Exiled Tibetan official slams 'cultural genocide'


Monday, July 08

- Online Edition, The Globe and Mail Toronto -

The man regarded by exiled Tibetans as their prime minister accused China on Monday of engaging in "a kind of cultural genocide" in his homeland but said he was hopeful Beijing would soon open negotiations to resolve more than a half century of dispute over the Himalayan region.

"What we are seeing is the disappearance of a nation and civilization," Samdhong Rinpoche said of the alleged settlement of millions of Chinese in Tibet. China, claiming Tibet as part of its territory, sent troops there after the 1949 Communist victory and has controlled the region since 1951.

Samdhong Rinpoche said during a visit to Toronto that 7.5 million Chinese have been transferred to Tibet from China proper since 1949. "They [the Chinese] see Tibet as a good place to release people from its overpopulated areas." Tibet's own population stands at six million. "There's demographic alteration, disappearance of Tibet's language, identity and culture.... Tibetans are marginalized economically," he told a news conference. Asked whether it was a genocide, he replied: "a kind of cultural genocide."

Samdhong Rinpochi also accused China of conducting a "physical genocide" in Tibet over the years. The Chinese Embassy denied the settlement allegation. "The central government has never carried out a policy of settling large numbers of people of the Han ethnic group in Tibet and there's no such thing as moving people of the Han ethnic group to Tibet at all," said an embassy statement. Han is the main ethnic group in China.

Samdhong Rinpoche was elected last September by Tibetan exiles worldwide as chairman - or prime minister - of their government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, India. There are about 120,000 Tibetans living abroad, most of them in India. Samdhong Rinpoche was in Toronto on the second leg of a North American tour to meet community members. He announced that the Dalai Lama will visit the city in 2004.

During the April 23-May 6 tour, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists will perform a ritual for world peace known as the Kalachakra or "Wheel of Time." The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner's previous visits to Canada were in 1992, 1990 and 1980. There are about 2,000 Tibetans in Ontario.

The Dalai Lama, 67, fled to India after an abortive uprising against the Chinese authorities in 1959. He has been visiting world capitals to drum up support for his "two-system, one country" peace plan since it was proposed in 1988. The five-point plan calls for a virtually independent Tibet with China handling military and foreign affairs. China has been cool to the idea but Samdhong Rinpoche said he was still hopeful Beijing would begin talks. "We believe that China will negotiate ... there's no way out." He warned that the dispute might take "a different turn" if Beijing fails to negotiate with the present Dalai Lama in his lifetime, but he did not elaborate.

China regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist leader. Beijing is sensitive to his foreign tours and regularly insists that government officials not meet him when he visits their countries. Meanwhile, a prominent Canadian backer of the exiled Tibetans lashed out at the federal government over its stance on the issue.

"I personally am ashamed by the government's position," said Senator Consiglio Di Nino of Ontario as he introduced Samdhong Rinpoche to reporters. He said Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's government had refused to get involved, saying Canada is too small a country to influence Beijing.

But Mr. Di Nino insists that is not true. He said the Canadian government had "prostituted itself" on the issue by giving more importance to trade than human rights and democracy. Despite this, Mr. Di Nino said, trade between Canada and China was 3-to-1 in favour of Beijing. Without reacting directly to the senator's charges, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said respect for human rights and religious freedom was an important objective of Canada's bilateral and multilateral agendas.

"Canada remains concerned about the human rights situation in China," said Marie-Christine Lilkoff. "Canada does not recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile but does recognize the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader...." Ms. Lilkoff urged the Chinese authorities to undertake dialogue in good faith with Tibetan religious leaders, and, especially with the Dalai Lama. "We believe that the human rights situation in Tibet is not likely to improve until the general human rights situation in China improves."

Mr. Di Nino said the number of legislators supporting the Canadian Parliamentary Friends for Tibet, a group established in 1989, had reached 88. "I hope that number will double soon."

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