Unfulfilled Promises for Tibet

Originally published by RFA, 19 May 2011

By Rachel Vandenbrink

Activists criticize China’s celebration of 60 years of rule in Tibet.



The Dalai Lama addresses devotees in India, March 19, 2011.

 A rights group has slammed Beijing for reneging on an agreement that accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, saying Tibetans had been duped by promises of extensive self-rule and commitments to preserve local political and religious institutions.

As China prepares to celebrate on Monday the 60th anniversary of the “17-point Agreement” clinched with the currently exiled Dalai Lama in 1951, its pledges to keep Tibet’s traditional government and religion in place have come under scrutiny.

“Beijing is ironically celebrating an agreement about a promise made to Tibet but not kept,” Mary Beth Markey, President for the U.S.-based International Campaign for Tibet, said in a statement Thursday.
The reality of the current situation in Tibet underscored how far China’s policies have departed from the 17 points of the agreement, including its commitments to preserve Tibetan political and religious institutions, she said.

“Its failure of the last 60 years to respect the priorities for Tibet set forth in the 17-point Agreement, including a large measure of self-rule, should be an occasion for reflection in Beijing and not coerced celebration in Tibet,” she said.

The agreement, which marked the beginning of formal Chinese rule in the region, followed a military assault on Tibet in October 1950. Tibet’s leaders said they were strong-armed into signing the treaty.

There was widespread open rebellion against Chinese communist rule within Tibet by 1956, which blew up into a full uprising and forced the Dalai Lama to flee to northern India where he has been living since.

Policies defended

Beijing on Thursday defended its policies in Tibet, saying that China had rescued the territory from feudalism.

“In 60 years, Tibet has made “leaps forward … from a feudal agricultural slave system to a socialist society. It leapt forward several thousand years,” said Padma Choling, the Chinese government-appointed governor of the region, at a press briefing in Beijing.

He also said that “the door was open” for the return of the Dalai Lama, repeating the persistent Beijing charge that the spiritual leader is a separatist bent on Tibetan independence.

“If he wants to come back, the door to China is always open,” said Choling, Tibet’s second highest-ranking official.

“If the Dalai Lama really does retire as he says he has, if he stops his separatist activities, stops disrupting the stability of Tibet, and really concentrates on Buddhism, then this will be good for Tibet,” he said.

Following the Dalai Lama’s March retirement from politics, Tibetan exiles elected Harvard academic Lobsang Sangay, 43, as their new prime minister in exile, handing him the daunting task of assuming the political duties of the global icon.

Last week, a senior Chinese official ruled out talks between China and Sangay, who had said that the government-in-exile is willing to talk with China “anytime, anywhere.”