By Charles Onunaiju (Just back from Tibet, China)
Following some review articles of my book, “China-Africa: Issues, Challenges andpossibilities”, after it was presented to the public, a commentator queried in the punch newspaper of 1st February, 2013, “What’s Charles Onunaiju motive in grossly misleading Africans with his book on China-Africa when he wrote “history would completely absolve China of any colonialist intention or machination”, when in fact China has occupied Tibet since the 1950’s and even till today has steadfastly refused to grant the Tibetans their independence or allow their leader, the Dalai Lama to return” and added that history and governments need to know this history and watch the Chinese more warily”.
What happened in the 1950s as referred by the commentator was the peaceful liberation of Tibet, which ended the theocratic siege and clerical hegemony of Tibet in which more than 90% of Tibetans previously have no political or civil rights, but existed as serfs in a slaving owning society. The peaceful liberation guaranteed the civil and political rights of all Tibetans under the constitution and the rule of law. Tibet has been part of the China since ancient times and in the 13thcentury,the territory was formally incorporated into China’s Yuan dynasty. The subsequent dynasties, the Ming and Qing dynasties took further administrative measures to consolidate central administration and even established honorrific titles of the Dalai Lama and Pancha Erdeni. Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was no question of “Tibetan independence”. After the opium wars of the 1840s, China was reduced to a semi colonial country and the imperialist aggressors began to take advantage to carve up Chinese territory, including Tibet. At the turn of the century, the British launched two invasion of Tibet and as these attempts failed, the British imperialists began to cultivate local pro-British forces in a typical manner of “divide and rule” tactics also deployed in Africa and began the advocacy of Tibet independence with the ultimate aim to separate Tibet from China.
The imperialist fabricated “Tibet’s independence’ now find fading echoes in the 14th Dalai lama’s separatist establishment desperate to restore feudal serfdom in Tibet along with western anti-China forces bent on weakening China and restoring long lost imperialist privileges and influences. Unfortunately the Dalai Lama establishment with considerable western media vested interest has assumed the face of Tibet which most part of the world including Africa has come to know.
So when I received invitation from the China’s State information council to participate in an international conference tagged “Forum on the development of Tibet” in Tibet, I seized the moment with a single minded determination to reveal the true Tibet as best as I can to the world.
Arriving in Beijing, China’s beautiful capital on the 10th of August, we set off the next day to Tibet, which was a five hour flight from Beijing. The delegation from about thirty countries from across all regions in the world were nearly one hundred and included representatives of governments, parliaments, political parties, media, institutions of higher learning and research institutes as representatives of relevant institutions in China. Arriving at the Lhasa Airport in Tibet, the earth seemed almost lifted to the skies and I quickly realized why Tibet is referred to as the “roof of the world”. Tibet is actually the highest place in the world and apart from famously known as the “roof of the world”, is also known as the “third pole of the earth”. The areas above 4000 meters account for 85.1% of the whole region. There are more than 50 mountains above 7000 meters and 11 mountains above 8000 meters.
The whole region ranges from northern grasslands to the East valley with gradient distribution. According to geomorphological features, the region can be divided into 3 parts: the northern Tibetan plateau, the Yarlung Zangbo river basin and East Tibet valley region, with an area of over 1.2 million square kilometers and a population of 3.08 million, the ethnic Tibetans and other minority population on account for more than 92%.
For some of the delegates, including yours sincerely, it appeared we have just landed in the outer space but walking into the lounge of sprawling airport and been greeted by our hosts, who decorated us with a white silk around the neck that flowed down to the ankles, jolted to the reality that we are still in the mother earth, even though we are about 4000 meters above, what we are routinely familiar with. The journey to the Lhasa city, the capital of the Tibet autonomous region was the first taste of the several eye popping encounters, we were to witness for the rest of the one week in the region. When we boarded the bus, yours sincerely have actually wondered how the bus would climb mountains and descend to step valleys before bringing us to the destination. The broad tarred road that we set off from the Lhasa airport stretched forth ahead of us moving straight through elevated valleys and express tunnels constructed underneath the mountains rocks. Some tunnels have distances of about ten kilometers before bursting out again in the open land. Throughout the journey our escorts, mostly ethnic Tibetans in impeccable English explained that their home land was virtually inaccessible to the outside world until the generous and usually preferential intervention of the Chinese central authority, which has provided awe-inspiring infrastructure that has linked the “roof of the world with the rest of the world”. After about an hour of travelling through the construction wonder, we berthed at the luxurious Lhasa international hotel, which doubled as both our temporary home and the venue of the conference.
