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Opinion: The truth about Tibet

March 29, 2009

USA Today
March 27, 2009

China has pronounced Saturday "Serf Liberation
Day" in Tibet. In China's Orwellian account --
pushed in a media blitz and a Beijing exhibition
Tibetans lived in slavery until Chinese forces
"liberated" them a half century ago and moved
them "from darkness to light, poverty to affluence, dictatorship to democracy."

Never mind that Tibetans and most of the rest of
the world know better: that a Chinese invasion
forced the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' spiritual
leader, to flee with thousands of followers. He
is a Gandhi-like icon, publicizing Tibetans'
plight and seeking autonomy through peaceful means.

Anniversaries are a big deal in China, so 50
years after the Tibet invasion is an occasion to
push the Chinese toward a productive dialogue
with the Dalai Lama. The exiled leader proposes a
"third way" of autonomy, between Chinese
colonization and independence. But China demonizes him.

That is why it's so disheartening that the South
African government bowed to Chinese pressure and
refused the Dalai Lama a visa for a peace
conference last weekend. The organizers,
including a grandson of Nelson Mandela, were
right to then cancel the conference in protest.

Though China is becoming a world power to reckon
with, taking a principled stand is important.
South Africa, with which so many stood against
apartheid, should be particularly sensitive to
that. So should the U.S., which, as actor Richard
Gere and other activists point out, must continue
serving as a beacon of freedom and religious liberty.

China's long-term plan to crush Tibetans is
clear. In 1995, it kidnapped the Dalai Lama's
young chosen successor, or "Panchen Lama,"
appointing a substitute who spouts the official line. Tibetans reject him.

China should re-think. Crushing dissent is harder
in the Internet age. It blocked access to
YouTube, which has video of Chinese soldiers
beating Tibetan protesters. But campaigns on
Facebook and elsewhere keep the truth alive.

China would be wiser to court the Dalai Lama, who
has pushed for peaceful, not violent, protests.
He is in his 70s and when he dies, his force of restraint will go with him.

The Chinese can physically crush Tibetan protests
this weekend. They will have more trouble imposing their Big Brother narrative.

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