spoke!” Tara said. “Not 1 cleanable connection of Tibetan came retired of his mouth!”

A fewer weeks earlier, the Tibetan Community Association of New York and New Jersey had held a property league to explicate wherefore Angwang had been attending their meetings. “We knew helium was a pro-communist benignant of guy,” 1 committee subordinate of the relation told me. “But we ne'er suspected helium could beryllium a spy.” When the New York Post contacted the erstwhile caput of the committee – a antheral named Sonam Gyephel – helium protested that they had shared thing important with Angwang. “We didn’t springiness immoderate accusation to him,” said Gyephel. “We gave him nothing. Nothing.”

Tendor had crossed paths with Angwang once, astatine the 2019 Losar, oregon Tibetan New Year, solemnisation held astatine the Tibetan Community Center successful Queens. That nighttime the impermanent of honour had been Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the caller congresswoman representing Queens, and she had been photographed with Angwang, playing with his babe daughter, the 2 of them wrapped successful a azygous ceremonial achromatic scarf. Now radical wanted to cognize however the assemblage leaders had allowed an alleged spy to beryllium adjacent to a congresswoman. (“She was bored and went to spell play with the baby,” Tendor said. “Sometimes these assemblage events tin resistance on.”) People had work the FBI affidavit and seen the references to their celebrations, the number groups successful their midst, and the places wherever they spent time. It was chilling to spot their assemblage dissected and discussed similar a puzzle to beryllium solved. “They knew us,” Tendor told me.

Baimadajie Angwang
Baimadajie Angwang. Photograph: Inty/Twitter

Despite each the circulating stories astir encounters with Angwang – abbreviated conversations successful breached Tibetan, little meetings successful restaurants and astatine section events – fewer radical successful the assemblage knew overmuch astir him. The fistful of Tibetans who knew Angwang good had met him immoderate clip ago. No 1 I spoke with wanted their names associated with the alleged spy, but they painted a representation of a stocky, muscular young antheral who was afloat of bravado. He flashed wealth clips and bragged astir his parents’ occurrence successful China. He was besides struggling to accommodate to his caller home.

According to tribunal documents, Angwang was calved successful the lowlands, beneath the Tibetan plateau and extracurricular the Tibetan Autonomous Region, successful an country of China’s Sichuan state known arsenic Zitsa Degu successful Tibetan, oregon Jiuzhaigou successful Mandarin. It’s a spot of earthy quality wherever Chinese tourists travel to walk their holidays hiking to waterfalls. It was besides portion of the Tibetan portion where, successful 1956, the archetypal uprisings were staged against communist rule. Today, however, the system successful the country is controlled by taste Han Chinese and the demographics person changed. “His municipality is already 80% Chinese,” 1 of Angwang’s aboriginal acquaintances told me. And due to the fact that the Tibetan colonisation is small, crackdowns are rare. “It’s culturally portion of China,” the person said. “They consciousness assured astir it and spell casual connected it.”

Ethnic Tibetans from this country talk a section dialect, and their complexion is antithetic from that of Tibetans surviving connected the plateau. So, radical would aboriginal argue, it was not truthful unusual that Angwang would not talk modular Tibetan, and unsurprising that helium looked a small different. Angwang went to precocious schoolhouse successful Chengdu, the superior metropolis of Sichuan province. “He said his teachers and classmates would taunt and exclude him,” 1 of his acquaintances told me. “They’d accidental things similar ‘Tibetans are dirty’.” Angwang would get truthful aggravated that helium would instrumentality disconnected his apparel and situation them to odor him. In his 2005 asylum application, Angwang said helium had been imprisoned unlawfully successful Sichuan – helium said helium had been targeted due to the fact that of his ethnicity, and that helium had been tortured portion successful jail.

Angwang approached the Tibetan Community Association of New York and New Jersey sometime successful November 2018. He had called Gyephel’s compartment telephone (which was the fig listed connected the association’s website) and offered a refrain that helium would repetition until his arrest: helium worked for the NYPD, helium was acrophobic astir the authorities of Tibetan younker successful the city, and helium was determination to help. He didn’t talk overmuch Tibetan, but the committee didn’t ask. Here was a Tibetan antheral successful a azygous – a communicative of occurrence and acceptance successful the US.

“We don’t privation to get stuck successful our ain tiny community,” a erstwhile committee subordinate told me, trying to explicate wherefore they welcomed Angwang in. “We privation to beryllium portion of the larger city. We privation to get connected with everybody.”


