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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan Nationalism Renewed

November 22, 2009

A Tibet scholar sees Chinese nationalism fueling
Tibetan nationalist feeling as well.
By Maura Moynihan
November 21, 2009

DHARAMSALA -- U.S. President Barack Obama has now
left Beijing, where he reaffirmed U.S. support
for China’s view that Tibet is a part of China
and then asked Chinese leaders to resume a
dialogue with Tibet’s government-in-exile.

In response, Beijing criticized the United States
for allowing "separatists" -- in this case
referring to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the
Dalai Lama -- to touch down on U.S. soil.

Though Obama declined to meet with the Dalai Lama
when the Tibetan leader visited Washington in
September, China’s leaders have since stepped up
their attacks on him and curbs on the Tibetan people.

Gabriel Lafitte, an Australian Tibet expert, said
here this week that China's growing nationalism
is feeding what it most fears: nationalism in Tibet.

This follows a pattern frequently observed on the
peripheries of empire, as excluded peoples assert
their identity as a reaction to imperial arrogance, Lafitte said.

Living witnesses

In the 50 years since the Dalai Lama fled into
exile in India, a steady stream of Tibetan
refugees has arrived in this Indian hill station
-- living witnesses to Tibetan resistance to China’s domination.

Ani Tsega, a Buddhist nun from the Kardze region
of Kham, escaped from Tibet to Dharamsala in March 2009.

She brought with her the prison diary of Geshe
Sonam Phuntsok, a Buddhist teacher who was born
in Kardze in 1959, became a monk at 18, and
traveled throughout Kham giving teachings.

"Geshe was very kind, and everyone loved him," Ani Tsega said.

"He was called ‘the miracle’ because of his
knowledge. He worked so hard to keep our language and religion strong."

In 1996, Geshe Phuntsok went on pilgrimage to
India where he met the Dalai Lama, and when he
returned to Tibet he organized a large tenshuk,
or long-life ritual, for the exiled spiritual leader.

On the morning of Oct. 25, 1999, a squad of
Chinese armed police arrested Geshe Phuntsok at gunpoint.

When an estimated 5,000 Tibetans marched to the
police station to demand Geshe Phuntsok’s
release, Chinese security forces fired into the
crowd of protesters, killing several.

Geshe Phuntsok was later sentenced to five years
in prison for inciting "splittist activities" among Tibetans.

On tinfoil from cigarette packets, Geshe Phuntsok
wrote an account of the tortures he endured,
which he secretly passed to Ani Tsega when she visited him in prison.

He had been deprived of sleep, food, and water
during eight days of interrogation, whipped with
electric cords, and received severe injuries to his spine.

"When I saw him in jail, he couldn’t stand up or move his arm," Ani Tsega said.

"I could see bruises and cuts on his face and body."

No alternative seen

After Geshe Phuntsok’s release from prison,
Chinese authorities kept him under house arrest
and refused him medical treatment for the abuse he had suffered in custody.

Geshe Phuntsok died on April 5, 2008.

"We wanted to have a large funeral, but the
Chinese did not allow it. I knew I had to escape
to India so that people will know how the Chinese
punish Tibetans who want to honor the Dalai Lama,” Ani Tsega said.

In his talks this week in Dharamsala, Lafitte
said that Chinese Communist Party leaders know in
their hearts that they can never win Tibetans over by coercion.

But they cannot imagine any alternative but to
slog on, which Lafitte said he believes will only
further unite Tibetans against them.
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