1. The United States waivers between support for Tibet and improving relations with China
The United States is seeking improved relations with China, and in 2009, the country's foreign policy concerning economic and environmental cooperation with China took center stage, casting a shadow on the Tibetan issue. In October 2009, President Obama took the advice of a Chinese spokeswoman, and did not meet with the Dalai Lama on his most recent visit to the U.S.
Obama met with Hu Jintao in November, and although he spoke about the need for human rights and individual freedom, he acknowledged Tibet as a part of China. President Obama also encouraged the renewal of talks between Beijing and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's envoys. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly stated in February 2009 that China's human rights abuses should not be brought into efforts for cooperation on climate change and the global economy.
In a 2008 report, The U.S. State Department stated that, in Tibet, "official repression of freedom of speech, religion, association, and movement [has] increased significantly," and individual freedoms have "deteriorated severely during the year" after the widespread protests of March 2008. The U.S. government failed to directly address the grave situation in Tibet in 2009, although Mrs. Clinton did comment this month on the need for both China and Russia to respect the rights of their national minority populations.
2. China-EU relations concern Tibet
Despite China's disapproval of other nations' relationships with Tibet, many European countries continued to align with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2009. In January 2009, the rotating EU presidency fell in the lap of the prime minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek. Even though the Czech PM refused to attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China is insistent on improving relations with the EU. The Tibet issue could be China's trading card in order to move forward with the EU.
Widespread support and praise of the Dalai Lama was voiced by many European nations this year. In February, Rome announced that it would make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen of the city because of "his international efforts to bring about a peaceful solution for Tibet." During this month, His Holiness also received the German Media Prize, acknowledging his "continuing commitment to the freedom of speech, peace, religious harmony and his great efforts to secure greater autonomy for Tibet through middle-way approaches." The Tibetan spiritual leader reported a warm reception during his time in Italy and Germany in 2009.
Tibetan authorities maintained good relations with European nations in 2009. The special envoy of the Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyaltsen, formally addressed the European Parliament in March. He said that he was thankful for the EU's "consistent and principled support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his efforts to find a peaceful solution for Tibet."
Chinese policy in Tibet was scrutinized again when China sought to improve relations with the UK. In April, Prince Charles met with Hu Jintao for the first time. The prince openly supports the Dalai Lama, and has hesitated to develop friendly relations with China in the past. In this meeting, Prince Charles and the Chinese president covered a range of issues on which the two countries hope to cooperate, including the situation in Tibet. In the same month, Dutch authorities invited His Holiness to visit their parliament, despite warnings from China that it would damage the relationship between the two countries.
In September, 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. At a press conference in Dharamsala on 14 October, Clever spoke about his impressions of Lhasa, stating that the Chinese are placing a great emphasis on development and infrastructure, but neglecting Tibetans' social welfare and educational reform. He stated, "We've seen some schools and I think the Chinese central government is well aware of the necessity to get education...but I think we will have further questions, especially after my impressions here [in Dharamsala]." According to Clever, the delegates also discussed with Chinese officials ways to "make the economic competition more fair" for Tibetans, and were allowed to talk freely with Tibetans on the street in Lhasa.
3. Tibetan Authorities Speak Out Against Chinese Abuse
At the beginning of this year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his strong hope for a change in Chinese policy in Tibet, while admitting that his confidence in China's communist regime is fading. On January 18th, he said that "contact with Chinese officials is becoming difficult... our faith towards (Chinese) government now becoming thinner and thinner. However, our faith towards Chinese people is never shaken."
The Dalai Lama called China "dictatorial," and commented that the Tibetan government in exile has yet to receive a response to the Memorandum for Genuine Autonomy that was proposed in July 2008. Prof: Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the government-in-exile, said that the Chinese have spoken to international media about the proposal, but not directly to Tibetan authorities.
During a press conference held on March 11, 2009, Prof. Samdhoung Rinpoche, Prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile said that the Tibetan community is "prepared for another hundred years of struggle". He stated, "We will wait and continue our effort, and the day will come when the issue is resolved."
In April 2009, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the United States, and spoke about both China and U.S. positions on human rights. The Dalai Lama acknowledged that China has great political and economic power, but stated that it needs "the world's trust and respect" to reach the level of a superpower. According to His Holiness, China must correct its policy of oppression in Tibet in order to earn this trust and respect.
The Tibetan government-in-exile also confronted China in 2009. They issued a public letter to the Chinese government on April 28th, asking to know the whereabouts and health of His Eminence Panchen Rinpoche Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama. Since he was captured by the Chinese government under Jiang Zemin in 1995, Chinese authorities have said no more than "all is well with H.E. Panchen Rinpoche." The letter stated, "we call on you to make it clear to the whole world whether H.E. Panchen Rinpoche is still alive or not and if H.E. Panchen Rinpoche is alive, details of his well being and whereabouts should be made public. We also urge you to reinstate H.E. Panchen Rinpoche Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to his rightful position."