According to the Freedom House report, the PRC’s power campaigns overseas people taste minorities and dissidents connected a planetary standard unmatched by immoderate different nation. Their activities, it reports, are champion understood arsenic functions of the United Front Working Department (UFWD) – a nebulous portion of China’s bureaucracy that oversees each activities aimed astatine influencing groups not straight controlled by the CPC, wrong China and out. These tin beryllium civilian nine organisations, media groups, academics, dissidents oregon Uyghurs from China’s Xinjiang region. They tin besides beryllium Tibetans. The authoritative connected the different extremity of the telephone with Angwang successful the FBI recordings was a subordinate of the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture – a radical overseen by the United Front.

Under President Xi, the United Front Working Department has been successful the ascendant. In September 2014, borrowing a word from Mao, Xi called agreed beforehand enactment a “magic weapon”, and launched an effort to betterment and summation its power. United Front Work, Xi has said, volition assistance to unite the Chinese radical nether a azygous worldview and successful a communal cause.

The United Front aims to power Chinese citizens and foreigners, its methods including quality gathering, silencing dissent, and taste exchange. The agencies progressive successful agreed beforehand enactment see the propaganda section and the ministry of education. “Xi Jinping has emphasised that ‘the United Front is astir moving connected people,’” wrote Alex Joske of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute successful a 2020 study titled The Party Speaks for You. “Co-opting and manipulating elites, influential individuals and organisations is simply a mode to signifier sermon and decision-making.” Teng Biao, a quality rights lawyer and student surviving successful New Jersey, puts it different way: “They don’t privation to perceive immoderate disapproval and they don’t privation to spot autarkic civilian societies which are retired of control,” helium told me. “They are sending the connection that they are everywhere. Nowhere is retired of reach.”

A Tibetan edifice  successful  the Jackson Heights neighbourhood of Queens, New York.
A Tibetan edifice successful the Jackson Heights neighbourhood of Queens, New York. Photograph: Richard Levine/Alamy

Because of the scope of United Front work, it tin beryllium hard to track. There are explicit examples of harassment and abduction. Operation Fox Hunt – an effort to way down and repatriate a database of “most wanted” Chinese dissidents and exiles surviving overseas – has progressive the intimidation and stalking of aggregate targets successful the US. Internationally, the PRC claims to person located and repatriated 8,000 planetary “fugitives” accused of fiscal crimes. (The aforesaid twelvemonth that Angwang was arrested, the FBI apprehended 7 radical successful New Jersey for harassing and stalking a Chinese exile surviving successful the suburbs.) There are besides subtler United Front operations. The China Association for the Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture – of which Angwang’s consulate interaction was a subordinate – erstwhile sponsored a Tibet grounds astatine a Queens room focusing connected the PRC’s affirmative relation successful the region. It was unopen down after protests from the Tibetan community. In 2014, an authoritative from the relation was banned from the UN Council connected Human Rights aft intimidating and photographing a pistillate named Ti-Anna Wang, who was determination to attest astir the abduction and imprisonment of her father, a pro-democracy activist.

The trouble of measuring oregon combating the United Front is possibly astir evident successful the enactment of Chinese Students and Scholars Associations astatine universities crossed the world. For the astir portion the CSSA provides uncomplicated enactment to Chinese students surviving abroad, specified arsenic listservs (email mailing lists) that assistance caller arrivals find roommates, merchantability furnishings oregon articulation survey groups. Most Chinese migrants oregon students volition link with the consulate successful a mode that is harmless, says Yaqiu Wang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. In galore cases, however, the CSSA is connected and directed by the section Chinese consulate. Students whitethorn conscionable United Front officers portion applying for visas, attending consular dinners (the consulates, she noted, ever connection the champion Chinese food), oregon joining organisations that assistance caller arrivals physique a community. According to Wang, immoderate students person past been asked to support tabs connected their friends and classmates. “You turn up successful China, you recognize that not criticising the government, not lasting up to the authorities is bully for you,” Wang said. “There is this narration going connected … you recognize that it is bully for you if you are adjacent to the consulate.”


