Tibetans Chafe at Repression as China Celebrates 70 Years of Rule over Tibet

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China flew in political heavyweights, pumped up a propaganda campaign, and staged a gala celebration in Lhasa this week to mark 70 years since the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet, in an event that rekindled resentment among Tibetans over broken promises and repression.

“Only by following the [Chinese Communist party] leadership and pursuing the path of socialism, can Tibet achieve development and prosperity,” Wang Yang, a member of the powerful politburo standing committee, told a crowd in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, the traditional home of Tibet’s Buddhist leaders, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The intense security and restrictions on movement in the run up to the Aug. 19 anniversary event, however, prompted Tibetans to mock China’s description of the armed invasion 70 years ago as the “Peaceful Liberation” of their region.

“The Chinese government claims that they have liberated Tibet in the last 70 years, but in reality, Tibetans have been under constant restrictions and scrutiny,” said a resident of Lhasa, the regional capital, who complained that local residents had to endure “the same situation of heavy restrictions in place all around Lhasa” at the 60th anniversary in 2011.

“It’s been 70 years since China forcefully invaded Tibet, but they have not been able to win the hearts of the Tibetans,” said another source in Lhasa, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

 “In attempting to legitimize the invasion of Tibet, Chinese government has been spreading propaganda for the last 70 years using their state media and distorting the historic facts of Tibet and Tibetan identity, which is very disturbing,” the source added.

‘Occupation and oppression’

An independent nation for centuries, Tibet’s incorporation into China by force has been enforced, by tight restrictions on the six million Tibetans’ political activities and expression of cultural and religious identity, as well as a catalog of well-documented persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

“For us Tibetans, what China celebrates as ‘Liberation Day’ is the anniversary of occupation and oppression,” Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the elected head of the exile Tibetan government in Dharamsala, India said during India’s 75th Independence Day celebration on Aug. 15.

“With human rights violations still ongoing in Tibet and other regions under Chinese occupation, the CCP’s claims of the ‘liberation of Tibet’ begs the question: ‘From what or whom was Tibet liberated?’” he said.

Gonpo Dhundup, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Dharamsala said his people had experienced “70 years of sweat and tears” since the Chinese takeover.

“The Chinese government is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the so -called peaceful liberation of Tibet in Lhasa today but for us Tibetans it’s a dark day,” he told RFA.

Wang Yang and the 22-member CCP delegation gave “washing machines to farmers and herdsmen, and present souvenirs such as medical and health kits to cadres and employees, which fully reflects the special support for work in Tibet, care and concern for cadres and masses of all ethnic groups in Tibet from Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core,” said Zhao Huinian, deputy CCP secretary-general of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

“After 70 years of oppression, the only thing the Tibetan people need ‘peaceful liberation’ from today is China’s brutality,” said the International Campaign for Tibet.

“Rather than force an empty celebration on the Tibetan people, the Chinese government should sit down with Tibetan leaders and the Dalai Lama’s representatives to negotiate meaningful autonomy that will bring actual peace and basic freedoms back to Tibet,” the Washington, DC-based advocacy group said.

Broken promises

The Dalai Lama, who turned 86 last month, fled Tibet for India in 1959, eight years after he signed a 17-point agreement with Beijing under duress that promised Tibet would enjoy full autonomy without interference by the Chinese government in the region’s religion, customs, and internal administration.

None of the promises were kept, and Beijing has stepped up its effort to assimilate the Tibetans, while imposing strict surveillance and controls on communications in Tibet and Tibetan areas of western China that make it difficult to learn details of protests, arrests, or other information considered politically sensitive.

“China’s government has relentlessly assaulted the human rights, ​the unique religious, linguistic, cultural freedoms, and dignity of Tibetans,” a U.S. State Department spokesman told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“We will work with our allies and partners to press Beijing to return to direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to achieve meaningful autonomy for Tibetans, respect for human rights, and the preservation of Tibet’s environment as well as its unique cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions,” the spokesman said when asked about China’s violation of the 1951 pact.

The secrecy and tight security surrounding the 70th anniversary event “signifies that there is no stability in Tibet,” Ngawang Woebar, a monk in Dharamsala who participated in big 1987 protests in Tibet against Chinese rule, told RFA.

“Those who have not experienced life in Tibet will feel that everything is prosperous. But the Tibetans who have experienced Tibetan religion, culture and customs will know that everything in Tibet about ‘peaceful liberation’ is a façade,” he said.

“If they let Tibetans speak freely. they would know the real aspirations of Tibetans in Tibet.”

Reported by Kalden Lodoe and Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickey. Written in English by Paul Eckert.