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Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 14:37 UK

Key issues: Tibet

There are disputes between the Chinese and Tibetan exiled governments about the size and status of Tibet, not to mention current policies.

Sovereignty

Dalai Lama
Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama

The exiled government maintains that China had de facto recognized Tibetan independence in 1913, whereas both Communist China and the previous Republic of China governments say they always had sovereignty over Tibet but were temporarily unable to exercise it.

The Dalai Lama says that he would settle for substantial autonomy within China, whereas the younger generation of Tibetan nationalists at home and especially abroad still press for full independence.

What is Tibet?

The exiled government says that Tibet should include areas of the current provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan, which have significant Tibetan populations.

The Chinese government says these areas have been under direct Chinese rule for centuries. China recognizes only the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which excludes these areas, as Tibetan territory, adding that the rule of the Dalai Lamas 1913-1959 extended no further.

Repression

The exiled government says that 1.2 million Tibetans were killed by direct violence, deportation to camps or through disastrous economic mismanagement under the Great Leap Forward programme.

Various independent assessments doubt the high number of deaths, but still put the figure at between 200,000 and 800,000.

China strongly disputes these figures, and publishes statistics that show a steady increase in the Tibetan population and a current non-Tibetan component of no more than 6 per cent of the total. The exiled government in turn disputes all Chinese statistics.

Culture

Labrang monastery
The Labrang Tibetan monastery is outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region

The government in exile says that China has systemically destroyed Tibetan religious buildings and continues to discriminate against the language and culture.

China has acknowledged abuses during the Cultural Revolution, and says that the Communist Party has been leading a revival of Tibetan culture and language since 1980. It says it is restoring damaged monasteries and collecting previously unwritten literary material.

The government in exile says this is largely cosmetic promotion for the sake of tourism.

Development

The exiled government says that China's Western China Development Programme has developed Tibet disproportionately for the benefit of Han Chinese immigrants, who it says are already a majority in the Tibet Autonomous Region and benefit from government appointments. It also says Chinese population statistics did not include the number of Chinese troops garrisoned in Tibet.

The Chinese government points to a record of major improvement since 1950 in healthcare, education, GDP, infrastructure and employment, and accuses the Dalai Lama of having done nothing to advance these areas during his period in office.

It says GDP has increased 30-fold, Tibetan wages are the second highest in China, and life expectancy has risen from 35.5 years in 1950 to 67 in 2000.

It maintains that the Development Programme has no agenda to move Han Chinese into Tibet, but is part of a nationwide plan to spread the wealth of China's eastern coast to the underdeveloped west.

International response

Tibet, during its period of de facto independence 1913-1950, made little or no effort to seek international recognition or affiliation with world institutions. This meant that no country openly disputed China's claim to sovereignty. This state of affairs continues to this day.

The status of the Dalai Lama as leader of Tibetan Buddhism and his high personal profile as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate give him official access far above that of other exiled national leaders.

Governments that receive the Dalai Lama in his personal capacity risk the ire of the Chinese government, although Beijing itself has said on various occaisions that it is ready to talk to him about Tibet with certain conditions.

Since 1991, China has managed to block all UN resolutions on Tibet, which has no representation at that body.

The "Free Tibet" movement

Police patrol Lhasa
Police patrol the Tibetan capital Lhasa

The Tibetan cause has captured the imagination of people far beyond the Tibetan diaspora, largely because of the personality of the Dalai Lama and the largely non-violent nature of the Buddhist-led protest movement.

Under the slogan "Free Tibet" a number of groups worldwide, most prominently the International Tibet Independence Movement and the Indian-based Tibetan Youth Congress, campaign to highlight human rights abuses and alleged discrimination, with the aim of securing an independent Tibet.

These groups have won celebrity endorsement from the entertainment industry, and achieved high public prominence through their disruption of the progress of the Olympic flame in 2008.

Their radical demands and methods put them at odds with the position of the Dalai Lama, who has spoken in favour of the Beijing Olympics.


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