China Hardens Stance on Tibet Anniversary

By John Pomfret, Washington Post, Wednesday 10 March 1999; page A19

BEIJING, March 9—Senior Chinese leaders have prepared for this week's 40th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule by attacking the Dalai Lama as the source of all trouble in Tibet and charging that he lied when he recently expressed willingness to negotiate with Beijing on Tibet's future.

China also has tightened security on its southern border with Nepal and India to prevent anti-Chinese demonstrations in Tibet, according to Chinese and Nepalese press reports. Security in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, also was said to be tight, with police manning checkpoints and keeping a close eye on influential Buddhist monks who comprise the vanguard of the Tibetan independence movement.

The Chinese broadside against the Dalai Lama—Tibet's exiled spiritual leader—was launched last week by Raidi, the chairman of the People's Congress of Tibet, and Legqog, the head of Tibet's Beijing-controlled government. Both men, who use only one name, were in Beijing for the yearly meeting of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

The Dalai Lama is the chief representative of the feudal serf system, declared Raidi, who has said that before Tibet was invaded by the Chinese in 1950 he lived as a slave. Under his rule, the Tibetan people were reduced to animal status. The Dalai Lama, he said, has become the loyal tool of anti-China forces.

Raidi's denunciation of the Dalai Lama illustrates that Beijing has decided to harden its stance against the Tibetan government in exile. Last year, there were glimmers of hope that meaningful negotiations between the two sides might resume.

During his meeting with President Clinton in June, Chinese President Jiang Zemin suggested he would meet with the Dalai Lama if he would recognize that Tibet and Taiwan were part of China. The Dalai Lama has made a statement to this effect, but Raidi said Friday that he is not sincere in his negotiations. This was apparently a reference to secret talks between the Dalai Lama and China, which have been acknowledged by Jiang. Since then, the Dalai Lama has said that the talks had ceased.

In recent weeks, China's state-run media have published lengthy reports—including an 18-part series by the New China News Agency—on the economic and social advances of the Tibetan people since they were liberated by Chinese troops. The series blamed discontent in Tibet on the Dalai Lama, Britain and the United States, which supported small groups of Tibetan separatists in the 1960s and '70s.

Earlier this week, Jiang opened an exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of the democratic reforms and the elimination of serfdom in Tibet—a date Tibetan nationalists will commemorate Wednesday as that of an armed uprising against Chinese rule during which thousands of Tibetans died. The Dalai Lama and most of his government fled to India on March 17, 1959, and have maintained a government in exile since then in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Beijing maintains that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, when China was ruled by the Mongols. Tibetan nationalists contend that despite close ties to China, Tibet was and is an independent country. Chinese troops first invaded Tibet in October 1950, and for nine years, the government of Mao Zedong and the Dalai Lama coexisted in an uneasy alliance. Relations began to deteriorate as Beijing moved to impose revolutionary policies on Tibet.

Ten years ago Monday, China instituted martial law in Lhasa after three days of anti-Chinese riots. Witnesses at the time estimated that 50 Tibetans were killed by police. Since then there have been sporadic protests and widespread reports that protesters, including Buddhist monks and nuns, have been beaten.

Legqog told reporters that Tibetans today live a life unparalleled in history—richer, healthier and more educated than ever before. Life expectancy, which hovered around 35 in 1950 when Chinese troops invaded, is now 66, he said. Raidi said that if the Dalai Lama had not hindered our efforts, we could have achieved some things even faster.

Independent Tibetan scholars do not dispute Legqog's figures but point out that most of Tibet's development in past decades has been concentrated in the cities, where many ethnic Chinese live. Over the past 20 years, they note, large numbers of Chinese have come to Tibet to take advantage of preferential wage rates set by Beijing to encourage businessmen to relocate—at least temporarily—to Tibet's bigger cities.