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60 years of Tibetan 'liberation': From what? From whom?

Last updated on: May 23, 2011 15:53 IST

60 years of Tibetan 'liberation': From what? From whom?

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Claude Arpi

As China marks 60 years of Tibet's 'liberation', Claude Arpi lifts the veil off the propaganda surrounding the event

Though sad, certain historical ironies tend to make me smile. Today, May 23, the People's Republic of China celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 'Liberation' of Tibet. According to Beijing, on that day in 1951, Tibet was 'liberated peacefully'.

In October 1950, the Second Field Army of Marshal Lui Bosheng and Deng Xiaoping, his political commissar, entered Eastern Tibet and captured the city of Chamdo. That was a forced 'liberation'.

On May 23, 1951, in Beijing, a Tibetan delegation had no choice but to sign an 'Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet'; the Tibetans later said that they had to affix 'under duress' fake seals prepared for the occasion by the Communists.

Even the then China-enamoured Indian prime minister wondered in the Lok Sabha: 'Liberation from what, from whom, it is not clear?'

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Image: Armed paramilitary personnel patrol a street near Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet
Photographs: Rooney Chen/Reuters
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Also playing: Tibet's largest democratic experiment

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And now the irony: on the day Beijing celebrates the strange 'liberation' of Tibet, the Tibetan community in exile will undergo its largest 'democratic' experiment. A National General Meeting of a few hundred exiled Tibetans is held in Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama in Himachal Pradesh.

On May 21, the Tibetan website payul.com announced: '418 Tibetans from various parts of the world gathered at the Tibetan Children's Village school auditorium for the second Tibetan General Body Meeting which had been called by the Tibetan parliament in exile after the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama announced his decision on March 10 this year to devolve his 'political authority' to an elected leadership.'

This enlarged consultative group comprises of 'senior' Tibetans, serving and former officials and eminent members of civil society.

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Image: Activists dressed as Chinese soldiers and a Tibetan monk perform a street drama depicting Tibet's uprising 52 years ago against Chinese rule, in Taipei
Photographs: Pichi Chuang/Reuters
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The word 'democracy' makes the communists see red

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The meeting will 'democratically' discuss a draft for amending the Tibetan 'constitution' (known as 'charter') which will provide the legal framework for the Dalai Lama's proposed retirement.

The meeting is also supposed to advise Dr Lobsang Sangay, the newly elected prime minister. Sangay, born 43 years ago in India and educated at Harvard Law School, will be Kalon Tripa (or prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile) for the next five years.

Already, one month before the results were announced, an editorial in the People's Daily assailed Sangay: 'In 1992, Lobsang Sangay rose to fame and became the youngest leading member of Tibetan Youth Congress, a terrorist organisation in nature The crimes made the organisation look like a kin member of the Al Qaeda, Chechnyan armed terrorists and 'East Turkistan' separatists.'

The fact is that the democratic process started by the Dalai Lama (which culminated in his retirement) exasperates Beijing. The very word 'democracy' makes the Communist leadership see red.

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Image: Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa, or Tibetan prime minister-in-exile
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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The monk movement is totally boxed in

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In a recent interview, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the united front work department of the CPC Central Committee and interlocutor of the Dalai Lama's envoys asserted: "The peaceful liberation of Tibet not only marked the crash of the attempt of the imperialism and a minority of Tibetan reactionary upper class to separate Tibet from the whole country, but also realised the complete liberation and reunification of the whole China."

Unfortunately for Zhu, 60 years later, Tibet is not peaceful.

On March 16, 2011, the self-immolation of Phuntsok, a Tibetan monk belonging to Ngaba Kirti monastery in Sichuan province triggered violent protests by several thousand monks in Eastern Tibet.

According to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy: "Chinese security forces have cordoned the monastery and additional contingents of armed security forces (estimated to be around 800) have been brought in on April 9, 2011, to reinforce security clampdown in Ngaba county. The movement of the monks is totally restricted with no one being allowed to go in or come out of the monastery."

Since then, more depressing news has emerged: the presence of Chinese security forces in all Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan has increased; several monks have been arrested and tortured while Communist cadres roam around villages 'talking about harmony and patriotism'.

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Image: Parliamentarians of Tibet's government-in-exile in session in Dharamshala
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
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The 60-year commemoration is highly symbolic

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Interestingly, modern Chinese historians concur to say that the Tibet issue has been the factor which provoked the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict in North East Frontier Agency and Ladakh. After having 'liberated' Tibet in 1950, Mao and his colleagues could not swallow the fact that, in March 1959, Tibetan masses revolted against the Chinese occupiers and India gave refuge to the Dalai Lama.

In November 1962, in a long diatribe, the People's Daily accused Nehru of having 'instigated and backed up the treason and rebellion of the reactionary clique of the upper social strata in the Tibet region'. The fact that the so-called 'upper strata' was mainly composed of 'common men' was hard to digest for the Communist Party.

China has now decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the 'Liberation' of Tibet. Sixty years, a full circle in the Tibetan (and Chinese) calendar, makes the commemoration highly symbolic.

The Communist regime however keeps its aversion for democracy; one of their arguments is that democracy is an American invention.

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Image: The late Chinese leader Mao Zedong who, with his colleagues, 'liberated' Tibet
Photographs: Petar Kujundzic/Reuters
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For Beijing, democracy is chaos

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The Communist publication Red Flag Manuscript recently analysed what it terms 'the chaos of democracy' in most Asian countries: 'The expansion of democracy that the US promotes has not brought about an economic boom or social development in these regions.

On the contrary, it has led multiple countries or regions to fall into political instability and even chaos. In some areas and countries, with the progress of so-called democratisation, 'chaotic symptoms' have developed such as ethnic conflict, splitting the nation, social turmoil, massive corruption, and an unstable political situation.'

For Beijing, these countries have blindly used Western democratic values without taking into consideration the local social and cultural environment.

Beijing is also unhappy with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In a recent interview, she dared to make a parallel between the recent turmoil in the Arab world and China's tough response to its opponents (a 'fool's errand', Beijing was attempting to stop the course of history, she said).

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu reacted strongly, accusing Clinton of using inappropriate language: the US had no business 'to put China on a par with countries in Western Asia and North Africa.'

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Image: China's Councillor Dai Bingguo listens to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC
Photographs: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
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A harmonious society is far away in Communist China

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Already, on April 8, after the release by the US State Department's 2010 Annual Human Rights Report, Beijing had asked Washington to stop being a self-styled 'human rights preacher'; the Chinese leadership then went on to criticise the US human rights record.

Is it not a good tactical move to defame an opponent using his Achilles Heel?

Huanqiu, a publication in Chinese language, answered the Western countries' criticism of Beijing's arrest of artist Ai Weiwei: 'The interference in Ai Weiwei's case is a total negation of China's law.' Huanqiu described the law in China as 'the skeleton of this country'.

The harsh treatment inflicted to those who do not support the Communist Party (such as Weiwei or Lui Xiabao, the Nobel Laureate) is a sign that the 'harmonious society' often mentioned by President Hu is still far away in Communist China, which prefers to keep quiet on the 'Indian experiment'.

We all witnessed the voters' enthusiasm during the recent legislative assembly's elections. It demonstrated once again that the people of India are not scornful of 'democracy'.

And seeing the astounding results, particularly in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, vindicated by the vibrant 'system' ultimately, is it not by 'democratically' getting rid of the villains (at least temporarily) that one can hope to create a more harmonious and contented society?


Image: A poster at Tate Modern entitled Sunflower Seeds, by Ai WeiWei, in central London
Photographs: Alice Dunhill/Reuters
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