Thursday, January 31, 2013

Intolerant regime talks of love and compassion

Tibet Declaration of Independence (1913)
My column in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

The Tibetan plateau received 11 million tourists in 2012, and the dose is expected to double. Meanwhile, China continues to make it difficult for the Tibetans to obtain even passports. Instead, it preaches humanity to them

On the 18 day of the first month of the Water-Ox Year (in February 1913), Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, proclaimed the ‘independence’ of Tibet.
He recalled his years of exile, first in China, after the Younghusband expedition entered Lhasa in 1904 and then in India, when a Chinese warlord occupied Tibet. Then the 13th Dalai Lama mentioned his triumphant return to the Land of Snows, the last Chinese having been chased away. He told his countrymen: “Tibet is a country with rich natural resources; but it is not scientifically advanced like other lands. We are a small, religious and independent nation.”
For the Dalai Lama, it was crucial to militarily protect Tibet: “To keep up with the rest of the world, we must defend our country. In view of past invasions by foreigners, our people may have to face certain difficulties to safeguard and maintain the independence of our country; one and all should voluntarily work hard…” It was 100 years ago.
When one looks at the situation in the Land of Snows a century later, one is shocked by the prevailing situation. After 99 recorded self-immolations, the Chinese authorities are daily strengthening their grip on the land and people of Tibet. They use different tactics for the purpose. First they speak of development, equating development with happiness. Most of the time, they use Tibetan puppets to convey their message. Take the small village of Metok, a few kilometres from the Indian border (north of the Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh).
In an interview with a Chinese website, Dorji Wangdark, the deputy head of Metok County (and a delegate to the Regional People’s Congress presently being held in Lhasa), praised Beijing for having brought a road to his border village: “great chances have been brought to Metok since the highway linking Bomi County and Metok opened [in December 2010].” But Beijing does not only invest in roads and airfields; according to Xinhua “more than US$563 million will be used for major forestation projects and for compensating and rewarding locals who protect and grow grass and forests and conserve wetlands, lakes and water resources.” At the same time, natural resources such as minerals are extensively looted.
Wangdark’s proposal to the Congress is to improve the maintenance of Metok highway “to accelerate economic development of Metok County”. What is not mentioned is that these roads are of vital strategic interest for the People’s Liberation Army. That is one of the reasons why tourism in Tibet has become the key to Tibet’s rapid development. The infrastructure constructed for ‘visitors’ can be used in case of a conflict (with India for example). The Tibetan Autonomous Region’s Government recently announced: “Tibet will strive to lift its number of incoming tourists to 20 million by 2015, nearly doubling the figure recorded last year.”
Padma Choling, TAR outgoing Chairman, gave the same figure while delivering a speech at the opening of the Regional People’s Congress. Choling declared: “Tourism has become one of the leading economic growth engines for the plateau autonomous region, which hosted 11 million tourists last year with revenue from the tourism sector topping 2.12 billion US dollars.” Can you believe it? The sparsely populated Tibetan plateau received 11 millions of tourists in 2012 and is expecting the dose to double to further flood the helpless local population.
In these circumstances, one can’t be surprised if a strong resentment against the Chinese Hans pervades Tibet, tempting youngsters to take extreme steps. But tourism is business. Dawa Yu of the Tibet Tourism Bureau told Xinhua: “Tibet’s tourism industry is growing fast…herdsmen and farmers have benefited from the development of tourism. By the end of 2012, there were 48,120 farmers employed in tourism-related sectors.” Whether these figures are true or false is immaterial, the mere thought of having 20 million Han Chinese tourists in one year is frightening for a population of hardly three million (in the TAR). The Chinese leaders have other tricks up their sleeves. They are now banking on ‘political advisers’ to pass on their message.
Xinhua quotes Sonam Puntsok, said to be the incarnation of a former Regent, Reting Rinpoche: “Buddhist or not, we should treasure the lives of all living things, including our own lives.” In other words, stop embarrassing China with self-immolations. Without going into the personality of the previous Reting Rinpoche, who occupied the regency in the 1930s and was closely linked to the Kuomintang, it is enough to say that he created a quasi-civil war in Tibet in 1947; the present seventh ‘incarnation’ is a pure production of the Chinese Propaganda Department, without any formal recognition from the Dalai Lama or any other serious spiritual leaders.
Beijing uses another ‘political adviser’, Dinga Rinpoche Pasang Namgyal from Tohlung Dechen County who quotes the Buddha as saying “do all that is good”; he probably means “good for the Party”. One Gyatso Ling Rinpoche Thubten Drapa, also ‘political adviser’ announced that “all lives are equal; the Buddha is also asking people to respect their own lives.”  It is clearly propaganda to control the desperate local population, most of the time not fooled by these gimmicks. With a new leadership taking over, many observers believe that the situation under the ‘new regime’ could improve.
In the coming months, Yu Zhengsheng, a newly-elected member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo (and number 4 in the Party) will replace Jia Qingling as the Chairman of Central Working Coordination Small Group on Tibet. Yu has already started overlooking the activities of the Roof of the World. His recent visit to Tibetan areas of Sichuan (where he had several photo-opportunities with local Tibetans) seems to confirm the takeover. But if the face is new, his first words are disappointing.
During his inspection tour, Yu declared: “The fight against the Dalai Lama clique should continue in order to create a favorable social and political environment for economic development and the improvement of people’s well-being”. However, while meeting major religious groups in Beijing more recently, Yu spoke of religion as a ‘positive force’.
He particularly mentioned the usefulness of religion in promoting economic and social development, saying: “Efforts are needed to make religion conducive to national development and the improvement of religious adherents' material and spiritual lives.” Are Yu’s latest utterances heralding a change in Beijing’s policy vis-à-vis the Buddhist region? It is doubtful as discrimination against the Tibetans still remains strong.
Radio Free Asia recently reported: “No new Chinese passports have been issued to Tibetan individuals in TAR, except for a few Tibetan officials who received the passports for official purpose and which they need to hand back upon their return”. Sonam Dorjee, a researcher working in the Office of Tibet in Taiwan found out that unlike Chinese nationals, Tibetans face “a very complicated and difficult process to obtain passports.”
Meanwhile, Chinese self-styled lamas are preaching the Tibetans the importance of love, compassion and patience.

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