Monday, August 22, 2005

Tibet's Cause Through Tibetan Eyes

(Taipei Times); August 20, 2005

By Khedroob Thondup

Tibet is the homeland of Tibetans. Tibetans perceive themselves as Tibetans and certainly not Chinese. An average Tibetan's perception of China is one of disinterested ignorance.

Tibet existed as an independent country for centuries with its own customs, traditions, culture, religion and national language. Although bordered by China and India, Tibet always maintained its sovereignty independently for centuries until 1959. Today Tibet is totally occupied by the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Let me first lay out the demographic profile of selected parts of what is historically acknowledged as "Tibet" under the PRC's totalitarian rule over the last 46 years. Since the invasion or so-called "peaceful liberation" in 1950, there are over 250,000 People's Liberation Army (PLA) stationed in Tibet.

The PLA is used today to impose Beijing's absolute control over Tibet. Any uprising is squashed by a massive show of force, as seen in the 1959 and more recently, the 1987-1989 uprisings. Since 1959, Tibet has been under a controlled martial law. To reduce the small Tibetan population of 6 million to a minority, Beijing has encouraged a large Han influx of equal proportion.

According to figures available from the 1990s, the total population in Kham was 2,504,207, out of which there were 1,008,606 Tibetans making up 40.27 percent and 1,179,969 Han, or 47.12 percent. Out of a total population of 762,373 in Sichuan Province of the Ganzi Tibetan Prefecture, there were 554,633 Tibetans (72.5 percent) and 188,001 Han (24.66 percent).

The same goes for other Tibetan prefectures. In 1980, Inner Mongolia had a total population of 11 million, of which only 2 million were ethnic Mongolians as compared to a majority population of 9 million Han. Beijing has resorted to a strategy of "minimizing nationalities" other than the Han, such as the Tibetans and Mongolians, in order to make them minorities in their own countries.

To further secure its control in Tibet, Beijing is close to completing the Qinghai-Tibet railroadlink. This railroad has serious ramifications. It will create an even larger influx of Han people into Tibet. It will speed up the transportation of military personnel and supplies into Tibet. The railroad will also create a serious imbalance in the already fragile ecosystem.

More than 99 percent of Tibetans have great faith, love and respect for their religion. There were more than 2,500 large, medium and small monasteries or centers of religious learning prior to1959. Today, there are only 70 or so monasteries, a reduction of more than 97 percent.

In the whole of Tibet in the past there were more than 110,000 monks and nuns, of which possibly 10,000 fled to India. Today there are around 7,000 monks and nuns, a reduction of 93 percent. In 1979, after 20 years of occupation, most of these monasteries have been decimated and the clergy dispersed.

While traveling in the grasslands in Inner Mongolia in 1980, I met a monk from Kumbum Monastery who had been expelled from the monastery -- his only crime being he was born in Inner Mongolia. Very few monasteries have been allowed to be rebuilt, and the monk population is controlled even though there has been an upsurge in young people wanting to enter the monasteries, which has led to an exodus of young people to India to join the re-established, large monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden in the south of India, where they are free to study and practice.

All over Tibet Tibetans are extremely concerned with the future of the religion and the freedom of religious belief. In the last 46 years, more than 1 million Tibetans have lost their lives due to abnormal reasons. During the initial PRC campaign to take over Tibet, thousands of Tibetans who resisted were killed. The 1959 uprisings saw thousands massacred.

After the Dalai Lama fled to India, thousands of people were summarily arrested and imprisoned. Most of those imprisoned languished into ill health, many losing their lives due to total disregard. In Qinghai, for example, there are around 4,000 villages and towns, each having 3,000-4,000 families with 4,000-5,000 people. From each town and village about 800 to a 1,000 people were imprisoned.

Out of this, at least 300 to 400 people of them died in prison. This means almost half of the prison population perished. It was discovered that only a handful had resisted the PRC, and most of the people were innocent. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, thousands more died of starvation. Villages disappeared completely.

For a time, the life of the masses was poverty-stricken and miserable, and many people -- principally the young and old -- died of starvation or because they were physically so weak that they could not resist minor illnesses. Consequently, there was a clear and severe reduction in the Tibetan population.

The Tibetan plateau, spanning 4 million square kilometers is the highest and largest plateau on earth. It is home to over 5,000 higher plant species and over 12,000 species of vascular plants, 532 different species of birds, 126 identified minerals and has rich old-growth forests. It is also the source of many of Asia's major rivers whose tributaries are the lifeblood of millions of people in the Asian continent.