4. Dhondup Wangchen's detainment provokes international outrage
On 26 March, 2008, Chinese authorities arrested Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen for his documentary "Leaving Fear Behind", which features 25 minutes of interviews with ordinary Tibetans about their views on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the current situation in Tibet, and their hope for the Dalai Lama's return. In 2009, Wangchen was nominated for the Reporters Sans Frontier's (RSF) International Media Award due to his courageous documentary.
Wangchen was charged by the Chinese in June 2009, and RSF launched an international petition campaign for his release that same month. More than 13,000 people had signed the petition by the end of July. Wangchen's wife, Lhamo Tso, actively supported the RSF campaign by releasing her own press statements and videos affirming her husband's innocence. Meanwhile, reports that Wangchen is suffering from Hepatitis B and has been denied access to his lawyer, Li Dunyong, further infuriated activists worldwide.
Tibetan exile groups and supporters called for a Global Day of Action for Dhondup Wangchen on 23 September. The international demonstrations were scheduled to coincide with Chinese President Hu Jintao's address to the United Nations General Assembly. In Dharamsala, four NGOs conducted a day-long signature campaign and sent 1000 postcards to President Hu demanding Wangchen's release.
"Free Dhondup Wangchen!" became the international motto for resistance to China in 2009.
5. Tibet's significance highlighted in debates on global climate change
"Welcome to our country, city and home, Your Holiness," said President Luis Durnwalder of South Tyrol. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in November visited Bolzano and Trento, the capital cities of the Regional Autonomous Governments of South Tyrol and Trento, in northern Italy. His Holiness expressed his appreciation for the support of the people and governments of the two autonomous regions. President Durnwalder asked about the situation in Tibet. His Holiness replied that it has worsened.
Delegates to the 5th World Parliamentarians' Convention on Tibet, which took place 18-19 November in Rome, have published a new declaration regarding the Tibetan issue. In this declaration, the Parliamentarians expressed their support for the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach, decried the Chinese government's human rights abuses, and pledged to take action regarding the Tibetan issue in several different ways.
Before the UN Copenhagen summit on climate change in December, Chinese officials announced a plan to cut the country's level of greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45% over the next ten years. China is currently the second largest emitter in the world, after the US.
At the summit, a Tibetan delegation led by environmental researcher Tenzin Norbu presented a report on how climate change-induced glacial melting in Tibet will affect all of Asia, and discussed strategies to prevent further damage to the world's "third pole". He emphasized that China must change its policies, specifically its ruthless urbanization and displacement of Tibetan nomads, who have served as the plateau's environmental stewards for centuries.
In an open letter to Copenhagen participants entitled "Tibet's Role in Climate Change Solutions", members of the International Parliamentary Network on Tibet affirmed that the Chinese must allow Tibetans to play an important role in maintaining their environment. This letter, a part of the "Rome Declaration on Tibet", produced in November, was signed by 35 Parliamentary members from 17 countries.
1. Heavy violence and Arrests are reported in Eastern Tibet
Reports of arrest and military action against non-violent protests in areas of eastern Tibet trickled down the strained lines of communication between Tibet and media as 2009 unfolded. In February 2009, Lobsang Lhundup, a Buddhist monk in the Lithang district of Tibet, was arrested for protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Twenty-one others who marched with him were arrested the following day. Later that month, China deployed 4,000 more military troops to the Lithang District, after hundreds of protestors filled the streets, yelling "Free Tibet!" There were reports of 22 protestors being arrested, and one source said that the leaders of the protest, Sonam Tenpa and Lobsang Tenzin, may be dead. It was reported that all Tibetans in the area were forced to attend "so-called ‘emergency meetings,'" and that all roads in Lithang and other districts were shut down.
In April 2009, thirteen trucks of Chinese military police were brought into Nyakrong County to suppress a non-violent protest that occurred on the 5th. It was reported that the crowds resisted arrest, and that the Chinese authorities began to shoot at the protestors. The incident yielded no casualties, but many Tibetans were injured, and nine of the protestors were arrested.
Also in April, four Tibetan monks from Lutsang monastery in Mangra district, were sentenced to 2 years in prison for participating in a peace march and candle light vigil in front of a Chinese official building. In the Walpan township of the Machu District, two-hundred Chinese police also stormed into a traditional festival at the Sarma Monastery. It was reported that "they publicly searched, frisked, and beat participants." There were also reports of the arrests of fifteen Tibetan protestors in the Kham Tehor district. These prisoners were loaded into military trucks with participants of a separate protest in which farmers in the area refused to cultivate their land.
