By Lobsang Sangay
Originally published in the New York Times, Op-Ed, August 16, 2011.
THREE years ago, Tibetans from Lhasa to Lithang rose up against Chinese rule in Tibet. Earlier this week, a Tibetan monk set himself on fire — the second self-immolation this year, and a testament to China’s continuing repression and Tibetans’ continued resistance. We do not encourage protests, but it is our sacred duty to support our voiceless and courageous compatriots.
In 1950, when the Chinese Army first came to Tibet, they promised a socialist paradise for Tibetans. After more than 60 years of misrule, Tibet is no socialist paradise. There is not socialism but colonialism; there is no paradise, only tragedy.
Some Tibetans helped build roads to Tibet from China and were paid in silver coins by polite and respectful Chinese soldiers. However, once the roads were built in early 1950s, tanks encircled strategic urban areas, trucks headed straight to the mineral-rich mountains, and Chinese workers arrived later to exploit and mine billions of dollars worth of gold, copper and uranium. Overnight, it seemed, something had changed. The polite Chinese people changed, too, and became overbearing and aggressive. They used their guns. Battles erupted. There was death and destruction.
The continuing political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction in occupied Tibet are unacceptable. The new railway line from Beijing to Lhasa is bringing more heavy equipment to exploit our natural resources and more Chinese migrants, who are beginning to demographically dominate Tibet. Today, around 70 percent of private-sector firms are owned or run by Chinese, more than 50 percent of government officials are Chinese, and approximately 40 percent of Tibetans with university and high school degrees are unemployed. And this is made worse by Chinese officials who treat Tibet as their personal inheritance, and behave like latter-day feudal lords.
Earlier this year, several Chinese leaders visited Lhasa to celebrate 60 years of so-called peaceful liberation. But the reality is that the anniversary was observed under undeclared martial law. Troops carried automatic machine guns as they marched through the streets of Lhasa while sharpshooters positioned themselves on rooftops. Tourists, of course, were banned from visiting during the “celebration.”
The Tibetan political leadership is still committed to nonviolence and a peaceful resolution through dialogue. We will continue our “middle way” policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China, a win-win proposition for both the Tibetans and the Chinese.
China aspires to be a superpower. It has a fast-growing economy backed by growing military power, but sadly, its moral power is lagging behind. And moral power cannot be bought in the marketplace or forced with military might. It has to be earned.
As long as Tibetans are reduced to second-class citizens in their own homeland, there will be resistance to Chinese rule. Finding a lasting solution to the Tibet question, on the other hand, would improve China’s image in the eyes of the world and help protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Peaceful dialogue could lead to genuine Tibetan autonomy within China. This is a solution that would satisfy both Tibetan and Chinese interests and it would be a victory not only for the Tibetan people, but for all marginalized people around the world.
Lobsang Sangay was sworn in last week as the kalon tripa, or prime minister, of the Tibetan government in exile.
Originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/17/opinion/the-myth-of-socialist-paradise-in-tibet.html