Research figures show that rivers originating from Tibet sustain the lives of 47 percent of the world's population. Thus the environment issue has a huge global significance that warrants international attention. Ever since the PRC occupation of Tibet, widespread environmental destruction has taken place due to the logging of virgin forests, uncontrolled mining, water pollution and nuclear-waste dumping, which has resulted in the degradation of grasslands, extinction of wildlife, desertification, floods, soil erosion and landslides.

Given the high altitude and the extreme climatic conditions of Tibet, the damage caused to the environment and the fragile mountain ecosystem is becoming irreversible. The need to save the Tibetan plateau from ecological devastation is urgent as half of humanity is also affected. Ever since its occupation by the PRC, Tibet has been controlled by cadres sent from China.

The nonchalant attitudes of these cadres and disrespect toward the Tibetans and their religion has been highly damaging. These cadres openly criticized our religion as heretical and preposterous. Implementation of policies became difficult all over Tibet, often resulting in violence as the cadres wanted to suppress the people. Their methods were extremely clumsy, and they made no effort to understand the religion and culture of the Tibetan people and showed no respect for their basic rights.

Han cadres in the Tibetan areas do not have a profound or a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of the different characteristics, specific circumstances, and ideological mentality of the Tibetan people. Therefore, it was difficult for cadres to govern within the actual situation in the Tibetan areas. Matters did not help when because of their superiority complex, they refused to give sufficient thought to the reality of the situation.

Even when President Hu Jintao was Chinese Communist Party chief in Tibet he found it difficult to administer effectively. His chief complaint was the ultra-leftist attitudes among the cadres under him. He finally had to feign illness due to altitude sickness and return to Beijing to be re-assigned to another post.

Thus, Tibet has been completely misruled by the PRC for the last 50 years. In 1979, when Deng Xiaoping started a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, several fact-finding missions were sent all over Tibet. To their horror and amazement, the delegations reported a bleak picture of suffering of Tibetans from all walks of life over the past two decades. Starvation, imprisonment, arrests, torture, absolute genocide and infringement of every human right were widespread all over Tibet.

With this scenario why did Deng start a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, and what did he intend to achieve and what were the results of the first round of dialogue? Deng was responsible for the initial forced invasion and takeover of Tibet. He knew what had happened inside Tibet from 1950 through 1979.

Deng realized the key to the Tibetan issue was the Dalai Lama. He felt that if he solved the Dalai Lama issue, the Tibetan issue would be resolved. He did not realize that the Tibetan issue was not of the Dalai Lama alone. So he tried to entrap the Dalai Lama to return to China with false promises to his person. His strategy failed because he was not sincere in resolving the Tibetan issue.

Thus, the first round of dialogue failed in every sense, as both sides agreed to disagree on everything and no mutual trust was formed. The beacon of hope for all Tibetans is the international recognition given to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause.

Since his escape to India, the Dalai Lama has worked relentlessly to further the cause of Tibet. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. The Tibetan cause stands on the moral ground on which it has received massive international support and sympathy which puts a lot of pressure on the PRC.

With the spread of the Internet, news of Tibet and events concerning the Dalai Lama are flashed all over the word in an instant. Therefore, it is important for the people of China to realize what injustices their government has done and is still continuing to inflict upon the people of Tibet. It is difficult for Tibetans co-exist with the PRC after the disastrous 46-year-rule underBeijing, especially if it continues with its rigid policies toward Tibet.

But if the PRC were to collapse and communism were to disappear, then the road to independence would be smooth and Tibetans would be able to co-exist with the people of China within a democratic framework. Tibet's cause in the 21st century, in very simple terms, is its very survival.

Tibet's message to the world is that it has offered its best in the person of His Holiness, the14th Dalai Lama to the world community. Preferred to be called a simple Buddhist monk, his personality, charisma and most important his message to all faiths and all races of tolerance and compassion is enduring, and endearing to all.

The Dalai Lama, temporal and religious ruler ofTibet, is the eternal spokesman for all Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. Tibetans aspire to live as free human beings and constantly pray for the protection and preservation of Buddhism.

They pray that all sentient beings be free from want and suffering and achieve happiness through realization that this world is but a transitory point to the next world. They always remember their compatriots who continue to suffer in the snowy land of Tibet. Above all, their primary wish and prayers surround the long life of the Dalai Lama and his return to an independent, sovereign Tibetan homeland.

Khedroob Thondup is a former parliament member of the Tibetan government-in-exile.