China did well by Tibet
Hong Xiaoyong
Wed, Apr 23, 2008
The Straits Times
A CHINESE student in France, watching the recent Olympic protest in Paris, reported the following on his blog: A French girl, aged five or six, asked her mother why people were trying to snatch the Olympic torch from Chinese athletes.

Her mother replied: 'The Chinese have occupied Tibet by force for 50 years. Those protesters want to take this chance to express their wish for freedom.'

The Tibet Autonomous Region, like the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is one among China's 34 provincial administrative regions. No government in the world denies this fact. Nevertheless, this French mother imparted her perception of Tibet as 'occupied' to her child.

The French celebrated enthusiastically the Chinese Cultural Year in 2003. Why, suddenly, has a wall appeared between China and the West?

The trigger was the riots in Lhasa on March 14. Rioters destroyed 908 shops, seven schools, 120 residential homes, five hospitals and 10 banking network points. At least 20 buildings were burned down and 84 vehicles were smashed. Eighteen innocents were burned or stabbed to death and 380 civilians were injured.

The Dalai clique based in India depicted these flagrant criminal acts as 'peaceful demonstrations' and made up a non-existent 'death list' of nearly 100 'protesters'. Western media broadcast these claims to the world.

The Dalai clique's secessionist activities began only after the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959. Before he fled, he was a member of the Chinese central government. In February 1951, not long after the People's Republic of China was founded, the Dalai Lama appointed Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme as his chief negotiator with the central government.

On May 23, 1951, the Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was signed in Beijing.

The Dalai Lama sent a telegram to Chairman Mao Zedong to express his support for the agreement and his determination to implement it. In September 1954, he was elected vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the First National People's Congress and, later in 1956, he became the chair of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The relationship between the Dalai Lama and the central government changed after he fled China. But the fact that Tibet is an inalienable part of China cannot be changed because of his defection. As the now 98-year-old Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme has said: 'So-called 'Tibet independence' had never existed before the 20th century. It was fabricated by people with ulterior motives.'

The feudal dynasties of China had exercised effective sovereignty over Tibet centuries before Europeans landed in the Americas. In the 13th century, the Yuan Dynasty designated Tibet as an administrative region of China. The Ming Dynasty continued to exercise sovereignty over Tibet.

From the 17th century onwards, the Qing Dynasty had comprehensive and sophisticated governance over Tibet. Qing emperors granted honorific titles to the fifth Dalai Lama and the fifth Bainqen Lama in 1653 and 1713, respectively, officially establishing the 'Dalai Lama' and 'Bainqen Erdeni' titles. It has since become an established practice that the reincarnations of all future Dalai and Bainqen Lamas are to be approved by the central authority.

From 1727 to 1911, altogether 57 Ambans (ministers in charge of Tibet affairs in the Qing Dynasty) were stationed in Tibet to supervise local administration on behalf of the central authority. In the early 20th century, the Republic of China set up an agency for Tibet affairs, with an office in Lhasa, while Tibet sent representatives to the National Congress, as did other provinces. The enthronement of the current 14th Dalai Lama was approved by the then Nationalist government.

Some people say the Dalai Lama wants 'high-level autonomy', not 'independence', for Tibet. But no government in the world would allow such 'autonomy' in its territory as the Dalai Lama demands for Tibet.

The so-called 'high-level autonomy and real autonomy' he seeks would involve the following: Withdrawal of Chinese troops and military installations from Tibet; Tibet being able to establish diplomatic ties with other countries and international organisations; the establishment of a Great Tibetan Zone of 2.4 million sq km, to include areas inhabited by Tibetans in the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan; non-Tibetans to move out of this zone; etc.

In essence, the Dalai Lama's 'high-level autonomy' would deny the central government sovereignty over Tibet and would be tantamount to independence for it. This of course will by no means be accepted by the central government.

The Dalai Lama argues that Tibetans are being reduced to an insignificant ethnic minority in their own land, and that there is cultural genocide. The fact is Tibet has made historic achievements in economic and social development. It has achieved an average annual growth rate of above 12 per cent in the past seven years. Its population has increased from about 1.2 million in 1964 to more than 2.5 million now, with Tibetans constituting 94.8 per cent of the population.

Over the past 20 years, the central government has appropriated more than 700 million yuan (S$135 million) for the preservation and maintenance of monasteries, cultural relics and historical and religious sites in Tibet.

There are currently 1,787 religious sites and over 46,000 lamas and nuns in the autonomous region. More than 50 institutes on Tibetan studies have been set up nationwide. Tibetan TV and radio services broadcast in both Tibetan and Mandarin.

Newspapers, magazines and books in Tibetan can be found everywhere. The Tibetan language is taught in all types of schools. As an integral part of Chinese culture, traditional Tibetan culture has been protected by the central government.

Where Tibet is concerned, media reports that ignore China's voice may not be impartial. The Lhasa incident of March 14 was a serious criminal act; the Dalai clique was behind the riot; and, in responding to the riot, the police showed great restraint without using lethal weapons.

The Chinese media has reported these facts repeatedly. Regrettably, Western media turned a deaf ear to these reports and have one-sidedly magnified the voices calling for an independent Tibet.

As a result, people may have got the impression that Chinese soldiers cracked down with iron fists on Tibetan monks demonstrating peacefully, and that many Tibetans died from the bullets of the conquerors. However, as the Austrian newspaper der Standard pointed out on March 26, these reports were based on second-hand information from exiled Tibetans living in India and Radio Free Asia, a private radio station funded by the US Congress. As der Standard noted, few have mentioned that neither of these sources is neutral.

More recently, Western media outlets have disclosed that American and German organisations, together with the 'Tibetan government-in-exile', jointly worked out a 'Plan of Action' in May 2007 to set off a wave of anti-China demonstrations to coincide with the Beijing Olympics. This, if true, indicates the involvement of international politics in the Tibet issue.

Since China's opening-up three decades ago, the Chinese people have been trying to know more about the world and have tried to be known. The 2008 Olympics is a golden opportunity in this regard. Understanding China - a nation of 1.3 billion people - is necessary to build a harmonious world. Misunderstanding China or hostility towards China would favour neither China nor the world.

We hope that the world can have a comprehensive view of the past and present of Tibet in particular, and of China in general, so that the gap in perception between Chinese and Westerners can be bridged.

The writer is Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Singapore.


Understanding China - a nation of 1.3 billion people - is necessary to build a harmonious world. Misunderstanding China or hostility towards China would favour neither China nor the world.


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