By Dirk Perrefort
(newstime.com) February 21, 2012
DANBURY — Nearly a dozen Tibetan people have set themselves on fire in the past two months to protest Chinese rule, monks are forced to spit and trample on pictures of the Dalai Lama, and peaceful protesters are being shot and tortured.
That’s the picture exiled Tibet Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay portrayed during a lecture Tuesday at Western Connecticut State University about the struggle his people face.
Tibetans are setting themselves on fire, Sangay said, “to say it’s better to die than to live under the present occupation of China.
“I am afraid Tibetan self-immolation will become just a number,” Sangay said. “These are human beings, just like you and I. They have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.”
While the exiled Tibetan government has issued statements asking the people to refrain from such lethal protests, the self-immolations continue, Sangay said.
“Regardless, Tibetans say they will continue to protest the occupation,” he said. “This is the state of Tibet.”
Despite the unrest in recent months, Sangay said he is seeking a peaceful resolution. “I am still committed to finding a peaceful solution so Tibet can have genuine autonomy and preserve our culture and dignity,” he said.
Autonomy, he said, isn’t independence, but rather living within China under the Chinese constitution with their own laws, much like Hong Kong and other provinces.
“I believe one day there will be freedom in Tibet and His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) will return,” Sangay said.
The lecture on Tuesday was part of a series of events at the university that will culminate in October with a visit to the city by the Dalai Lama.
New Fairfield resident Donald Salvato, who was one of more than 500 people who attended, said the lecture was “sensational” and the prime minister was an eloquent speaker.
“It sounds like the people in Tibet are being confronted with the economic forces of China looking for natural resources,” he said. “They don’t care about the Tibetan people. Money, in my view, is behind this.”
Sangay said in his speech that the Chinese word for Tibet means “western treasure,” noting that Tibet is rich in natural resources including copper, gold and, especially, water.
Tibet, he said, is often considered the “third pole” because of the vast amounts of ice that exist in the region.
The melt water from that ice, he said, is the source for 10 major rivers in Asia that provide drinking water for more than two billion people. While the Tibetan people have traditionally been stewards of that water source, Sangay said the Chinese government has begun placing dams on the rivers to generate electricity –and profit — that isn’t benefitting the local communities.
“In the early part of the 20th century, wars were fought for land,” Sangay said. “In the late 20th century, wars were fought for energy. In the 21st century, wars will be fought for water.”
University President James Schmotter said he believes those who attended the lecture “left with many more insights about Tibet than they had walking in.
“It demonstrates the way we can elevate the debate about important issues for the Greater Danbury area,” Schmotter said. “It’s what a public university should do for its community.”