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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibet: Fire on the Roof

March 15, 2008

The Times, London
March 15, 2008
The eyes of the world are on China's treatment of the Tibetans

China has unequalled armed capacity to suppress dissent, and has had
no compunction about using it - least of all in Tibet, a land whose
spirit China's rulers have been determined to break for more than 50
years. Well before this week's initially peaceable, and
extraordinarily brave, marches by Tibetan monks to mark the 49th
anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight into exile, China's security
forces had been put on high alert for Tibetan protests linked to the
Beijing Olympics, explicitly instructed by Communist Party officials
to do whatever it took "to bring those with ulterior motives under

By swiftly barring the monks' paths and bundling their leaders into
police vehicles, surrounding or occupying Lhasa's principal
monasteries and saturating the city with armed enforcers, Beijing's
strategy was to stifle the protest at birth. It backfired. Outraged
Tibetans rushed to the monks' defence, throwing stones and bars at
police, torching markets, cars and shops and venting their anger on
keenly resented Han Chinese merchants. Parts of Lhasa were set ablaze,
the wounded filled hospitals, and revolt rapidly spread across Tibet
and to former Tibetan territories annexed by China half a century ago.

Beijing has an uprising on its hands as serious, more widespread and,
above all, more keenly watched by the world than the last big Tibetan
revolts in 1989, which were brutally suppressed by the man who is now
President and party general secretary of China, Hu Jintao. Mr Hu put
down that uprising with mass arrests, torture and 13 months of martial
law. Only last week, he emphasised to the leadership of Tibet's
Communist Party that "Tibet's stability has to do with the entire
country's stability." There are unconfirmed reports of military
deployments. But breaking heads this time could cost China dear.

The crushing of Tibet is a human rights cause about which people
across the world care passionately. China's clumsy vilification of the
Dalai Lama, a great spiritual leader manifestly committed to peace and
tolerance, has made bad worse.

People who will never get near the Roof of the World care about the
fate of the Tibetans - and a bitter fate it has been. When Mao Zedong
marched Chinese troops in after the revolution, he pledged to respect
Tibetan traditions and its god-king, the Dalai Lama. He broke those
undertakings, and, after crushing the Tibetan uprising of 1959,
annexed nearly half the country outright, subjecting the remaining
Tibetan heartland to heavy-handed military and political occupation.
Tibetan suffering has been extreme. In the 1950s, collectivisation
brought famines; in the 1960s, more than 6,000 Buddhist monasteries,
the country's spiritual and cultural heart, were ripped apart in the
Cultural Revolution; and China has deliberately set out to destroy
Tibetan identity by swamping Tibet with Han Chinese settlers, who get
the best jobs and housing, and treat Tibetans like second-class
citizens. They live, as the Dalai Lama said in his 49th anniversary
speech this month, "in a state of constant fear, intimidation and
suspicion"; and repression has got worse, not better, mocking the
Dalai Lama's unavailing efforts to reason with Beijing.

China's instinct may be to use the Olympics to justify tough "security
measures". The last thing Beijing wants is, by acting gently, to
embolden other dissidents. But if China comes near the brutality of
the Burmese junta, that would give rise to disgust so strong that it
could defeat the spirit of the Games, even if it did not douse the
flame itself. Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, hinted as
much yesterday, pointedly linking the Olympic spirit to "Tibetan
aspiration, which China has to take into account". Beijing's protests
that the world has no business politicising the Olympics will do no
good. Already, China invites ridicule by its pathetic efforts to
accuse the Dalai Lama of sabotaging the Games. Western leaders must
hold China strongly to account. All heads of government should also
abandon their cowardice about receiving the Dalai Lama, not just as a
man of religion and Nobel laureate but as Tibet's legitimate leader.
He is due in London this May. Gordon Brown should announce forthwith
that the red carpet awaits him.
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