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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Fifty years of enslavement

March 29, 2009

by Dermod Travis
On Saturday (March 28) Tibetans will be forced to ‘celebrate’ the 50th anniversary of their alleged ‘emancipation’ by the Chinese military, in accordance with a decree issued in January by Chinese communist officials.
The Chinese government will doubtless lay on lavish ceremonies marking the occasion across Tibet. Journalists and foreign observers, if only they were permitted to travel freely in Tibet, might even be able to spot the sharp shooters stationed on rooftops to ensure that festivities are suitably celebrated and enjoyed by all. 
Vainly driving their propaganda even further afield, the Chinese government recently dispatched a delegation of officially sanctioned Tibetan officials to visit Washington, D.C., Toronto and Ottawa to sell China’s line on all things Tibet.
Of course, the delegation had to be closely chaperoned by embassy staff and monitored by ten Chinese journalists charged with providing copy for China’s official domestic news services. Unless invited, ordinary Canadians were not welcome at the handful of official events nor were some journalists who might beg to differ with spin that could best be described as ripped straight from the pages of the former Soviet Union’s mouthpiece Pravda.
Ironically, there was no discussion of a reciprocal exchange visit to Tibet by representatives of the Tibet Government-in-Exile nor was a single representative of the thousands of Tibetan political prisoners currently languishing in Chinese jails invited to share their thoughts and opinions during the tour either in person or by phone.
In spite of the communist government’s propaganda efforts, Tibetans are more than capable of recognizing this coming Saturday for what it is – the 50th anniversary of their enslavement.
Because no matter how zealously the Chinese government tries to rewrite its own history in regards to Tibet, it’s incapable of rewriting the history of other nations, of other historians, and individuals who bore witness to the atrocities perpetrated on the Tibetan people by the Chinese government.
Earlier this year, the Canada Tibet Committee released 68 pages of declassified Canadian documents related to China’s military invasion and occupation of Tibet. The documents offer rare insights and accounts of developments as they unfolded in the region.
As Canada’s Legation in Chungking, China noted in 1944: “…there is no doubt that official China is determined to ‘swallow’ Sinkiang, Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Kansu and Sikang, no matter what the people living in those regions may feel about the matter.”
In a November 1950 memorandum to Ottawa, Canada’s High Commissioner to India, Warwick Chipman, noted: “…if China owned Tibet…there would certainly be no point in sending an army to conquer it. The sending of an army is surely a confession that the matter is not domestic.”
Five days later, Canada’s External Affairs department circulated a legal opinion on the status of Tibet. The opinion stated: “It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well founded. Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction. In fact, it appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state.”
Canada’s views are all the more relevant because Canada had no vested interest in the region at the time. China’s economic might in 1950 required no currying of special favours as it may today.
In stark contrast to those early External Affairs opinions, Canada and a host of nations now attempt to justify a delicate balancing act between what they claim are competing interests in regards to our current diplomatic and trade relations with China.
But human rights and economic development are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin whether the nation in question is China, Sudan, or Zimbabwe.
The hunger for human rights is why over 200 Tibetans sacrificed their lives for freedom over the past year, including Pema Tsepak, the 24 year-old nephew of a Victoria resident beaten to death just last January. Their deaths symbolize the courage and determination of the Tibetan people in spite of the climate of fear that permeates Tibet. Their spirit has not and will not be extinguished by fake holidays designed to whitewash the atrocities of Chinese authorities.
Dermod Travis is the Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee,
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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