by Topten Tsering
On March 28, a strange celebration was observed in Tibet, one billed as "Serf Emancipation Day." Coming a year after Chinese military forces bloodily clamped down on an uprising that engulfed the whole of Tibet, this state-orchestrated revelry fronted an intense propaganda campaign that many Tibet watchers call China's final offensive against Tibet and the Dalai Lama.
On March 28, 1959, after the then-23-year-old Dalai Lama escaped over the Himalayas to India, China dissolved the Tibetan government and established its direct rule. The Tibetan leader's flight into exile was caused by a violent crackdown by the Chinese army on a Tibetan uprising that had erupted on March 10 of that year. March this year marked the 50th anniversary of the uprising. Fearing unrest similar to last year's, China flooded the country with paramilitary troops, kicked out foreign media and temporarily shut down Internet and mobile phone services.
This first-ever "Serf Liberation Day" celebration marks China's bid to counter last year's widespread protests led by monks and lay people, most of were not born when Tibet was overrun by the Chinese army in 1950. China maintains that it has not only helped liberate the Tibetan people from feudalism perpetrated by the Dalai Lama and other members of the ruling class, but also from foreign imperialists vying to enslave the Himalayan country, chief among them being the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.
As such, it suits China to blame any unrest inside Tibet on the Dalai Lama and his clique, and to interpret any international outcry over its brutal handling of Tibetan discontent as efforts by foreign countries to split the motherland. In recent years, as China's brutality intensifies, so has its intolerance toward governments and leaders sympathetic to Tibet.
Just last week, the South Africa government, under pressure from Beijing, refused a visa to the Dalai Lama, barring him from a peace conference in Johannesburg. In February, during the Hillary Rodham Clinton's state visit to China, the secretary of state expressed no outrage over Beijing's violent clampdown on Tibetan protesters the previous year. In 2008, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama in Poland, China responded by canceling an important economic summit with European leaders. Closer to home, earlier this month, the Chinese government pressured the California Assembly to kill a Tibet resolution.
Tibet today is at a dangerous threshold. As shown by the growing number of protests reported from inside the country, Tibetans have had enough, and their message is clear: The problem is one of colonialism; the tension being between an occupier state and an oppressed people, the former having no other agenda than to thwart threats to its own existence, which essentially is the survival of the latter, and the latter having no other desire than to remain its own free self.
Given the situation, one can understand why China continues to spurn efforts by the Dalai Lama for substantive dialogues toward resolving the Tibetan issue - despite the Tibetan leader's assurance time and again that he is not pursuing independence. This also explains why the very thought of the Dalai Lama returning to Tibet drives Beijing's leadership to fear the worst.
Paradoxically, in the Dalai Lama lies China's best chance to stop the country from spiraling out of control. To do that, the Chinese government needs to learn to make peace with its fears.
Topden Tsering is the former editor of the Tibetan Bulletin, official journal of the Dalai Lama's exile Tibetan government. He was also the president of the San Francisco Tibetan Youth Congress
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