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Dalai Lama warns culture inside Tibet faces extinction

On the fiftieth anniversary of the Lhasa uprising against Chinese rule, the exiled Dalai Lama says: 'the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction.' Chinese President Hu Jintao calls for a "Great Wall" of stability in Tibet: 'We must build a sturdy Great Wall against separatism and to protect the unity of the motherland, advancing Tibet from basic stability to ensuring lasting order and tranquility.'

Fifty years ago, on March 10, 1959, fearing that the Chinese authorities were planning to abduct the Dalai Lama, an estimated 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Potala palace in the centre of Tibet's capital, determined to prevent the Tibetan leader from leaving or being abducted. Thus began the Lhasa uprising which is currently being commemorated by Tibetans inside and outside their homeland. "Paramilitary police and soldiers swarmed cities and villages in Tibet and restive western China on Tuesday," the Associated Press reported. "China sought to head off trouble on the anniversary of the 1959 abortive Tibetan revolt against Beijing's rule and a peaceful commemoration last year that spiraled into violent demonstrations by Tibetans. Troops have poured into Tibet and Tibetan communities in surrounding provinces to smother any protests." In Washington, the Obama administration expressed concerns about human rights on the anniversary while China's foreign minister headed to the US in an effort to ease rising tensions. "The two Pacific powers traded blame after a naval showdown, with Washington accusing China of harassing a US surveillance ship in international waters and Beijing hitting back by saying the vessel was engaged in illegal activities," AFP reported. "The incident underscored the fragility of US-China relations just as US President Barack Obama's administration has pledged a cooperative relationship on the global economic crisis and other issues." At the national parliament in Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for a "Great Wall" of stability in Tibet: "We must build a sturdy Great Wall against separatism and to protect the unity of the motherland, advancing Tibet from basic stability to ensuring lasting order and tranquility." The Times reported: "A military lockdown has been in place across Tibet for several weeks. The authorities clearly do not want to be taken by surprise, as they were on March 14 last year when hundreds of Tibetans rampaged through the streets of Lhasa, setting fire to shops and offices, hurling stones and attacking ethnic Han Chinese and Hui Muslim residents. The Government says that 22 people died before paramilitary police moved in to restore order many hours after the violence had erupted. "The Dalai Lama, from his base in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala where he has lived in exile for half a century, has said that as many as 200 people may have died in the ensuing crackdown. He has warned of a renewed explosion of violence. "So anxious is the Chinese Government that the Communist Party chief of Tibet, Zhang Qingli, has remained in Lhasa rather than attend the annual session of the National People's Congress, the ceremonial parliament. A photograph of him on the official China Tibet News website showed him inspecting the city's riot police and urging them to be vigilant in stopping plots by the 'Dalai Lama clique' to split China." While the Dalai Lama still calls for autonomy but not independence from China, his message of restraint is facing growing impatience in the youthful pro-independence movement. "Traditional prayer flags still flutter in the northern Indian hilltop town of Dharamshala, home to the Dalai Lama, but younger Tibetans are beginning to question the moderate anti-China political strategy of their spiritual leader," AFP reported. "These flags symbolise hope but today we need more than that to achieve our goal," said India-born Kalsang Namgyal, a university graduate who has never set foot in Tibet, which his peasant parents fled in 1974. In a statement delivered on the anniversary of the uprising the Dalai Lama said: "These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet. Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them. Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death... "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. Fulfilling the aspirations of the Tibetan people will enable China to achieve stability and unity. From our side, we are not making any demands based on history. Looking back at history, there is no country in the world today, including China, whose territorial status has remained forever unchanged, nor can it remain unchanged. "Our aspiration that all Tibetans be brought under a single autonomous administration is in keeping with the very objective of the principle of national regional autonomy. It also fulfils the fundamental requirements of the Tibetan and Chinese peoples." In The Independent, Isabel Hilton noted that 30 years after the Lhasa uprising came the imposition of martial law following the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, Tibet's second most important religious figure. "In this month of anniversaries, Beijing is busy rewriting history to insist, against the evidence of repeated rebellions, that Tibetans are content, or, in the words of a government official last year, 'most Tibetans are humble people who know how to be grateful.' "In a White Paper issued for the occasion, China congratulates itself on half a century of material progress in Tibet. In another, published late last year, Beijing described a Tibetan cultural flowering and wide religious freedoms, positioning China as the protector of Tibetan culture. The destruction of 90 per cent of Tibet's monasteries and temples on Beijing's orders in the early Sixties, the looting of Tibet's cultural treasures by China or the continuing intensity in Tibet of 'patriotic education' did not merit even a footnote. "In a state with only one political authority, everything is the Party's responsibility unless the blame can be shifted on to somebody else. Against this background, truculent nationalism can thrive. In the case of Tibet, unidentified 'foreigners' and the increasingly demonised Dalai Lama are the problem, rather than decades of bungled Chinese colonialism." The Washington Post reported that "as the government focuses on suppressing political dissent this week, Tibetans are struggling with the economic conditions that help fuel their anger. Mining operations in Tibet and other nearby areas have been booming since the arrival of the Qinghai-Tibet rail line in 2006, bringing wealth to local governments and Chinese mine owners. But they have provided little benefit to local Tibetan farmers and nomads who say the mines scar mountains they consider sacred and kill the yaks and sheep they need in order to make a living. Protests by Tibetans against China's billion-dollar mining industry are expected to rise as mines closed for the winter begin to reopen as early as next week... "A $50 million, seven-year government survey of the Tibetan plateau released in 2007 found as much as 40 million tons of copper reserves, 40 million tons of zinc and lead reserves, and more than 1 billion tons of iron reserves. Over the next several years, officials expect mining revenue in Tibet alone to reach $1.5 billion, or one-third of the autonomous region's gross domestic product. Last month, Qinghai province announced a new round of geological surveys that will cost $100 million and that are aimed at making more mining discoveries. In a sign of their nervousness about potential unrest, officials in recent years have instituted new rules aimed at banning freelance gold mining operations and have ordered mine owners to properly dispose of their waste or pay huge fines. But there is little sign that the rules are properly enforced or that the money is used to undo the damage."

pwoodward@thenational.ae

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