In December, a group of 300 Tibetans, including some elderly and childen held a hunger strike in front of a Chinese government building in Thangkarma, Othok, Lithang county. The Chinese reportedly sent hundreds of troops to quell the protest. The day before the hunger strike took place, 90 Tibetans were arrested in the Nyakchu district of Lithang county. Witnesses claimed that over twenty of these people were beaten and many lost consciousness.
2. Authorities Strictly Prohibit Media Inside Tibet
Although Chinese authorities claimed that Tibet would be open to foreign media in April of 2009, reports of restrictions on media access and arrests continued to accumulate during this year. Ironically, most of the reports of information restrictions became public during this month.
In March, a monk named Thuksam, from Nurma monastery, was arrested and accused of "sending reports about human rights violations to organizations abroad." Information was never released about where he was being held. Another monk named Tsuiltrim, belonging to Ngaba Gomang monastery was arrested in April for publishing his private journal, which Chinese authorities labeled as "anti-government writings." It is still unknown where he is detained. Also during this month, Chinese authorities limited access to files containing the cases of Tibetans who have been arrested.
The Tibetan government in exile publicized footage of the torture of Tibetans at the hand of the Chinese police in March. The Chinese government responded by calling the video "fraudulent," and blocking the YOutubet website in China.
Restrictions of foreign television, internet, and radio in the Machu district of Ganzu Province were also revealed in April. A Tibetan from this area commented, "Chinese officials in the area give strong warnings to Tibetans living in Machu District, prohibiting access to internet, radio and television such as exile Tibetan websites including Radio Free Asia or Voice of America." It was also reported that authorities installed "dozens of satellite dishes while confiscating those belonging to private individuals."
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the international free press organization,reprehended China in 2009 for its restriction on information in Tibet, and in the nation itself. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced their concern for the safety of "journalists and website editors who have been arrested in the past few months in Tibet and neighboring Tibetan regions."
RSF also announced that foreign press experienced increased difficulty in attempts to visit Tibet in 2009, and that "free speech is suppressed even more ruthlessly there than in the rest of China." The organization said that a Tibetan culture website was also closed in 2009, and that, in the Sichuan province, SMS services were cut off. The silencing of free speech and all forms of media worsened after the events of March 2008, and Reporters Without Borders has said that Chinese authorities impose the official version of events, denying the existence of Tibetan victims." They also said that China increased nationalist propaganda leading up to the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising on March 10th.
Foreign press was unable to visit Tibet in 2009, as has been the case for many decades, until April 1st. The trend of guided media tours resumed, and it is dangerous for press officials to venture off alone. Two Hikari journalists were detained in early February in Xiahe, the town in Gansu province, and forced to leave the country. Another reporter from the New York Times, Edward Wong, was held in custody by Chinese police in 2009 for investigating the military presence in the Gansu province. The Associated Press also announced that two of its reporters were arrested in Tibetan regions in 2009. Chinese authorities have made it unsafe for foreigners as well as Tibetans to transmit and document information.
1. Tibetan exile youth raise their voices for human rights in Tibet
In 2009, Tibetan youth groups tried to refocus international attention on human rights and freedom in Tibet. The Tibetan-Himalayan Students Association, based in Varanasi, and the Tibetan Youth Congress both planned public activities in place of the Tibetan Losar, or New Year. They referred to 2009 as a "Black Year," during which many Tibetans mourned the loss of 219 citizens inside Tibet due to Chinese brutality in 2008.
On 17 April, students from the Tibetan Children's Village in Bylakuppe demonstrated in front of the Chinese Embassy in New Dehli, decrying the recent death sentences of two Tibetan protesters. The performed what was referred to as a "mock die-in," chaining themselves to a fence, throwing shoes, and chanting for Tibetan freedom.
In the San Francisco bay area, Students for a Free Tibet, SF Team Tibet, Bay Area Friends of Tibet, the SF branch of the Tibetan Youth Congress, and other Tibetans and supporters conducted a candlelight vigil on 24 October to mourn four Tibetans who were executed by Chinese authorities for their alleged involvement in the 2008 protests (SF Team Tibet stated that this was the first known execution of Tibetans since 2003). They demanded that China respect international law, and its own constitution, in granting prisoners fair and open trials. Similar vigils and protests were held in India, and throughout the world.
Huge protests took place in India on 1 October, the 60th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China, with the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women's Association, and two other exile NGOs organizing demonstrations in Dharamsala and at the Chinese embassy in New Delhi. Over 400 monks, nuns and laypersons marched through the streets of Mcleod Ganj for over two hours, carrying Tibetan flags and shouting slogans against China. Afterwards, Ven. Ngawang Woeber, President of the Gu Chu Sum ex-political prisoner's movement, TWA President Kirti Dolkar Lhamo, exile Parliament Speaker Pemba Tsering, and Tibetan Youth Congress President Tsewang Rigzin spoke out against the Chinese occupation's violence and propaganda.
