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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibet repression belies Dalai Lama return hopes

November 12, 2008

By Pema Thinley
Tibetan Review
November 9, 2008

Queensland Liberal backbencher Michael Johnson of Australia has
concluded a Nov 2-5 visit to Tibet by asking China to consider
allowing the Dalai Lama to visit his homeland. "As a friend of China,
I would say that some kind of reconciliation must take place between
Beijing and the Dalai Lama," The Melbourne Herald Sun Nov 8 quoted
Johnson as saying. That may, however, be a wishful thinking, given
China's very forthright rejection of the terms on which the exile
Tibetan leader is willing to return. Besides, two journalists who
accompanied the pro-China lawmaker found Tibet to be in such a state
of repression as to render any positive consideration of his
suggestion by China very unlikely. They found the extent of hostility
towards the Dalai Lama, and the exile Tibetan government, to be the
most striking aspect of their meetings with Chinese officials.

The journalists accompanying Johnson found increased numbers of
soldiers and police patrolling the streets of Lhasa, a fact admitted
by TAR's vice-governor Pema Tsewang who told them the government had
"moderately adjusted" the military and police presence in recent days
because of "separatist activities".

But what the journalists witnessed was more than just moderately
adjusted troop presence or activities. The report cited them as
saying military personnel with machineguns were conducting routine
patrols around Lhasa's historic Barkhor district while snipers were
also positioned on rooftops and stairwells, including around the
city's most holy site, the Jokhang Temple. It said The Courier-Mail
journalist who accompanied Johnson also witnessed (on Nov 4) monks
being bundled into a police van close to Lhasa's historic Jokhang temple.

The Australian Nov 8 reported that the Chinese authorities had gone
to extraordinary lengths to monitor local Tibetans, installing CCTV
cameras on buildings and deploying plainclothes police as well as the
more overt scrutiny of the large numbers of uniformed police and
soldiers. It said that as night fell, hundreds of Chinese troops
fanned out across Lhasa city, armed with riot shields and assault
rifles. "They set up sentry posts on street corners and dispatch
patrols in groups of six soldiers, three with shields and three with guns."

Johnson, vice-chairman of the Australia-China Parliamentary
Friendship group, visited Tibet with two journalists at the
invitation of the Chinese Government, which urged them: "Tell
Australians what you have heard and seen about the truth in Tibet."
They were given access to high-level Communist Party officials,
parliamentarians and local governors in Lhasa, with the obvious view
that the journalists should limit their coverage to their comments.

The Australian report said the official programme for the visitors
included no meetings with senior Buddhists and no one whose views
strayed from the official line. A request to visit Drapchi prison,
where at least 202 people involved in the March protests were
reported to remain incarcerated, was refused.

The journalists made up for the deficit in their access to news about
the situation in Tibet by slipping out of their hotel at night. They
found the local Tibetans reluctant to talk, fearing they might be
seen or overheard by the authorities or reported on by spies and
informers whose presence was reported to be ubiquitous. One monk who
had the courage to speak to The Australian had said, "more and more
Chinese, more and more soldiers" in Lhasa in recent weeks.

Official cooperation in enabling the visiting journalists to report
truthfully was not forthcoming. For example, the newspaper said
attempts to get an explanation on a group of monks seen on Nov 4
being placed in a police van and taken away were entirely unsuccessful.

The journalists found the Chinese officials in total denial mode when
asked about the all too obviously negative aspects of the government
policies and actions in Tibet. And due to their little understanding
or acceptance that Tibetans may have different priorities, they could
not understand why years of economic growth in Tibet had failed to
quell Tibetan demands for greater autonomy or independence.

The reporters found Lhasa brimming with middle class prosperity.
However, they found this class to be made up almost entirely of
Chinese immigrants, while the local Tibetans, being primarily
herdsmen and farmers, lacked the literacy skills and education to
seize the opportunities created by China's massive investment.

The reporters also found officials often contradicting each other on
Tibet policy measures. For example, the head of religious affairs of
the Tibet Autonomous Region, Kalsang, denied widely reported views in
the West that monks were required to denounce the Dalai Lama as part
of "patriotic education" programmes in monasteries. Yet, Wang Jinjun,
vice-director-general of the State Council Information Office in
Beijing conceded several days later that monks in Tibet were being
given "legal information programs" in which they were told not to mix
religion with politics.

The reporters found the most striking aspect of their meetings with
Chinese officials to be the extent of their hostility towards the
Dalai Lama. Wang equated granting greater autonomy to Tibet to
reducing the region to "a backwater society which features theocratic
rule" and to its feudal origins.
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