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Tough Times in Tibet

October 16, 2007

By JOHN ACKERLY
Wall Street Journal
October 15, 2007

The Dalai Lama will be welcomed to Washington this week, where he'll
receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, America 's highest civilian
award. It's an occasion for celebration, but not complacency. Back in
Tibet , not much is changing for the better.

The Party still imprisons anyone who speaks out against Chinese rule
in Tibet ; brutally tortures detainees as a method of intimidating the
local population; limits the number of monks and nuns in each
monastery and controls who is admitted -- and who should be expelled.
In recent weeks in eastern Tibet , Chinese authorities have stepped up
a political campaign requiring Tibetan monks, nuns, laypeople and
children to denounce their religious leader in exile.

China is also working to tighten its grip over Tibetan Buddhism,
asserting in July that only the Communist Party can recognize monks as
reincarnations. Tibetans believe that when some learned or important
monks pass away, such as the Dalai Lama, they are reincarnated and
recognized through a series of esoteric Tibetan rituals and
traditions. So for an atheist Party to promulgate such a rule is akin
to heresy, or worse.

These crackdowns come despite six rounds of talks between China and
the Dalai Lama's representatives, in which the Tibetans expressed
their wish for autonomy, not independence. In response, the Party has
launched one of the most intensive media slander campaigns in recent
years, accusing the Buddhist leader of being a "fake" monk and linking
him with the Aum Shinrikyo cult and Falun Gong.

Despite all this -- and nearly half a century of oppression -- there
is no organized armed resistance in Tibet . Tibetans are working to
sustain their culture by repudiating violence and promoting human
values for which the Dalai Lama has made the Tibetan cause known and
respected worldwide. While it is devastating for Tibetans to denounce
the Dalai Lama in the Party campaigns, the Buddhist leader counsels
them to do so, rather than risk their livelihood and freedom.

And the Tibetans listen. In January last year, for instance, the Dalai
Lama called on Tibetans to stop wearing the furs of endangered wild
animals such as tigers and leopards. Buddhism, he explained, teaches
compassion for all sentient beings. Soon after his statement, Tibetans
burned furs on large pyres and stopped wearing them. The bottom
dropped out of the trade for endangered animal skins in Tibet .
Beijing is now pressuring Tibetans to wear furs -- to little avail.

The Dalai Lama has always advocated a peaceful, negotiated solution to
the Tibetan cause. If anything, he has proved his willingness to
negotiate time and again. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he urged world
leaders to embrace, not isolate, China , when that opinion was hardly
a popular one in many circles. He also supported Beijing 's bid for
the 2008 Olympics, while calling on the Party and the world to ensure
human rights improve before, and after, the games.

That may seem like a faint hope, but it's not impossible. President
Bush has personally urged China 's leadership to invite the Dalai Lama
for a visit to his homeland. Such a move would certainly be welcomed
by Tibetans. But it would also be welcomed by a world that's already
embraced a peaceful solution for Tibet , through the patient example
of the Dalai Lama. Will China ?

Mr. Ackerley is the president of the International Campaign for Tibet .

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