In the lead up to President Obama's visit to China, Students for a Free Tibet led a campaign to send thousands of letters to the White House calling for concrete action on Tibet. The organization's executive director, Tenzin Dorjee, stated, "In March 2008, Tibetans rose up in a clear rejection of Chinese rule... It is well past time for leaders of the world's democracies to stand up for the Tibetan people's right to freedom."
2. His Holiness continues to teach and lecture across India and the world
During a visit to the US in March and April, His Holiness gave teachings at top American universities such as Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley. He returned to North America in late September to receive three prestigious awards: the International Freedom Award, from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the Vancouver-based Fetzer Institute's $100, 000 Prize for Love and Forgiveness (along with Desmond Tutu); and the US Congress's first Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize, an award commemorating the late Congressman, Holocaust survivor and longtime human rights activist. He also met with US President Obama's new Tibet Coordinator, Maria Otero, in place of a cancelled meeting with the President himself.
Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan in early August 2009, causing massive landslides and flooding that left 461 people dead and almost 200 missing, in the country's worst natural disaster in 50 years. Exiled Tibetans held numerous prayer ceremonies for the victims, and His Holiness made a historic humanitarian visit to the island on 31 August-4 September to console the typhoon's survivors. He was invited by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, who released a statement that, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not just the Tibetan spiritual leader, not just a religious leader, but also a universal symbol of love and peace...We believe that his prayers and lectures will help stabilize the minds of those recovering from the typhoon, and help Taiwan rise up again." Needless to say, China strongly opposed this humanitarian visit, and the event severely strained Taiwan's relations with the mainland.
In the face of more Chinese outrage, His Holiness traveled to the contested Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh in early November to teach before an audience of 30,000 at the 400 year-old Tawang Monastery. Despite His Holiness's assurances that the teachings and public talks at Tawang, Bomdilla, and Dirang were socio-religious, and non-political, the visit was controversial enough that Indian officials banned foreign reporters from covering the events, and requested that Indian journalists not ask the Tibetan leader any questions throughout his visit.
In 2009, the busy Tibetan spiritual leader also paid visits to Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Europe (receiving honorary citizenship in Paris, France, and Warsaw, Poland), and the Ladakh region of northern India, and gave several teachings in Dharamsala at the request of his Korean, Taiwanese, Southeast Asian, Russian and other Buddhist followers.
3. Exile community continues to preserve Tibetan religion and culture, while promoting modern education
Tibetan students at TCV schools across India excelled in this year's Class XII Board Examination, a national test conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education in March 2009. While the pass rate in India is 81%, the Tibetan schools attained 92.77%, a 3.25% improvement over last year's scores. Students at the TCV school in Gopalpur achieved a perfect 100% pass rate.
On 27 July, Tibetan students from ten colleges located throughout India gathered at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies (CHTS) at Sarah (near Dharamsala) to participate in the third annual debate on the Tibetan exile system of secular education. Tibetan Prime Minister Prof Samdong Rinpoche and Speaker Penpa Tsering inaugurated the event, during which participants discussed topics such as exiled Tibetans' basic approach to education, specialization in different fields of study, and methods to improve the standard of education for Tibetans in exile.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama opened the 5th Tibetan Conference on Education, organized by the Tibetan exile government, on 27 December. 241 teachers and principals based in India, Nepal and Bhutan came together for three days to discuss the basic system of education in exile. In his opening speech, the Tibetan leader declared, " In the last 50 years in exile, Tibetan education has greatly developed, and that is our greatest achievement." He also stressed the role of Buddhist philosophy as undergirding a "culture of peace" which can help the whole world, and the importance of teaching this philosophy to future Tibetan generations alongside secular subjects.
Several conferences in India this year were focused solely on Tibet's religious and cultural traditions. On 3 September, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) in Dharamsala hosted the first International Seminar on Tibetan and Himalayan studies, which was attended by 50 scholars from various countries both in Asia and the West. The participants discussed topics such as religion, history, philological research, social studies, traditional customs, material arts, secularism, linguistics, and surrounding civilizations. His Holiness delivered the valedictory address at another three-day conference, entitled "Exploring Tibet's History and Culture", which was held at Delhi University from 19-21 November. 40 scholars from the UK, US, Europe and Asia attended this event.
A "Thank You India" ceremony in Bangalore, which took place from 22-24 November, showcased Tibetans' cultural heritage. On the last day of the festival, renowned translator Geshe Lhakdor gave a speech emphasizing the continued relevance of Buddha's teachings in today's world. The 10 December celebration marking the 20th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Nobel Peace Prize also featured traditional Tibetan dancing and singing, as well as the release of several new books by Tibetan authors.
Artitle by Amy and Caroline, The Tibet Post International