For years, Tibetans successful India and the US felt buffered from the power of the Communist enactment of China. Tendor’s parents escaped Tibet soon aft the Dalai Lama fled China successful 1959, and settled successful the Kullu vale a fewer hours’ thrust from Dharamshala. They some worked successful 1 of a drawstring of boarding schools established by the Dalai Lama’s sister. Tendor was calved successful 1980 and grew up steeped successful Tibetan past and prayer. In the school’s cardinal courtyard, students would enactment connected plays astir the Tibetan revolt of 1959 – 1 successful a drawstring of uprisings and crackdowns that saw an estimated 6,000 monasteries destroyed and tens of thousands of Tibetans killed implicit the people of 15 years. At schoolhouse successful India, Tendor spoke successful Tibetan and worked connected his English. Twice a day, successful the greeting and the evening, each the students attended supplication sessions. (“We each recovered this portion of the time to beryllium a drag,” Tendor joked.) Hardly anyone spoke Mandarin. Tibet seemed close, but China acold away.

Inside Tibet, surveillance was increasing. After an effort astatine rapprochement successful the aboriginal 80s, erstwhile the TAR was opened to tourism, demonstrations against Chinese regularisation were violently suppressed by the military, and martial instrumentality was declared successful the portion successful 1989. It was astir that clip that caller arrivals astatine Tendor’s boarding schoolhouse successful India told him what it had been similar successful their location villages: “Every ace successful the partition is an ear.”

Over the years, China’s Tibet argumentation has combined concern and accrued accidental with subject crackdowns and surveillance that has included cameras wrong monasteries and 21,000 CPC cadres dispatched into Tibetan villages. A shrinking fig of schools successful Tibet let acquisition successful Tibetan. The portion experienced unrest earlier the Olympics successful 2008. Starting successful 2011, a bid of self-immolations shocked immoderate of the easternmost towns and villages.

When Tendor was a boy, surveillance was defined by informants, by radical listening done the walls. Now, helium said, it’s eyes – radical speechmaking your substance messages, looking astatine your computers, and monitoring regular beingness successful Tibet done CCTV cameras. Technology has made it easier to instrumentality surveillance beyond the PRC’s borders. In 2001, a leaked papers outlined Beijing’s interest implicit the planetary Free Tibet movement. “It is hard to reverse the contiguous concern wherever the enemy’s luck connected the planetary arena is moving precocious and ours low,” it read. By 2009, years earlier Xi’s emergence to power, a radical of Canadian researchers reported that China’s large-scale cyber espionage operation, Ghostnet, had focused its attacks connected Dharamshala.

In the past 2 decades, Tendor told me, these incursions person started to erode the information felt by Tibetans surviving extracurricular China. “The PRC became overmuch amended astatine connecting radical to their friends and household inactive successful Tibet,” helium told me. “So if you amusement up astatine a protestation successful New York, your household subordinate mightiness telephone you from China and say: delight stop.”

This twelvemonth marks the 70th day of CCP power of Tibet. As portion of China’s celebration, portraits of Xi person been hung passim monasteries and homes (portraits of the Dalai Lama person agelong been banned). Tibetans person stopped arriving successful Nepal. Even successful India, Tibetans person been arrested successful beforehand of the accomplishment of PRC authorities officials. In September, authorities successful Sichuan arrested much than 100 Tibetans for possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama, for “discussing societal issues”, and for sharing messages and accusation with the assemblage extracurricular China.

If convicted, Angwang would not beryllium the archetypal spy to beryllium caught reporting connected the activities of a Tibetan exile community. In 2017, the Swedish authorities arrested a spy who had spent years tracking the movements of Tibetans each implicit Europe. The man, Dorjee Gyantsan, had agelong been a portion of a tiny colonisation of astir 140 Tibetans successful Stockholm. Gyantsan had astir apt connected with a Chinese cause connected an planetary ferry from Sweden to Finland. He collected accusation connected Tibetan immigrants successful Sweden, Poland and Denmark, providing accusation connected their surviving situations, their families and their question plans to a Chinese embassy authoritative successful Warsaw. He was convicted of “illegal quality activity” successful 2018 and was deported backmost to China past year.


After arriving successful New York City from Sichuan, Angwang, according to his friends astatine the time, had struggled. He was young and conflicted astir his identity. He would attack groups of Tibetans connected the thoroughfare and, erstwhile they recovered helium could not talk Tibetan, lone Mandarin, they would politely excuse themselves. He could not entree the community. Not agelong aft being granted asylum successful 2009, Angwang joined the marines and near the city.

When helium returned to Queens successful 2014, Angwang had been honourably discharged from the marines. In 2015, helium met his aboriginal spouse. In 2016, they joined and Angwang began moving astatine the NYPD. In 2017, his girl was born. And successful 2018, Angwang started attending the assemblage relation committee meetings. He was outspoken and liked to task an aerial of authority. It did not instrumentality agelong earlier different members of the committee started to find him off-putting. In 1 incident, Angwang approached a subordinate of the committee and asked him wherefore helium was wearing a overgarment with “Free Tibet” written connected the back. “You’re an up-and-coming benignant of guy,” Angwang had said. “Why would you deterioration a overgarment similar that?”

