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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

No room to talk in 'stable' Tibet

July 16, 2010

Damian Grammaticas finds tight security on a rare escorted visit to Tibet
By Damian Grammaticas
BBC News, Lhasa
July 15, 2010

The Potala Palace, once the seat of the Dalai
Lama before he fled into exile, glows in the evening light.

Its huge red and white walls, rising above Lhasa,
are spot-lit against the deep blue hues of the Tibetan sky.

Across the road, Chinese tourists throng a huge
open square. Patriotic Han Chinese music, about
developing the western reaches of China, blares from loudspeakers.

Giant fountains, lit up by neon lights, dance in time to the music.

Facing the Potala Palace is a huge outdoor
television screen also blaring out sound. A few
Tibetans wander the streets selling trinkets to the tourists.

Through the crowd passes a Tibetan pilgrim.

He has wooden paddles attached to his hands. He
uses them to prostrate himself on the ground in
front of the Potala Palace, then stands up, takes
three paces (the length of his lying body) and lies down again.

It is a traditional Tibetan form of pilgrimage,
to travel the length of your journey lying down.

A complaint often voiced by Tibetans is that they
believe that their traditional culture is being
eroded by Chinese rule. Right in front of the
Potala Palace the cultures seem to clash.

Controlled tour

For two years now Tibet has been largely closed to foreign media.

We were allowed in with a small group of
journalists, escorted by Chinese minders.

A burning car in the Tibetan capital Lhasa after
protests (March 2008) The 2008 riots were the
worst unrest in Tibet for 20 years

China's aim was to convince us that things are
back to normal after the serious unrest that
erupted across the Tibetan plateau just before
the Olympics in 2008, and that the money China is
investing to develop Tibet is transforming the place.

But ours was a highly controlled tour.

We had a set programme, minders watching us
everywhere, and few opportunities to talk to Tibetans freely.

Everywhere we had a police escort, and we passed
huge military convoys rumbling along the mountain
roads. It gave the impression China is nervous about its hold on Tibet.

We were taken to the Tibet University, a group of
modern buildings with the Chinese flag fluttering high above them.

But when we tried to stop some Tibetan students
to talk to them security guards came running
across, shoved between us, and shooed the students away.

At the Jokhang, Tibet's most important Buddhist
temple, I was followed round by at least four plain-clothes security men.

It was near here that the riots broke out in
2008. Just after those riots another group of
journalists were brought to the temple.

They were surrounded by monks who began shouting
that there was no freedom in Tibet. It was a
highly unusual protest against Chinese policies.

We asked what had happened to the monks, so one,
a 29-year-old man called Norgye, was brought
forward. This was not part of our carefully scripted tour.

His eyes downcast, Norgye looked shame-faced and
deeply uncomfortable at our questions. He told us
he had been through patriotic re-education and now saw the error of his ways.

Tibetan monk Norgye Norgye told the BBC he had
been through patriotic re-education

When asked what they had meant when they shouted
there was no freedom, Norgye whispered in Tibetan
to an older monk named Laba, the director of the
temple's administrative office: "What should I say?"

The unconvincing answer, given for him, was that
he had simply meant he had not had the freedom to
go outside the temple during the unrest.

And patriotic re-education clearly had its
limits. When we asked Norgye if he worshipped the
Dalai Lama the young monk mumbled yes, but the
official translator immediately told us he had said no.

'Love' for China

Outside the Jokhang, hundreds of Tibetans circled
the temple, whirling their prayer wheels and
prostrating themselves on the ground.

Chinese policemen, some armed with automatic
weapons, marched through the crowds and manned checkpoints.

On the rooftops I could clearly make out marksmen
watching the pilgrims and security cameras filming everything.

We were hurried on by our minders to meet Hao
Peng, the vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

He is Chinese and is one of the men entrusted by
China's Communist Party with running Tibet.
Tibetans, he insisted, were happy with their lot.

"All ethnic groups including Tibetans have
benefited a lot from the progress and development
that has happened in the 60 years since the
peaceful liberation of Tibet," he said.

"People here know that they are now enjoying the
best conditions they've ever had in Tibet. So
local people love China, they love the Communist Party."

He claimed the heavy security in Lhasa was only
necessary because forces outside Tibet, led by
the Dalai Lama, were trying to stir up trouble.

"The Dalai Lama clique and some anti-China forces
in the international community colluded to foment unrest in Tibet," he told us.

"That's why we have to take lots of measures to
ensure there is stability here. So what you see
in the streets, the police, the armed forces on
duty, they are just what is necessary to maintain stability in Tibet."

We slipped out of our hotel at night into the
darkness of Lhasa's alleyways, though
plain-clothes security tried to follow us.

In the night Tibetans whispered that they were
harassed by the security forces, that too many
Han Chinese were flooding into Tibet, taking jobs
from Tibetans, that they did not like the Chinese
presence, and that they wanted to worship the
Dalai Lama but had to do so in secret.

Above all it seemed there was fear, most Tibetans
were too afraid to voice any criticism of China openly.

"In the past other people like you have come from
outside Tibet and asked about things like
politics and religion," one man told us nervously.

"Some Tibetans talked to them about those things.
The police arrested the Tibetans and locked them
up. So it's really not a good idea for me to talk
to you on these subjects," he said.

Other Tibetans told us there were spies everywhere listening to everything.

China is pumping money into the region, hoping
that raising Tibetan living standards, what it
calls leap-frog development, will win over Tibetan support.

But it seems that fear and repression are at
least as important in ensuring China keeps control in Tibet.
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