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50th anniversary of Tibetan national uprising 

Greg M. Schwartz

[email protected]

From the International Affairs Desk —

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising that led to the Dalai Lama's escape and exile from Tibet in 1959. The Dalai Lama issued an extensive statement today in which he summarized his country's plight.

“These 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet. Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them. Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death,” said the Dalai Lama.

A BBC article today covers wide ground with the Dalai Lama saying China has put Tibet through “hell on Earth,” while Chinese officials claim that “democratic reforms `under Chinese rule` are the widest and most profound reforms in Tibetan history.”

Chinese news outlet Xinhua continues to push propaganda that followers of the Dalai Lama are a mere “clique,” an absurd notion considering that nearly all Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be both their religious and governmental leader. Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama's principal translator, issued a statement in the Wall Street Journal reiterating that Tibet seeks only autonomy, not independence.

“For both sides, there is not much to gain from invoking history to contest the legitimacy of each other's claims. For the Tibetans, the facts on the ground are such that, whether we like it or not, today Tibet is part of China. Tibetans need to understand that any proposed settlement that fails to respect the territorial integrity of modern China will be unacceptable to any government in Beijing,” writes Jinpa. “Beijing, meanwhile, needs to recognize the legitimacy of the Tibetan people's aspiration to protect the integrity of our language, culture and identity."

For those who are curious about how the 50 year conflict developed, director Martin Scorsese's 1997 Dalai Lama biopic Kundun offers a detailed and compelling cinematic dramatization of the events in the 1950s that led to the current stalemate. Celebrity Buddhist Richard Gere, meanwhile, suggests that the ascension of Barack Obama as President of the United States creates optimism that China could one day have a Tibetan leader.

"30 years, 20 years ago, who would have thought there could be a black president of the United States? Things change rapidly -- and it's usually in crisis and tragedy that things change the most,” said Gere. “I can see a time when there may well be a Tibetan-Chinese prime minister or president or whatever form of government there is then. But the words have to be spoken.”

Activists for Tibetan freedom rallied at the White House on Monday in hopes of pressuring President Obama to take up their cause. But many of those activists are disturbed by recent comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that China's human rights violations could not be allowed to "interfere" with the Washington-Beijing dialogue on three other pressing crises - the global economic downturn, the climate change problem and security issues.

Such a view from Washington would seem to indicate a maintenance of the status quo regarding Tibet. Amnesty International issued a statement last week saying that the organization was “shocked and extremely disappointed” in Clinton's comments.

“It's not too late for Secretary Clinton to do the right thing for the Chinese people. Amnesty International urges Secretary Clinton to repair the damage caused by her statement and publicly declare that human rights are central to U.S.-China relations before she leaves Beijing,” said T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered some hope for the Tibetan cause when she spoke at a reception commemorating the Dalai Lama's flight from Tibet yesterday, with her remarks indicating that the status quo is not acceptable.

“For the last year, Tibet has been under martial law and the human rights situation continues to worsen. Last week, the U.S. State Department issued its Annual Country Report on Human Rights stating that 'the `Chinese` government's human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year,” said Pelosi. “Sadly, there has been no progress in the discussions between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. It is clear that the Chinese government has not won the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people. Rather, the Tibetan people have accumulated legitimate grievances from decades of repressive policiesâ?¦ It is long past time for Beijing to make progress on a solution that respects the human rights of every Tibetan.”

While some might feel that 50 years of exile with little to show in the way of progress is a lost cause, the Dalai Lama's ever-optimistic view demonstrates otherwise.

“Looking back on 50 years in exile, we have witnessed many ups and downs. However, the fact that the Tibet issue is alive and the international community is taking growing interest in it is indeed 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.”

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