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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?"

Fifty years on, Tibet's cause is weaker but not crushed

March 11, 2009

China is guilty of cultural genocide in the Buddhist nation.
The Age (Australia)
March 12, 2009

FOR those who thought his public career was ending with a whimper, not a bang, the Dalai Lama has confounded expectations. This week the exiled Tibetan leader marked the 50th anniversary of his flight from his native land by declaring that during the past five decades Tibetans had experienced "hell on earth". The consequence of continual violent repression by the country's Chinese rulers, the Dalai Lama said, was that Tibet's religion, culture, language and national identity were nearing extinction. He did not call for independence, but renewed his long-standing demand that China grant Tibet "meaningful autonomy". Working for the cause of Tibet was the responsibility of every Tibetan, he said, and "whether we look at it from the global perspective or in the context of events in China, there are reasons for us to hope for a quick resolution of the issue".

That view of what might happen was emphatically rejected in Beijing, where a Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the Dalai Lama of lying, as Chinese Government spokesmen have so often done in the past. Then the spokesman launched into another familiar line: since its military occupation of Tibet in 1950, China had undertaken a comprehensive program of modernisation, culminating in the "widest and most profound" democratic reforms in Tibetan history.

No one, including the Dalai Lama, pretends Tibet was either a modern or a democratic society before the Chinese invasion. To suggest that China's brutal transformation of what it describes as an "autonomous region" has acquired democratic legitimacy, however, is to engage in the basest form of duplicity. The Dalai Lama has in the past described China's agenda in Tibet as one of cultural genocide, and the term quite accurately describes Beijing's combination of systematic attacks upon Tibetan Buddhist culture with a massive transfer of Han Chinese into the region. The aim has been to eliminate the nation of Tibet by making Tibetans a dwindling minority in their own land, and it is working.

There are those in the West who applaud China's boast that it has "liberated" Tibetans from superstition and monkish oppression, an argument that has an affinity with Indonesia's claims after its invasion of East Timor that it was a benevolent presence because the occupation had improved the Timorese people's access to education and health care. This sort of argument has always been the favoured self-justification of colonialists, whether benevolent or not so benevolent, and it ignores a simple fact: oppressed peoples do not regard better schools, hospitals and roads, or land reform and more potent fertilisers, as fair exchange for the loss of national freedom and assaults on their way of life.

Together with their predictable repudiation of the Dalai Lama's comments, China's rulers this week also dismissed aspirations in their own country for greater democratic freedoms. Wu Bangguo, the second-highest ranking Communist Party official, said in a speech to the National People's Congress that China would never adopt a multi-party system or any other features of Western democracies, such as an independent judiciary. If single-party rule were not maintained, Mr Wu said, a nation as large as China "would be torn by strife and incapable of accomplishing anything". It was a declaration that implicitly contradicted the usual Communist Party rhetoric about China's increasing strength and national unity; and it disappointed, yet again, those who had expected that economic liberalisation in the world's most populous nation would inevitably usher in political liberty, too.

China's emergence as an economic superpower has not tilted the global balance in favour of democracy. It is rapidly, however, changing the strategic balance: China, like the United States, is a country that the rest of the world cannot ignore. The Dalai Lama evidently hopes that the global recession might foment a democratic upheaval in China, which in turn would loosen China's grip on Tibet. That is possible, but it is just as likely that the recession, with the resultant weakness of the West, will lead to greater assertiveness by the communist leadership in Beijing.

Australia, as a medium-sized power dependent on trade with China, can do little directly to support those who uphold democratic ideals in Lhasa or Beijing. Our Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister can at least continue to refrain, however, from utterances that might allow China's rulers to think the wider world is duped by rhetoric that misnames repression as liberation.

THE bushfires royal commis sion begins its community consultations next week in the first of 13 towns affected by the fires. This process is essential for the com mission to gather infor mation, but, at this stage, access to that information is to be restricted and the con sultations are to be clo sed to the media.

The commissioner, retired Supreme Court judge Bernard Teague, says: "This is poten tially very sensitive information which may be difficult for individu als to share. On that basis, the ... commis sion is working to pro vide a safe environment in which people can express their views." Mr Teague also says the 23 sessions are not formal hearings and that infor mation from them will not be used as evidence but in a more general sense for future guid ance.

There may be a case for conducting some sessions confidentially, as is sometimes the case in court proceed ings. It does not follow, however, that a general exclusion of public scrutiny, and therefore of the media, is justi fied. Even though the consultations may be regarded as preliminary hearings, they will nevertheless influence the course of the proper hearings.

The bushfires have profoundly affected the lives of many people, but because of that, all Victorians are entitled to know what the royal commission may hear about their causes and what may be done to prevent future disasters on this scale.

Openness and accountability are essential qualities of courts and commis sions of inquiry. The Age agrees with the chair man of the Australian Press Council, Ken McKinnon, who says: "If a royal commission wants to gain the confi dence of the public, it must be seen to do its job openly."
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