July 10, 2006


In Tibet, Dalai Lama Continues to Hold Sway: China Wary of Exiled Spiritual Leader's Politics (Edward Cody, July 10, 2006, Washington Post)

The intermingling of Buddhism's hold on the Tibetan spirit and the Dalai Lama's role as a political as well as religious leader has confronted Chinese authorities with a difficult situation. Reluctant to be seen stifling religious sentiment or local culture, they have opened up space for worship and pilgrimages, but at the same time they have taken tough measures to prevent Tibetans from coalescing around the Dalai Lama into an organized separatist movement.

The balancing act has produced a more relaxed climate in recent years, although Tibetans who spoke their minds in interviews did so on condition of anonymity for fear of getting into trouble with the authorities. Time, however, may be Beijing's best ally. Economic growth holds the promise of swift evolution in Tibetan society. Economic output in Tibet has risen 10 percent a year recently along with that of the rest of China.

A Tibetan middle-school teacher said intense devotion to Buddhism and to the Dalai Lama as a figure of Tibetan independence is most pronounced among the elderly. Teenagers who learn Chinese and English in his classes have new perspectives on their minds -- from China and the West, he said.

The first train line from Chinese cities to Lhasa, which opened July 1, is likely to accelerate the pace of change, linking Tibet ever more closely with the Chinese heartland. The train not only will bring in thousands more tourists and merchants, but it will also take copper and iron ore from Tibet's extensive deposits to China's mineral-hungry industries, injecting cash into the local economy and outside influences into the culture.

"The opening of the railway will further open up people's vistas and change their concepts," said Champa Phuntsok, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the top Tibetan official here under the Han Chinese Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli.

Phuntsok, in an unusually detailed briefing for foreign reporters on a government-sponsored visit, said Beijing's intermittent contacts with representatives of the Dalai Lama have not produced fruit because, beneath recent offers of compromise and limited autonomy, the Dalai Lama's goal remains Tibet's separation from Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama's envoys have raised the prospect of broadening the Tibet Autonomous Region to include Tibetan-inhabited areas of neighboring provinces, Phuntsok said, and have suggested loosening Beijing's rule to give Tibet an autonomous status similar to that of Hong Kong. Most objectionable, he added, are the elections they have proposed to select a regional government.

These conditions are unacceptable to China, Phuntsok said, because "the final goal is the independence of Tibet."

There is a Tibet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 10, 2006 6:39 AM


The train referenced goes through passes so high that oxygen has to be pumped into the cars.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at July 10, 2006 3:02 PM