Later, Angwang showed up successful azygous astatine the caller assemblage centre. “He said helium was conscionable swinging by,” the aforesaid committee subordinate recalled. Angwang motioned to the constabulary cruiser extracurricular and said helium wanted to amusement his spouse the caller centre. He gestured to the acceptable of flags hanging astatine the entrance. “Why bash you support the Tibetan emblem up extracurricular with the American flag?” Angwang asked. “If I were you, I wouldn’t enactment up the Tibetan flag.” He said that determination were immoderate large businessmen who were funny successful giving wealth to the centre. “If you enactment up that Tibetan flag,” Angwang warned. “You mightiness not get that benignant of donation.”

The committee subordinate listened quietly. He did not nod, but helium didn’t argue. “It was benignant of a affable suggestion,” helium told me. “But the effect of suspicion was sown.” Tibetans are arrogant of their flag, which is amerciable successful Tibet. “This man is saying he’s a Tibetan,” the antheral recounted, “and he’s asking america to enactment down the flag.”

Angwang declined to enactment successful this article, but his lawyer, John Carman, told maine that these incidents had been misunderstood. Angwang was disquieted not astir the Tibetan flag, but the information that it was hanging without a US emblem supra it. He disquieted that a photograph of himself successful azygous with a flag, oregon a Free Tibet logo, would suggest the enactment of the full NYPD. He wanted to debar politics, not find himself progressive successful the tensions betwixt the US and China.

A monk addresses his congregation successful  Jackson Heights, Queens.
A monk addresses his congregation successful Jackson Heights, Queens. Photograph: Ira Berger/Alamy

No substance the crushed for his comments, committee members had mislaid spot successful Angwang. He had made excessively galore members uncomfortable. Finally, connected the aforesaid time that Angwang was photographed with Ocasio-Cortez astatine the Losar celebration, helium attended a lunar caller twelvemonth gala astatine the Chinese consulate. For the Tibetan Association of New York and New Jersey, this was the past straw. They stopped taking his calls. If the consulate was hoping for revelatory caller quality oregon adjacent a semipermanent informant, Angwang was not their man. But adjacent atrocious spies tin beryllium useful.

No 1 knows precisely erstwhile oregon wherefore Angwang started communicating with PRC officials astatine the Chinese consulate. In ineligible documents, Carman argues that anyone with entree to the entirety of the FBI tapes would understand: each Angwang was doing was trying to get a visa truthful helium could instrumentality to China and sojourn his parents. He was not a sinister agent, but a antheral who wanted to instrumentality his girl location to conscionable her grandparents. (A spokesperson for the Chinese consulate successful New York said in a statement aft Angwang’s apprehension that consulate unit “have been conducting mean exchanges with assorted sectors of nine successful its consular territory … Their enactment is supra committee and beyond reproach.”)

According to Lobsang Tara, Angwang’s reasons for informing are irrelevant. Everyone successful the Tibetan assemblage wants to spell home. Visas, helium told me, are “the achilles bottommost of the Tibetan people”. Not everyone, however, is successful regular telephone interaction with consular officials. Tara grew up successful Tibet, successful a tiny colony of 60 people. After an uprising successful 1987, erstwhile Tara was 13, his begetter sent him to India connected a travel implicit the Himalayas that meant 2 weeks of walking, river-crossings and acold nights sleeping rough.

In 1998, Tara trekked backmost implicit the mountains and sneaked into Tibet. His grandma had been heartbroken erstwhile she heard helium had near for India, but erstwhile helium returned she spent the archetypal day convinced that helium was an impostor sent to pass connected the family. Once she was reassured, it was a blessed reunion, but Tara disquieted helium would pull attention, and truthful helium returned to India. He hasn’t seen his household since.

Tara came to the US successful 2002 and has worked selling shoes and driving cars, and arsenic an interpreter for Tibetan officials travelling to the US. He went to movie schoolhouse and made documentaries astir Tibetans. He worked with Tendor astatine Students for a Free Tibet. And then, helium told me, the thought of getting a visa – and a accidental to sojourn his location – lodged successful his heart. He tamped down his activism. When helium archetypal arrived astatine the Chinese consulate successful New York City for an interview, however, helium was led to the backmost doorway of the consulate and taken into an interrogation room. The interviewer asked questions astir his family, his activism and his acquaintances. They asked for telephone numbers and addresses. Tara was cautious with his answers, but his visa was denied. He has truthful acold changed his sanction six times to effort to marque it done the exertion process. “I beryllium to the Li household now,” helium told me.


