Friday, September 02, 2005

China Vows to Maintain Grip on "Autonomous" Tibet

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING September 1, 2005 (Reuters) - China marked the 40th anniversary of
Tibet's "autonomy" on Thursday with a parade of goose-stepping soldiers and
singing and dancing Tibetans as well as a pledge to maintain stability and its
grip on power in the Himalayan region.

Critics say there is no real autonomy in Tibet, where Buddhist monks and
nuns loyal to the region's exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, have been jailed
and sometimes tortured.

But China defends its rule, saying life has improved for countless "serfs"
emancipated after a failed uprising which led to the Dalai Lama fleeing
into exile in India in 1959.

"Before implementing democratic reforms, Tibet was under the dark serf
system. Only today are Tibetans true masters of their own house," Foreign
Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

"Tibet is moving from being basically stable to long-lasting stability,"
Qing said, adding that China brooked no foreign interference in Tibet,
describing it as an internal affair.

Tibet's gross domestic product surged to 21.154 billion yuan in 2004 from
327 million yuan in 1965, the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Communist
Party, said.

"Only under the leadership of the Communist Party . . . can Tibet have today's
prosperity and progress," the newspaper said in an editorial.

Tibet has been ruled by the Communists since the People's Liberation Army
(PLA) marched into the region in 1950.

The vast, sparsely populated region known as "the roof of the world" was
designated the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965, a gesture Beijing made to
other areas with large ethnic minority populations too to give them more say
over their affairs.

The Chinese central government sent a delegation to Tibet's capital, Lhasa,
led by Jia Qinglin, ranked fourth in the party hierarchy, for festivities
marking the anniversary.

About 23,000 people watched a flag-raising ceremony on the vast square at
the foot of the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama before he fled into exile.

Bayonet-carrying PLA soldiers and about 6,000 singing and dancing Tibetans
in traditional attire marched past a stand on the square while Jia and other
leaders looked on.

Jia shook hands with a group of Buddhist monks and urged them to be "patriotic."

"Tibet has undergone tremendous changes. Tibet has a great potential and a
broad prospect for development. Tibet now faces two major tasks: one is
development and one is stability," the state news agency Xinhua quoted him
as saying this week.

The state-owned China Development Bank opened a representative office in
Lhasa on Wednesday and pledged to provide 6 billion yuan in policy loans
from 2006 to 2010 to help improve Tibet's infrastructure and key industries.


Jia lauded the PLA for crushing the uprising in 1959 and rioting in 1989.

PLA troops were "not afraid of bloodshed, not afraid of sacrifice, fought
heroically, successfully completed their mission and put down the rebellion
. . . and put down the disturbance," the People's Daily quoted Jia as saying.

Xinhua said 13 ethnic Tibetans had been promoted to the rank of major
general or lieutenant general in the PLA or the paramilitary People's Armed Police.

The London-based Free Tibet Campaign criticized the celebrations as "a major
propaganda opportunity for China to promote its version of autonomy."

Some analysts say that, 40 years on, Tibetan society is more fractured than
ever, with Tibetans becoming an underclass lacking the skills to participate
in Beijing-driven industrialization.

The Free Tibet Campaign said recent visitors to Lhasa had noticed a visible
increase in police presence, following a pattern of stepped up security around
other major dates.

The group called on visiting U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour to urge
Beijing to drop pre-conditions for direct contact with representatives of
the Dalai Lama.