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Tibetans Struggle with Chinese Changes

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2002/12/11; December 11, 2002.]

By Adam Brookes
BBC Beijing correspondent
Friday, 6 December, 2002, 14:55 GMT

In a swirl of colour, dancers celebrate an autumn festival at Tashilunpo monastery in Tibet. They are watched by hundreds of monks, swathed in Buddhist crimson and bathed in afternoon sunlight.

It is a vibrant spectacle; proof - say the Communist Party officials who govern Tibet - that freedom of religion and human rights are respected, and proof that Tibetan identity is safe in Chinese hands.

Legqog, the Chinese Communist Party's deputy secretary in Tibet, said that in the 50 years since it was "liberated" by China, Tibet had gone from poverty to riches. "Culture and tradition have been protected. Freedom of religion is respected. Tibet is in a golden age of stability and economic development," he said. But Chinese rule has brought substantial change.

Huge government subsidies are luring a wave of Chinese migrants to Tibetan cities. In the capital Lhasa, half the population is not Tibetan. Migration and development are doing more than anything else to change Tibet, and to consolidate the Chinese presence.

On a taxi ride through Lhasa, the driver - who is Han Chinese from a poor central province of China - tells me the government has made it easy for migrant workers to come to Tibet.

No Dissent

A few dollars buys a temporary residence permit. There is money to be made here, he says, adding that many other people from his village have come to Tibet.

Conducting Tibetan separatist activities, publicly advocating Tibetan independence, opposing the policy of central government, publicly opposing the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party - these are all crimes of undermining state security Lu Bo, prison governor China's Communist Party has much blunter tools than migration to guarantee its rule.

Drapchi is Lhasa's notorious, high security prison. Of its 900 inmates, 11% are in for so-called state security crimes. In his first ever encounter with the foreign media, the governor of Drapchi, Lu Bo, spoke of what constituted a crime against the state in today's Tibet.

Dalai Lama

China's Communist Party is by turns subtle and ruthless in Tibet. And it is with the Party that the Dalai Lama now seeks fresh negotiation.

The Dalai Lama has been in exile in India for 40 years. He has long since forsaken any dream of Tibetan independence from China. Now, he says, he seeks only Tibetan autonomy within China's borders. He has been heartened by recent developments. Suddenly, after 10 years of silence, official contacts between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government are back on.

Two Tibetan envoys travelled to Beijing and Lhasa in September. I spoke to the Dalai Lama in his hill-town home, Dharamsala, in northern India. He told me he believes these talks could grow into real negotiations on Tibet's future.

"It seems good start. There is the basis for more mutual trust. Once mutual trust is there then many things can be discussed without doubt or fear. The only way to remove mutual suspicion is by more regular contacts," he said. He also believes the Chinese are becoming more flexible on Tibet. "China is changing. World also changing so the future is very, very unpredictable. Many possibilities always there," he said.

But in 40 years of exile, his hopes that China might offer some sort of new deal to the Tibetans have been dashed many times before. And among the Tibetan exiles who gather in Dharamsala's temples for daily prayers, there are now voices who question the Dalai Lama's leadership.

Lhasang Tsering is a long-time maverick among the Tibetan exiles. He argues that the Dalai Lama - by relinquishing demands for Tibetan independence - has given up.

'Failed freedom fighters'

"At this moment he is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. I'm pained and hurt. The leadership have taken away our clarity of purpose in not having independence as our one and only goal. Surrender is not a cause for me," Lhasang Tsering said.

At times he verges on contempt for the Tibetans in India and abroad, who he said had become willing victims.

"There is this sense of complacency, we are self congratulatory on our success, we are the most successful refugees - I'm not proud of that. We have failed as freedom fighters and that hurts," Lhasang Tsering said.

The Tibetans are enormously successful refugees. With the Dalai Lama as their leader they command support all over the world. But it is more than 50 years since the People's Republic of China claimed Tibet as its own. The Dalai Lama has been powerless to change that, and he is growing older.

He is now beginning a fresh effort to wring concessions from China. While in Tibet itself, an old world is slipping away.

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