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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge:
"His homeland is a mountain range away"
 real 28k

The BBC's Belinda Rhodes
"Beijing cracked down harshly on religion and Buddhist traditions."
 real 28k

Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Tibet: Flashback to the Chinese 'deal'
Lhasa askyline
Chinese immigrants in Lhasa outnumber Tibetans
By Belinda Rhodes

It is 50 years since the signing of a 17-point agreement between Tibet and China. Beijing had begun its occupation of Tibet and was in uncompromising mood over what it regarded as the reunification of all China's territories.

At the time, even the Tibetan leaders believed the agreement would bring them some benefits, but it did not turn out the way they hoped.

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama believes in autonomy for Tibet
As the troops advanced, Chinese radio broadcast that it was sending soldiers to exercise "their sovereign rights and liberating the Tibetan people".

China began moving into Tibet in October 1950, marching first into the east and easily overpowering Tibetan defence forces.

China's Communist government - then only a year old - hoped to gain legitimacy by carrying out what it regarded as the reunification of China.

'Feudalistic practices'

By May 1951, most of eastern Tibet and parts of the west were under Chinese occupation.

It was against this background that Tibet's religious leaders - including the young Dalai Lama himself - agreed to the 17-point plan.

14th Dalai Lama
July 1935: Born
Feb 1940: Enthroned
Nov 1950: Assumes full political power
1959: Flees Tibet
1973: First visit to West
1989: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

"The Tibetan leaders at the time were very young and inexperienced, but nevertheless, their feeling was that this would provide them with enough of a capacity, if you like, to run their own affairs, to ensure that their religious orders would continue, that their society would not be greatly changed and they knew it would be an uneasy relationship with the Chinese," explained Professor Michael Yehuda of the London School of Economics.

"The communists, in particular, of course were concerned at what they regarded as fuedalistic practices in Tibet, but nevertheless, they committed themselves to alarming the Tibetans, quite a long lean time before they would be expected to move towards the level of socialism that existed within China."

The Dalai Lama today remembers the agreement as a document which should have embodied the original spirit of the "one country, two systems" idea, now more familiar in Hong Kong.

Tibetan elite revolted

He says the Chinese Government promised to respect the unique nature of Tibet, with its Buddhist religion and culture. But history tells a different story.

"That pattern really broke down in 1959 when many of the Tibetan elite revolted," said Professor Yehuda.

"That led to the fleeing of the Dalai Lama, and therefore the issue since then has been about whether or not the Chinese are really looking after Tibetans and Tibetan culture, or whether the fact they are undermining it, if not destroying it."

After the Dalai Lama fled, Beijing cracked down harshly on religion and Buddhist traditions.

Today Chinese immigrants, who have brought a degree of prosperity, outnumber Tibetans in the capital Lhasa.

But Tibetans are divided as to whether they should strive for outright independence or for some other system which would at least allow the preservation of their culture.

The Dalai Lama himself believes in autonomy, but with Beijing refusing to meet him, even this seems a distant goal.

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See also:

23 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
China anger over US visits
09 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China renews attack on Dalai Lama
11 Mar 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tibetans keep their faith
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