x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Our suffering has been hell on earth'

The Dalai Lama marks the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising with a powerful speech to Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama addresses a gathering at his palace temple in Dharamshala.
The Dalai Lama addresses a gathering at his palace temple in Dharamshala.

BEIJING // The Dalai Lama marked the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against China's control of Tibet yesterday with a strongly worded speech saying that 50 years of Chinese rule had thrust Tibetans into suffering that he said was "hell on Earth". "These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet," he said. "Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them."

Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), said the Dalai Lama's speech showed his concern for the situation in Tibet and the lack of a positive response from the Chinese side. "Unfortunately, the Chinese are trying to deal with the issue with overwhelming use of force, rather than find a positive approach," he said. "The Dalai Lama's speech is strong in that it reflects the reality of Tibet today," said Mr Tsering. "In recent months, the Chinese authorities have been increasing their stranglehold on the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama feels that it's his duty to reflect on this in his statement."

The Chinese government reacted angrily to the speech. "The Dalai clique confuses right and wrong and spreads rumours," said Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for China's ministry of foreign affairs, at a press conference yesterday. Speaking in front of the main Tibetan temple in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala, which is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama challenged China's interpretation of the modern history of Tibet and its claims about development of the area.

He said that the Chinese insistence that Tibet had been a part of China since ancient times is "not only inaccurate but also unreasonable." He accused the Chinese leadership of backtracking on promises to make Tibet an autonomous region within China, arguing it had instead established military control over the area and imposed "ultra-leftist policies". He said that the "forceful implementation of so-called 'democratic reforms'" in the Kham and Amdo regions of Tibet resulted in "immense chaos and destruction".

"These desperate developments left the Tibetan people with no alternative but to launch a peaceful uprising on 10 March 1959," he said. "The Chinese authorities responded with unprecedented force that led to the killing, arrests and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Tibetans in the following months." Using uncharacteristically strong language, he challenged Chinese claims that the communist government had brought significant improvements to Tibet. He accused the government of carrying out a series of repressive and violent campaigns that included class struggle, the Cultural Revolution, martial law and in recent years "patriotic re-education" and the "Strike Hard" campaigns.

These campaigns have been conducted by the Chinese authorities ostensibly to crack down on crime and corruption, but in many instances, the India-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy insists, their aim is to harrass Tibetans for political reasons. "The immediate result of these campaigns was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans," he said. In addition, the Dalai Lama said that as a result of Chinese rule, Tibetan religion, language and identity were "nearing extinction".

The Tibetan religious leader said the government "thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on Earth." He said thousands of religious and cultural centres - monasteries, nunneries and temples - were razed to the ground, historical monuments and buildings were destroyed, and natural resources exploited. "Today, Tibet's fragile environment has been polluted, massive deforestation has been carried out and wildlife, such as wild yaks and Tibetan antelopes, are being driven to extinction."

He also countered the Chinese argument that Tibet had benefited greatly from investments in infrastructure in the region, saying that the many infrastructural developments, such as roads, airports, and railways, "which seem to have brought progress to Tibetan areas, were really done with the political objective of Sinicising Tibet at the huge cost of devastating the Tibetan environment and way of life".

The Dalai Lama praised Tibetan youths who took part in what he called "peaceful protests" in Tibet last March, saying that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued for generations, and which he said was "a matter of pride". Peaceful protests turned violent last year after the Chinese police used force to halt the demonstrations. The Dalai Lama expressed optimism, saying that despite the 50 years of ups and downs that the Tibet issue remains alive and that the international community is showing a growing interest in Tibet, which he called an achievement.

"Seen from this perspective, I have no doubt that the justice of Tibet's cause will prevail, if we continue to tread the path of truth and non-violence," he said. The Dalai Lama said he always hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst. He said that while there are reasons to hope for a quick resolution of the issue of Tibet, "we must also prepare ourselves well in case the Tibetan struggle goes on for a long time".

pmooney@thenational.ae