By Thubten Samdup, Representative, Office of Tibet, London
The Chinese ambassador to Britain, Mr. Liu Xiaoming’s colourful tourist travelogue on Tibet painstakingly details many vistas where Tibetan cultural and religious life historically intersects with that of the Han Chinese. Making analogy with the UK’s political structure, the assertion here is that myriad sites, depicting centuries-old intercultural links and shared Buddhist references, speak of a Tibet that has always been integral to the greater China. Of course, it too easily discounts the centrality of the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan Buddhism to which he so liberally refers. In addition to summarily discounting Tibetan claims to sovereignty, Mr Xioaming’s eye-witness account of an intercultural landscape (Han & Tibetan) offers no evidence of a Tibetan struggle. If anything, we are informed that should we visit this landscape we would encounter a people faring better than ever; living as full-fledged integrated Chinese citizens.
Mr Xiaoming’s bucolic account comes on the heels of a 16 month-long upsurge of intense protest inside Tibet. In addition to ongoing street demonstrations, the region has witnessed a massive wave of tragic self-immolations. These are reportedly in protest against the Chinese government’s repression of religious freedoms, cultural and human rights. Amnesty International has called on the Chinese government to end these repressive practices immediately and respect the right of Tibetans to practice their culture and religion.
Offering a travelogue to a region closed to foreign reporters and tourists is a perplexing choice. The irony is not lost on the reader which it evidently underestimates. As for Mr. Xioaming’s idyllic report and bold statement that Tibetans inside Tibet are much happier and fare better; that they would voluntarily choose to live under the current Chinese system, what then should we make of the extreme tension in the region?
If closed to tourists, at the very least shouldn’t Tibet be open to international non-governmental organisations like Amnesty International and Doctors without Borders, etc.? Why aren’t these humanitarian agencies allowed to travel freely, and witness the situation first-hand? Tibet is closed to the outside world. There have been on-going protests and popular resistance through over the last fifty years. What can we conclude from this but that the attempt to ‘integrate’ Tibet into China has been catastrophic. Mr. Xioaming’s sightseeing account is little more than an excuse to spread the same tired propaganda that has been coming out of China since 1959: It peddles Beijing’s standard discourse, same the half-truths and disinformation the PRC has always served up with regards to our Tibetan homeland, in which it routinely alleges to have brought ‘harmony’ to a once feudal people.
The fact is, over the last year, an extremely tense situation in Tibet has grown particularly tragic: Young Tibetans, inside Tibet, have begun setting themselves on fire to protest an intolerable rise in public surveillance and escalating violence by Chinese forces. These incidences were sparked by violent incursions on several major Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, further impinging on the practice of religious and cultural rights. With the UN and many Western governments failing to effectively respond or validate the cries of Tibetans for human rights, the situation inside Tibet grows increasingly dire. The majority of protestors are young Tibetans, born under Chinese rule. They have never known an independent Tibet and have been taught that Tibet has always been a part of China. Yet, it is this very group who is leading street protests, risking imprisonment and torture. Over the last year, more than 40 Tibetans have self-immolated in a desperate plea to draw attention to our country’s plight; most of them young and having never known anything but occupation. The non-violent resistance carried out by young protestors are not the actions of secessionist miscreants: they are the actions of a people driven by a deep longing to return to wholeness. Like all people living in democratic nations who highly value their sovereignty and liberties, Tibetans also yearn to be free in their own homeland. The Tibetan struggle, under the leadership of His Holiness, has been and remains a non-violent one.
With regards to these current protests, our new Prime Minister Dr Sangay has said: “Stability cannot be restored in Tibet through violence and killings of Tibetans. The only way to resolve the issue and bring about lasting peace is by respecting the rights of the Tibetan people and through dialogue.” He has called on the international community to raise the issue of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people at this critical time, and requested that the United Nations send a fact-finding delegation to Tibet.
Note: Liu Xiaoming’s ‘Tibet is a better place than it used to be’ was published in The Telegraph on 26 July 2012. Mr. Thubten Samdup, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Office of Tibet, London wrote the above mentioned response to Ambassador Liu’s piece, delivered to The telegraph. But surprisingly, it was not published by The Telegraph.