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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Modernising Tibet masks deep contradictions

July 12, 2010

By Ben Blanchard
International Business Times (IBT)
July 8, 2010

But the bulging supermarkets, snappy new airports
and gleaming restored temples of this remote and
mountainous region cannot hide broad
contradictions and a deep sense of unhappiness
among many Tibetans that China is sweeping away their culture.

Beijing has spent freely to bring development to
restless Tibet, part of a grand strategy to win
over the proudly Buddhist people by improving their standard of living.

In Gaba village, a half-hour drive down a bumpy
road from downtown Lhasa, Tibet's bustling
capital, residents have seen incomes boom after
renting out their farmland to Han Chinese
businessmen who grow vegetables there for sale in city markets.

Farmer and Communist Party member Suolang Jiancan
shrugs when asked if he is worried about Hans
taking away land from native Tibetans, who traditionally have grown barley.

"It is hard for the local people to learn how to
grow the vegetables wanted in the market. The Han
can teach us these skills, and we can earn more,"
he said in his native Tibetan.

The influx of Hans, however, is one of the great
sources of tension in Tibet. Many Tibetans resent
their presence, saying they do not bother to
learn the language and dominate the region's
economy at the expense of the native population.

That is a familiar story to one unemployed
graduate of a traditional medicine school. While
fashionably dressed and able to speak the fluent
Mandarin he learned at school, China's largesse
in Tibet has not been enough to win him a job.

"Development is no good if I cannot get a job,"
the man told Reuters in Lhasa's heavily Tibetan
old quarter, where patrols of armed paramilitary
forces are a constant reminder of China's
determination to keep a tight grip on Tibet.

"The Chinese are suspicious of Tibetans,
especially since March 14," he said, referring to
unrest in 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Frustration at Chinese controls, along with the
rise of Han Chinese migrants, boiled over in
violent protests in 2008 in Lhasa, in which at least 19 people were killed.

The unrest sparked waves of protest across
Tibetan areas, which more than two years on has
failed to subside despite a heavy military and
police presence and harsh punishment for those
who question Beijing's authority.

The security belies China's claims to have won over Tibetans.

"To this day, two years later, they still need to
use military and police forces to control the
situation. Does it sound like they've won the
hearts of the people?" asked prominent Tibetan blogger Woeser.


The physical scars the riot left on Lhasa in the
form of burnt out markets and buildings have long ago been expunged.

Lhasa is starting to look like any other
middle-tier Chinese city, with the same fast food
outlets and mobile phone stores, and the same unimaginative architecture.

For China, there is no question that what they are doing in Tibet is right.

Over the past 10 years, the central government
has poured a massive 310 billion yuan (30.3
billion pound) into Tibet, or nearly $15,000
(9,870 pound) per person, building infrastructure
and developing mining, agriculture and tourism.

In January, President Hu Jintao said the
government would seek "leap-frog" development in
Tibet, raising rural incomes to national levels
by 2020. The economy is already growing faster than the rest of China.

Large sums have also gone into restoring
monasteries and temples, the centre of life for
devoutly Buddhist Tibetans, bolstering government
claims that China respects religious rights.

"If we did not have the support and embrace of
the local people, we could not have dealt with
March 14 so well, nor could we have made the
achievements we have over the past 60 years,"
said Hao Peng, one of Tibet's Communist Party deputy bosses.

"We have already won the hearts and minds of the
people," Hao told foreign reporters on a rare, tightly-controlled visit.

What China has failed to do is address the
alienation many Tibetans feel in the face of breakneck economic progress.

"Tibet is a special country and its people are
special," said one middle-aged teacher, speaking
quietly in a back room behind a shop in Lhasa's
old quarter, centre of the 2008 riots.

"We don't think about money like Chinese people.
We believe in Buddhism, but the Chinese people
believe in nothing," he added, requesting
anonymity out of fear for repercussions.

Chinese officials frequently lash out at
"distorted" reports in foreign media about Tibet.

Yet there is also a mismatch between the policies
China has put in place in trying to modernise a
poor and backward region, and Tibet's unique culture.

"It's absolutely true that Chinese policy has
always been to win over the people by being
generous," said Robbie Barnett, a Tibet scholar
at Columbia University in New York.

"They just don't seem to be able to notice that
each time, they mess this up by cracking down on
the culture, the history or the religion. They
make people pay such a huge price."

A Chinese crackdown on dissent following the
riots has spread to Tibetan intellectuals and
critics see little sign of Beijing changing tack
in the current climate of tension.

"They just had a big national conference on Tibet
in Beijing and pretty much nothing came out of
it. It's striking that there hasn't been a
coherent response," said Nicholas Bequelin, of
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch.


Much of the Chinese government's claim to
legitimacy in Tibet rests on its self-proclaimed protection of Buddhism.

And while Tibetans appear generally free to pray
at temples and make pilgrimages, religion is not
encouraged for the young or Communist Party members.

"This is a socialist college, so what need do the
students have of temples?" retorted Gesang
Qunpei, chancellor of Tibet University, when
asked if his students were free to practice their
religion. "We're about science and technology here."

Religious figures who step out of line can be
ruthlessly punished. Rights groups say many monks
were arrested after the 2008 protests, and some
were tortured in jail. Many others had to attend
"re-education" classes and denounce the Dalai Lama.

Beijing also keeps a tight grip on key religious
positions, saying it has a historical right to appoint top lamas.

China's selection in 1995 of its own Panchen
Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan
Buddhism, shortly after the Dalai Lama announced
his own choice, has upset many.

The six-year-old boy appointed by the Dalai Lama
was taken away by Chinese authorities and has disappeared from public view.

The Beijing-anointed Panchen Lama is spurned by
many Tibetans as a fake, especially in Shigatse,
a flyblown town several hours drive west of Lhasa that is his traditional seat.

Ask monks in Shigatse's Tashilhunpo monastery
whether they believe China's Panchen Lama is the
real deal and the response is neutral, despite
the millions spent on temple renovations.

"I really don't know," said one monk, with a
broad grim on his face and shrugging his shoulders.

Shigatse's people are less willing to mince their words.

"We don't think he is a bad person, but he's a
fake," said a wiry Tibetan man selling smuggled
cigarettes by the side of a street. "Nobody
believes in him. We don't want him."

(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan; Editing by
Benjamin Kang Lim and Ron Popeski)

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