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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet shows money can’t buy you love

October 1, 2008

Tribune, UK
September 30, 2008

Glyn Ford says reaching an accommodation with the Dalai Lama may be
China’s best approach in Tibet

BY ALL measures, Tibet’s economy is booming. Over the past 30 years, its
growth rate has outstripped the rest of China – 10.4 per cent to 9.8 per
cent, year on year. The result is that the vast majority of the
population have been pulled out of deep poverty where they lived on less
than a euro (approximately 78p) a day.

Simultaneously, there has been massive investment in soft and hard
infrastructure, with the central government picking up 93 per cent of
the bill. Education has been expanded from virtually nothing in 1951,
when the Communists took over, to 92 per cent of the population
completing the nine-year education programme. A new university campus
for 9,000 students has just opened. Healthcare has improved.

In addition, the Qinghai-Lhasa railway has opened, making Tibet the last
province of China to join the network. Many new roads have been built
and a new airport is planned for western Tibet.

Yet the new prosperity has been as much of a problem as a solution.
While indigenous Tibetans have done well, incoming Han Chinese have done
better in terms of incomes, jobs and status. Equally, the social
structures of centuries have been broken and this has led to many young
people becoming alienated, rootless and under-employed in urban areas.

All this is coupled with a government-in-exile demanding autonomy in the
name of the Dalai Lama. As far as the Tibetan Youth Congress is
concerned, that translates as independence.

March 14, the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959.
This year, that date, conveniently close to the Beijing Olympics, saw
organised and initially peaceful demonstrations by monks rapidly turn
into “race riots”. Up to 10,000 people, mainly young Tibetans, joined
in, taking to the streets of Lhasa and burning shops, cars, schools and
hospitals. One wonders what many of these fashion-conscious and
street-wise young people think they have in common with the
ultra-traditionalists in exile – except for a dislike of China.

The main targets of the demonstrators were the Han Chinese and the
Muslims whose shops and residential areas were attacked. One of Lhasa’s
two mosques was damaged. In the ensuing mayhem, 18 people died,
including three Tibetans and one policeman. As many as 400 others were
injured, as ambulance and fire services were prevented from reaching
victims and blazing buildings.

The response from the security authorities was uncompromising. The
rioters were driven back off the streets of Lhasa and all the other
towns and cities in Tibet and in other provinces with high Tibetan
populations. More than 360 people were arrested and 170 names were
placed on a wanted list. Officially, no one was killed, but the word on
the streets of Lhasa is that several dozen people lost their lives.

At the same time, the Dalai Lama panicked, as events seemed to be
spinning out of control. He called for an end to the violence with the
threat of his resignation – it was not entirely clear from what – if he
was not obeyed. This almost certainly helped to defuse the situation and
his desire for calm was matched by the Chinese government’s desire for a
smooth run-up to August’s Olympics.

Now Lhasa remains outwardly calm. But the tension is palpable, with the
numbers of police on the streets and checkpoints in the centre of town.
People are scared. On my recent visit, only one of three Han Chinese
taxi drivers we asked was prepared to take us to Barkhor in the centre
of the Tibetan area of town in the evening. Meanwhile, the teaching
monasteries have been temporarily closed and the monks sent home.

The extent of the damage is still obvious with burned-out shops
punctuating many of Lhasa’s streets. We were shown Lhasa’s Number Two
Middle School, where two major buildings have been burned down and where
demolition is underway to allow for rebuilding.

The direct economic cost of all the devastation is estimated at more
than £25 million. Yet this is inconsequential compared to the indirect
costs. Growth and investment in Tibet have halved this year, while the
number of tourists has dropped by two-thirds, as Han Chinese are
frightened and Westerners forbidden. Interestingly and in contrast, the
Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s two most holy sites, is seeing
a boom in business, with pilgrims thronging around it.

If China has filled the pockets – to a degree – of Tibetans, it clearly
hasn’t captured their hearts and minds. They look to Tibet’s aristocrats
in exile in India for solutions. What is necessary is a meaningful
autonomy for Tibet that allows its people to make their own decisions,
within some kind of national framework, on education and culture,
low-level policing and future immigration that goes beyond what they are
currently allowed. For example, at university, Tibetans should be able
to study subjects such as medicine, physics and chemistry in their own
language, while schools such as the Number Two Middle School should not
have four to six hours of compulsory Chinese for its Tibetan classes and
two hours of English and no Tibetan for its Han Chinese pupils.

Although the Chinese won’t want to hear it, the Dalai Lama may be their
last, best hope for a peaceful resolution in Tibet. Biology and politics
are conspiring against them. While the Dalai Lama seems to be in
excellent health, he is now in his 70s. Also, the lack of progress over
what will be 50 years of self-imposed exile next year means that the
nationalist Tibetans in the Tibetan Youth Congress – many of whom have
never been to Tibet – are losing patience. This time, the Dalai Lama was
able to exert his authority, but that will not always be the case.

China’s military believes the three biggest threats the country faces
are secessionism, extremism and terrorism. Two of these are already
present in Tibet and the third will surely follow unless the current
stalemate is ended.

At the Dalai Lama’s summer palace complex of Norbulingka in Lhasa, there
is a wall painting of the history of creation. Its Darwinian overtones
of monkeys being transformed through labour into men would appal Middle
America, but its final frame is a portrayal of the 1956 meeting of the
Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama with Mao Zedong in Beijing. Perhaps it
is time for China’s current leadership to meet the Dalai Lama and make
him an offer he would be unwise to refuse if he wants to stay on the
right side of international opinion.

Glyn Ford is Labour MEP for South West England. He recently returned
from a four-day visit to Lhasa – the first by a Western politician since
the events of March 14
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