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An open letter to Hu Jintao

January 24, 2011

19 Jan 2011
The Asian Age

Dear Hu Jintao,

As the Chinese leader most closely associated with Tibet, you have
declared Tibet to be one of the most sensitive “core issues” in the
US-China relationship. We expect that it will be high on the agenda of
your discussions with President Obama this week.

Mr Hu, you began your rise to power as Party chief in Tibet (although
you didn’t enjoy the altitude in Lhasa), and you have been instrumental
in setting and implementing policy on Tibet. As the succession process
begins in the Chinese Communist Party, what will be your legacy on Tibet?

Tibetans have not forgotten that you presided over that terrifying time
of martial law in Lhasa in 1989 — and you were one of the first regional
leaders to congratulate those who ordered the troops to open fire on
Tiananmen Square three months later.

Today, there is a deepening crackdown in Tibet. Tibetans have risked
their lives to express their loyalty to their leader the Dalai Lama and
their anguish as a result of more than 50 years of suppression. Your
response has been to strengthen the very measures that caused the
largely peaceful wave of protests that swept across Tibetan areas of the
PRC from March, 2008 onwards. You have tightened control to suffocation
point, imposing new measures that weaken the institutions of Tibetan
Buddhism and undermine Tibetan language, bedrock of its culture.
Although you are leader of a Communist state that promotes atheism, you
have even declared that Tibetan lamas cannot be reincarnated without
government permission.

Your actions point to profound contradictions in China’s leadership
today. While you demonstrate increasing strength and aggressive
authority in your assertions towards global leadership, you regard
peaceful disagreement with the juggernaut top-down policies of the
Communist Party as a threat to your nation’s “security”. The latter is
not the approach of a strong state. As Tibetans, we are not alone in
believing that the measure of greatness of a nation is not only based on
turbo-charged mercantilism. We believe that ultimately if China is to
achieve greatness you must lead with a moral authority and take into
account the wishes and genuine grievances of the Chinese and Tibetan

The need for change is urgent. Your government and Party have engaged in
a systematic attack on the rule of law and civil society. You
characterise two of the most progressive and important voices for peace
on the world stage today — our leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and
Chinese scholar Liu Xiaobo — as “criminals”. Tibet is under virtual
lockdown, with ever longer prison sentences being imposed as ultimately
futile attempts to silence the peaceful expression of views. Do you want
the leitmotif of your legacy to be a hellish, constricting fear?

Mr Hu, you can no longer say that what happens in Tibet is simply a matter

of China’s “internal affairs”. Tibet is a “core issue” for the world,
not just for China. Tibet is the earth’s ‘Third Pole’ with the world’s
largest reserves of freshwater outside the Arctic and Antarctic. The
fragile ecology of the Tibetan plateau, the source of most of Asia’s
major rivers including the Yangtze, is of critical importance to the
water-dependent societies in downstream nations. And yet you have
developed and are pursuing fast-track economic strategies and damning
projects that are known to contribute to the adverse effects of global
warming and risk devastation in downstream communities, including India.

Twenty-first century thinking requires us to move beyond 19th century
nation-building based on the exploitation of natural resources. There is
an increasing consensus among Chinese, Tibetan and Western scholars that
your policy of settling nomads in Tibet is leading to environmental
degradation and increasing poverty. Scientists say that the traditional
ecosystem knowledge of Tibetan nomads protects the land and livelihoods
and helps restore areas already degraded. The involvement of Tibetans is
essential to sustaining the long-term health of the land and water
resources that China and the rest of Asia depends upon.

Mr Hu, a new generation of leaders has a responsibility to listen to
voices for change from Tibet and China, and to deal responsibly with
Tibet policy.

It is not too late for you to take an important and historic step before
the succession runs its course, with regard to another important

The Dalai Lama is recognised by the world as the pre-eminent
representative of the Tibetan people. The potential for instability
increases, not decreases, after he passes away. Now is the time for a
far-sighted Chinese leadership to engage with this moderate, influential
leader — who is revered by thousands of Chinese, too — before it is too

We hope that your visit to Washington is fruitful.

Tencho Gyatso, Tsering Jampa, and Pema Wangyal are from the International

Campaign for Tibet
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