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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Olympics can expose Tibet's fate

August 8, 2008

By Steve Lonegan
The Courier-Post (New Jersey)
August 5, 2008

Tibet, the broad, high plateau between India and China, is bigger
than Western Europe and the source of the great rivers of Asia: The
Indus, the Yangtze, the Yarlung Tsangpol and the Salween.

Mysterious and exotic, the roof of the world is the place of Tantric
Buddhism, seers and mystics capable of levitation and astral travel.
At least, it is to those who do not understand a civilization where
tradition and religion are living forces and whose peoples radiate a
serenity and gentleness long extinct in other societies.

Oppressed

I landed at Tibet's Gonggar Airport July 2001 on a private visit. The
emotionless faces and starched uniforms of the Chinese military
officials who supervised my arrival were the first reminder of
Tibet's political oppression.

Outside, Communist Party tour guides awaited their assignments. My
official Communist guide, Will, worked for the government-run tourist
agency. Bilingual banners, on which Chinese ideograms dwarfed elegant
Tibetan script, proclaimed Tibet as part of the rapidly advancing
Chinese motherland.

Americans are always anxious to tour sites in exotic places, but
never ready for the shock of traveling under the shadow of an
oppressive regime. My guide's goal was to indoctrinate me into the
communist view of Tibet. As the then-mayor of Bogota, New Jersey, the
Chinese apparently assumed I could assert influence on U.S. public opinion.

The public opinion the communist Chinese propagandists promote is not
a flattering picture of the Tibetan people. Since the Red Army
invasion of Tibet in 1949, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have
been exterminated and thousands of ancient Buddhist temples
destroyed. Religion is poison, the founder of the People's Republic
of China, the late Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, told the
Dalai Lama in 1954, just before the Dalai Lama and more than 150,000
followers fled to permanent exile in India.

After the invasion, China began a policy of ruthless repopulation,
moving millions of Chinese into Tibet. Will slandered the Tibetan
people from the moment we climbed into the Land Rover until I left
the country. The Dalai Lama, Will claimed, was responsible for having
the airport placed 60 dangerous miles from Lhasa, the world's highest
capital city at 15,000 feet, decades ago. Will said the religious
leader proclaimed airplanes should not be flying over the heads of Buddhists.

He gloated that now the Dalai Lama flies in first-class seating,
collecting huge speaking fees while staying in luxury hotels.

After destroying thousands of ancient sites and artifacts, the
Chinese government reluctantly admitted to the excesses of the
destruction of Mao's Great Leap Forward and began restoring and
packaging Tibet for tourist purposes. Will continued a carefully
rehearsed diatribe about the evils of the long line of Dalai Lama
spiritual leaders, describing their heinous methods of torturing
their enemies. There was no discussion of the message of peace that
is the center of the Buddhist faith.

Tibetans are small and smile frequently. They flock to monasteries on
pilgrimages to pray and offer gifts and incense.

As we headed across country over rugged terrain, at points the dirt
roads stopped altogether. Our guide Will pointed to the side of a
mountain to what he said was a road. Beijing is building a modern
road system that the Tibetans could never build, he said. They need
us here, he contended.

I asked him why we were not driving on the modern roads. There were
no modern roads on the entire trip. He told me they were still under
construction.

The Chinese have been in Tibet for 50 years. "How long does it take
them to build roads?" I asked. He ignored my question.

High in Tibet is a town called Shigatse, site of a military
installation. To visualize what the country is like at this height,
imagine being on Mars. Rugged, sparse vegetation and no air. Across
the narrow street from our simple hotel was an establishment where
very young girls in far too glamorous dresses sat and stood under a
sign that read "Massage Service."

China is attempting to develop and modernize Tibet, taking it into a
glorious future, tourists are told. There was no getting away from
this message, which was prominently advertised on the welcome arches
and billboards along every road. But the youth of the prostitutes was
proof that while the future might be glorious, the present was
hopelessly miserable for many.

I was curious why Beijing needed a military base in the middle of
nowhere. Will told me it was for defense. I asked, what defense? Was
the Chinese government afraid of the Tibetans seeking independence?
He ignored the question.

It appeared the base served to keep the Tibetans oppressed and to
filter more Chinese into the country.

Against the backdrop of a civilization being methodically eradicated,
these stories had one goal -- to demolish Tibetan society.

Long for freedom

As peaceful as the Tibetan people are, they do not lack the desire to
be free. Isolated from the rest of the world, it has been easy to
ignore their tragic plight. Media is tightly controlled and access is
difficult. Expanded trade with China leaves world leaders reluctant
to complain about the violations of human rights.

With the Olympics scheduled to start Friday, the world will get a
closer look at Tibetan suffering. It will be a sad reflection on
humanity if Tibet slips into oblivion once the Olympics end. Tibet
will not survive another 50 years of repopulation, persecution and
lying propaganda.

The writer, a former mayor of Bogota, is executive director of the
New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity.
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