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14october20091In September 2009, Chinese officials invited Mario Sepi, president of the European Economic and Social Committee, and two other EESC representatives-Peter Clever from Germany, and Sukdev Sharma from the UK-to visit Tibet for a special fact-finding mission, the first of its kind since the March 2008 protests. On 14 October, Clever discussed the mission's conclusions at a press conference in the Tibetan exile center of Dharamsala, India.

The EESC members were told by the chairman of China's Economic and Social Committee, "It is of utmost importance...that you will see with your own eyes, and hear with your own ears," regarding the Tibetan situation. This is exactly what Peter Clever and his European companions did, in both Chinese-controlled Tibet and the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala.

Clever explained that during their Chinese-sponsored visit to Tibet, which took place September 11-15, the EESC members saw, "Only a part of Tibet-the capital, Lhasa-but we were well aware that this is not Tibet as a whole, and we know that more than 80% of Tibet population is living in rural areas."

Regarding his impression of the situation inside Tibet, Clever stated, "We saw that there is a huge investment in infrastructure to get connections from Tibet to China mainland and the outside world...and we really appreciated this...but our main question there was, ‘what about the investment in the Tibetan people-especially education?'"

"We've seen some schools and I think the Chinese central government is well aware of the necessity to get education," he continued, "but I think we will have further questions, especially after my impressions here [in Dharamsala]."

When the Tibet Post asked whether the EESC members were able to meet with Tibetan individuals-not just Chinese officials-Clever answered that the Chinese allowed his team a great deal of freedom to converse with "ordinary people" in Lhasa. The Tibetans he talked to echoed his concern that the Chinese should invest more in the Tibetans' education and social welfare, rather than focusing so narrowly on infrastructure. Another issue was that Chinese security forces on the streets of Lhasa frightened many Tibetans.

Clever also noted a marked socioeconomic difference between Chinese and Tibetans in the city-with Chinese dominating the "big shops"-and reported that he and his EESC colleagues had discussed with Chinese ways to "make the economic competition more fair."

After their time in Lhasa, the EESC representatives met with members of the Tibetan exile government and community in Dharamsala, to obtain a more complete view of the Tibetan situation.

Clever related that they met with several organizations, including the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV); almost all members of the Kashag, the Tibetan Cabinet-in-exile; and with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during a one-hour private audience.

"What I saw here," he reported, "is that Tibetans live what they claim: nonviolence and compassion."

This was a stark contrast from the claims made by Chinese officials that Tibetans living in exile are "terrorists," and Clever said he wished more politicians would come to Dharamsala and witness the nonviolent reality of the Tibetan exile capital.

Clever stressed that the EESC was not responsible for negotiating with the Chinese or for making any political decisions. Rather, their mission was, "to see the reality, to make reports about the reality, and to make proposals on what would be a better reality." For this reason, they refrained from asking the "most controversial questions" about independence or autonomy, but instead chose to focus on the living conditions of the ordinary people in Tibet.

"In this manner, I can discuss frankly and openly what I think with the Chinese, what my impression is, and some proposals on how to change the educational system," Clever explained.

Clever concluded the press conference by restating the importance of including exiled Tibetans in this discussion: "The reality to be found there in Tibet must be completed by the reality we were taught by those people who decided to leave their homeland...this [Dharamsala] is also a Tibetan reality."

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