Following Angwang’s exile from the Tibetan Community Association of New York and New Jersey, helium started approaching different assemblage groups. One was the Tibetan Service Center successful Queens, which focuses connected preserving taste heritage. At first, the manager of the centre, Tsering Diki, saw Angwang arsenic a kindred spirit. “A batch of radical are moving connected the governmental side,” Diki told me. “Every time they privation to speech astir a escaped Tibet. Then determination is different radical of radical similar maine who privation to dedicate themselves to preserving the civilization and making the assemblage extracurricular Tibet stronger.”

When Diki met Angwang, she thought helium had akin goals. Not agelong aft they met, helium called her and told her astir an lawsuit that was portion of Asia Pacific Heritage Month successful May 2019. He complained that Chinese performers were readying to correspond Tibet. “He told maine that the Chinese were ever determination misrepresenting the Tibetan Culture,” she said. So Diki volunteered a creation radical from the Tibetan Service Center, and the event, she felt, was a immense success. “He was right, determination was a Chinese radical determination performing a precise fake Tibetan dance,” she told me. Diki’s radical had the accidental to contiguous thing much authentic. “So I felt, ohio my God, we benignant of saved our culture!”

Diki’s bully narration with Angwang would not last. In precocious 2019, Angwang started asking Diki wherefore she featured the Tibetan emblem and a representation of the Dalai Lama astatine the centre. At first, Diki changed the taxable whenever helium brought it up. When helium kept asking, she felt she couldn’t support ignoring it. Diki stopped answering his calls.

Diki, who was calved successful Tibet and arrived successful the US arsenic a assemblage student, has herself faced increasing suspicion from different Tibetans successful Jackson Heights. In caller years, she has led an yearly radical travel for Tibetan exiles backmost to Tibet. It took her galore years, she told me, to get tourer visas for her group. She had tried Chinese question agencies, but nary of them could assistance her. “They would beryllium excited to assistance you. Then they would find retired you were Tibetan Americans and ditch you close there,” she told me. Diki begged a person who organised circuit groups successful Lhasa to assistance her, and was granted her archetypal acceptable of visas successful 2014. The itinerary she developed was strictly cultural. “We had a circuit usher and determination were 5 oregon six United Front officers sleeping successful our edifice until the time they dropped america disconnected astatine the airport,” she said.

Diki was thrilled to beryllium showing Tibet to children who had been calved successful India oregon the US. But suspicions successful New York’s Tibetan assemblage had grown. “People commencement questioning: wherefore did that idiosyncratic get [the visa]?” Tendor told me. Earlier this year, successful a societal media post, a Tibetan younker organisation accused Diki of being a spy and moving with the Chinese consulate. She wrote a missive denying their accusations and threatened to instrumentality them to court. Now that Angwang has been accused of spying and hostility are adjacent higher, Diki is considering cancelling her summertime trips for good.

“Sometimes I think: ‘Is determination a batch of Chinese spy enactment involved?’” Diki told me. “We are truthful divided now, and that’s precisely what they want.”

Tendor sighs. Being Tibetan successful exile is governmental – it’s inescapable. Shortly earlier the pandemic, Tendor was scheduled to talk astatine an lawsuit astatine Columbia assemblage discussing PRC surveillance, but it was unopen down aft students from the PRC threatened to protest.

Angwang was nary mastermind. He had cracked nary codes and unveiled nary revolutionary plots. But successful Queens, it didn’t matter. His apprehension reminded radical that the PRC is watching. Today, Angwang is retired connected bail and awaiting trial. Whether oregon not Angwang is guilty, the question of spying connected communities is creating difficulties successful US-China relations.

Tara has started a concern selling Tibetan-style beef jerky and barley. With less Tibetans making it implicit the border, Tendor feels liable for making definite that his girl volition talk Tibetan. It is difficult, however, to find books and videos to amusement her. (There is one, astatine least, with a yak that pops up successful the Tibetan alphabet.)

China is changing rapidly. But change, Tendor pointed out, isn’t ever for the better. “I bash not cognize however to hole it,” Tara told me. “You unrecorded beingness with this fearfulness nether everything you do. I person American friends who tin speech freely, and adjacent arsenic they are talking freely, I person this fearfulness underneath.”