For a region of slightly more than 3 million people, the total miles of high way constructed in an inhospitable terrain is 70,000 kilometers and the Qinghai-Tibet railway, about two thousand kilometers which is the longest in the world”, points to a clear policy of comprehensive development inclusion and a strategy of integrated development.
A core observation which cannot escape any impartial observer is that a hard won improvement in Tibet autonomous region’s internal and external climate, which has defiled separatist attempts at destabilization over a period of six decades, has proved congenial to the process of development of a socialist market economy and harmonious society. There is a widening credibility gap between the make-believe world of the Dalai Lama-led “independence for Tibet” movement and on the ground Tibetan realities and this has undoubtedly resulted in unprecedented dis-orientation and confusion among the separatist elements.
The sustainable development of Tibet as an Autonomous Region of China within a socialist system, in a way that is tangible, all-round benefit to the 3 million people of Tibet Autonomous Region can be identified as one China’s key strategic goals. This development is a measurable, ongoing and increasingly open socio-economic, cultural and political process. Anyone who misses the strategy behind and the quality, contours and transformation impact of this ambitious development effort can be said to be hopelessly out of touch with reality, as my eye witness account could vouched for. The brainstorming session of the plenary of the meeting took a comprehensive view of the challenges and progress made in the development of Tibet. Key issues revolve around balancing development with the ecological and other environmental question, what would make for sustainable ecological balance. Aggregating the practical experience from field study of visitations to important cultural, administrative centre of the region and key infrastructure projects, delegates agreed in a joint communiqué that the Tibet autonomous region of China enjoys beautiful natural sceneries, profound Tibetan culture, sound economic growth, social harmony and happy people who enjoy modernity. There was also common understanding that the people are considerably well-off in the quality of their lives and all ethnic groups in Tibet are full of unprecedented confidence and energy about building an even better future.
Visiting the Potala palace, which was first built in the 7thcentury and rebuilt in the 17th century, the ancient monument which has 13 layers and 115.4 meters high is exquisite cultural melting pot.Having comprehensively to toured the colourful ancient monument listed in the “world cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 1994, there was a consensus that Tibet is filled with traditional cultural atmosphere and that fine traditional and cultural relics have been well preserved.
The unique Tibetan culture is reflected in every aspect of the daily life of the people and that this was the result of the dedication to and efforts of the central government and the Peoples government of Tibet in saving, preserving and protecting Tibetan culture. A visit to Jokhang Temple attests to splendid colourful religious activities and freedom of the Tibetan people. Prayer flags, pilgrims and people burning plants for religious purpose are seen almost everywhere on the streets of Tibet. The temples are crowded with worshippers, pilgrims and tourist who wereeagerly observing the worship mode.
Unanimously, we came to the conclusion that what we saw in Tibet is completely different from the propaganda of the 14th Dalai Lama who presents to the world a distorted and false accounts of Tibet. We also agreed that much of the coverage of Tibet by certain western media is biased which has led to the misunderstanding of many people on the real situation and condition of Tibet.
After nearly a week of brainstorming and field work, we arrived in Nyingchi prefecture, travelling by road for nearly ten hours, along the express high way, we meandered through mountains capped by white bright snows, stopping intermittently to savour the wonders of nature in out of this world landscape and coming across occasionally, ethnic Tibetan herdsmen living in the splendor of their natural environment dotted by electricity power grids stretchingto the last helmet, to connect the ordinary Tibetans to China’s epochal modernization drive. On the last day in the beautiful land of the Tibet autonomous region of China, the young pretty Tibetan damsels treated us to a sumptuous farewell dinner followed with a traditional fire dance, and in an irresistible pull that soaked in almost every member of the delegation, yours sincerely joined the fray to wriggle my waist in my first ever dance since my adult years.