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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."

Tide is high in Tibetan economic fortunes

September 16, 2008

Tribune, UK September 15, 2008

Glyn Ford has been to see for himself how Tibet in the 21st century is 
faring after nearly 60 years under Chinese rule

ANY visit to Tibet is liable to leave you breathless. At Tibetan 
altitude, oxygen is only at 60 per cent of that at sea level, with the 
result that it takes several days to acclimatise. First impressions of 
Tibet are - at least on the surface - very different from its image in 
the West. The towns and cities are grids of paved streets lined with 
multi-story tower blocks labelled in Chinese and Tibetan. In the 
countryside, traditional Tibetan two-story courtyard housing is 
cluttered among monasteries and temples.

As is the case throughout China, the number of cranes shows the 
economy is booming. A rising tide floats all ships and Tibet - which 
constitutes one eighth of China's land area but only a quarter of a 
percent of its population - is benefiting accordingly.

The 60th anniversary of Tibet's "liberation" is fast approaching. 
Since it was made an autonomous region in September 1965, Tibet's 
gross domestic product has increased by a factor of 15, aided and 
abetted by the fact that China, partly due to international attention 
and interest, has pumped people and money into the economy. In the 
past 10 years, the equivalent of more than £8 billion has been 
invested in infrastructure and services by China's central government. 
This year, Tibet will finally have its rail link with China. Now 95 
per cent of its children will attend school, while the numbers living 
below the poverty line have shrunk from nearly 500,0000 to less than 
70,000 in 10 years, according to the local officials.

Chinese professionals are strongly in evidence. Almost 250,000 of them 
are currently in Tibet. The newspapers recently reported that 250 new 
graduates from Beijing's university of geology volunteered to come to 
Tibet this month. Hu Jintao, China's current president, once spent 
four years in Tibet.

The consequence of all this is that Tibet's GDP has grown by 2 per 
cent a year for the past four years. During the same period, some £16 
billion of foreign direct investment flowed into brewing, 
pharmaceuticals and tourism. Tourist industry revenues exceeded £100 
million for the first time in 2003. And Tibet has been opened up for 
Western tourists, as evidenced by the bustling market around Lhasa's 
Jokhang temple where visitors can buy Tibetan jewellery and yak bells, 
Buddhist robes and paintings.

The monasteries and temples are full of worshippers with no obvious 
impediments to religious freedom. The only problem in the major 
temples is the conflict between tourists and worshippers as the crowds 
jostle for position in front of the kaleidoscopic cocktail of Buddhas 
available, each with their own brand of salvation.

In the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa, one maroon-robed Tibetan lama -  
in the absence of any Chinese assistance - explained in perfect 
English that he had travelled last year to Nepal and India to visit 
monasteries and temples. He complained it had taken him a long time to 
obtain a passport and permission, but these had finally been granted. 
While there, he had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Dalai 

In another temple, as worshippers added ghee to dozens of candle 
holders and tossed small denomination notes in front of their Buddha 
of choice, another monk, again in faultless English, discussed the 
merits of the English football team and Michael Owen's future role in 
it. Owen's face is prominent in Tibet, pictured in advertisements 
extolling the merits of a particular brand of Swiss watch.

If Tibetan Buddhism now seems to be flourishing - and the Chinese 
acknowledge repression during the excesses of the Cultural Revolution 
- the same can also be said for Tibetan medicine. Chinese, Tibetan and 
Western medicine are all accessible. There are fearsome Tibetan 
medical instruments for, among other activities, tongue bleeding, so 
you might want to stick with an aspirin. But clearly the local 
population makes a different choice. When I was there, hundreds were 
at the Tibetan hospital to watch doctors engaged in a series of 
complex rites to ensure the efficiency of their medicine, watched and 
chanted over by senior monks and Lamas in a day-long ceremony. The 
herbs and animal parts are collected at an auspicious time according 
to the Tibetan astronomical calendar. Prescriptions are given based on 
date of birth and taste of urine. One prescription for high blood 
pressure consisted of three different sets of tablets - four in the 
morning, one in the afternoon and four in the evening.

Perhaps there something in this. After all the World Health 
Organisation is currently expressing enthusiasm about Chinese 
medicine's herbal cure for malaria.

On my visit, a Buddhist religious artifice calculated the weather for 
each day of next year. The current outlook seems settled.

Yet driving around, there is evidence of Chinese concern. The police 
and military are unobtrusive but present - which is not much different 
from elsewhere in China. Bridges have their guard posts and it is 
obvious that graffiti has previously decorated the walls of public 

Nevertheless, in the new-look China of the 21st century, thought 
control seems to be a thing of the past. The crime now is to organise. 
In Lhasa, independence activists are having as tough a time as trade 
union organisers are enduring in Beijing. These is a good reason for 
the European Union to continue and intensify its human rights dialogue 
with China and why we should welcoms the ongoing dialogue between the 
Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities.

Glyn Ford is Labour MEP for South West England. He was recently in 
Tibet as a guest of the Chinese government
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