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China Continues Crack Down on Tibet Protests

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China has acknowledged for the first time that anti-government protests in Tibet over the past few days have spread to other provinces. The protests erupted last week when Buddhist monks took to the streets of Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. We speak with Lhakpa Kyizom, a Tibetan activist in Dharamsala, India, and Robert Thurman, president of Tibet House US. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move now to Tibet and China. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, China has acknowledged for the first time that anti-government protests in Tibet over the past few days have spread to other provinces. The protests erupted last week when Buddhist monks took to the streets of Lhasa to mark the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Chinese authorities responded by sending in hundreds of troops to crack down on the demonstrators. Human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. China has placed strict limits on Western journalists trying to report on the unrest, with the last foreign journalist known to be in Lhasa being forced to leave, according to the BBC.

Meanwhile, Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has accused China of waging cultural genocide and threatened to step down as Tibet’s political leader if the violence continues.

    THE DALAI LAMA: As early as ’87, again in this very room, the British journalist Jonathan Mirsky — I interviewed here. And he asked me, “If these things become out of control, violence, tell what you do.” Then I categorically regret. Immediately I told, if things become out of control, then my only option is completely resign, completely resign.

JUAN GONZALEZ: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is ready to talk to the Dalai Lama if he renounces the violence and demands Tibetan independence.

    PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN: I spoke to Premier Wen of China this morning, and I made it absolutely clear that there had to be an end to violence in Tibet. And I hope that all sides of the House will agree with that. I also called for constraint, and I called for an end to the violence by dialogue between the different parties. The premier told me that subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said — that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence — that he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But just a day earlier, the Chinese Premier accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the violence.

    PREMIER WEN JIABAO: [translated] We have ample evidence to prove that this incident was organized, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai Lama clique. This is all the more revealed, that the consistent claims by the Dalai Lama clique, that they pursue not independence but peaceful dialogue, are nothing but lies.

AMY GOODMAN: The wave of anti-government protests in Tibet come less than 200 days before the start of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Tibetans living in exile have been holding protests across the globe and have called for a boycott of the Games.

Lhakpa Kyizom is with us, a Tibetan activist. She’s on the phone from Dharamsala in India. She works at a Tibetan NGO called the Active Non-Violence Education Center. [We’re] also joined on the phone by Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University and president of Tibet House US, a cultural preservation nonprofit. His forthcoming book is called Why the Dalai Lama Matters: How His Act of Truth is a Solution for China, Tibet and the World.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Lhakpa Kyizom in India, in Dharamsala. What is happening with these protests? Who is protesting? And the figures you’ve had on the number of Tibetans who have died, are we talking more than a hundred now in this latest wave of protest?

LHAKPA KYIZOM: Yes. In Dharamsala right now, they are like — the five NGOs have organized a peace march to Tibet, to the Tibetan border, to enter into Tibet. And also, there are so many spontaneous protests that are happening on the streets here in Dharamsala. And since the national flag, Tibetan national flag, was banned in Tibet, in Dharamsala right now you can see so many Tibetans flags, you know, as a symbol of hope, which is used by the Tibetans and non-Tibetan supporters on their bags, on their, you know, head, on their shoulder. You know, they all carry the Tibetan national flag, which was banned in Tibet. So there’s a lot happening, like a hunger fight is happening, Tibetan peace protest by the monks, by the nuns, and a lot of like frustration demonstration by the younger generations of like using the slogans of “Free Tibet” and “Return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama” and “Victory of Tibet.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you, the Chinese government has released some video that shows some rioting or attacks on — or looting going on and also claiming attacks on Chinese residents in Tibet. Your response to that?

LHAKPA KYIZOM: Sorry, I didn’t hear you properly.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I said that the Chinese government has released some video showing looting or attacks —-

LHAKPA KYIZOM: Yes, yes, yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —- by protesters and also claiming attacks on Chinese who live in Tibet. Any response to that?

LHAKPA KYIZOM: Yes. I think it’s just the media, you know, the feed on media. The Xinhua News Agency is just a mouthpiece of the Chinese government. And that’s why His Holiness, in his press conference, said that. The international community and the media should really, you know, probe and do an investigation in Tibet what’s really happening in Tibet. I think that — we urge the international media to really — media and NGOs in the community to really find out the real facts of Tibet.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Thurman, can you talk about what sparked this latest wave of protest and where you see this going?

ROBERT THURMAN: Yes, Amy. I think it’s sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it took us totally by surprise. And I think it took His Holiness the Dalai Lama very much by surprise. He was — everyone was kind of focused on the march from Dharamsala, the nonviolent march to Delhi and then to the Tibetan border that the young Tibetan activists were doing. And His Holiness was quite worried about that. Also, he did not call for that, either. That’s something they did on their own initiative and — because there is an agreement between the Tibetan government in exile and the Indian government not to do political things on the sort of Indian territory where they are refugees. So the Chinese claim that this is the work of the Dalai Lama clique is very laughable, but also very sinister.

And that is the main point I’d like to get across, is that when Wen Jiabao in his press conference and also the hard-line officials in Tibet say this is the work of the Dalai Lama clique, this is very sinister, because the Dalai Lama clique is all of the Tibetan people. All of the Tibetan people follow the Dalai Lama and whatever he does and says, and they — and the monks were just protesting about local conditions where they are — some of them were arrested at the last Congressional Gold Medal Award last fall — and they went and painted the monastery in celebration, because they were forbidden to have a formal celebration, but they were arrested anyway, monks of Drepung Monastery. And so, they were marching peacefully and nonviolently on the March 10th occasion in order to protest those conditions, as well as to celebrate the day, knowing full well that they might bring onto themselves there the full force of the Chinese intolerance of any sort of demonstration by Tibetans in Tibet.

And then, when they were shot at and when they were suppressed violently and beaten, then the Tibetan community exploded, because they’re are a tinderbox, because China has been smothering them with immigration because of this train — three or four million people came pouring into Tibet — and also the Chinese have been pushing them very hard by making them denounce the Dalai Lama and, you know, controlling their studies and persecuting them in all kinds of ways. So it’s a kind of spontaneous outburst of all the Tibetans all over Tibet, including all the areas where two-thirds of the Tibetans live outside of the Tibet autonomous region.

So when they say — the Chinese — the Dalai Lama clique and that they have a life-and-death struggle with the Dalai Lama clique, what they’re saying is they have a life-and-death struggle against all Tibetans, because there’s no clique. It’s just all of the Tibetans. So, in a way, they’re openly proclaiming their intention and their practice of trying to commit cultural genocide on the Tibetans, as the Dalai Lama said.

And the fact — and that the Dalai Lama called for either violence or nonviolence is ridiculous. He didn’t call for either, because he knows that nonviolent protest in the face of the Chinese oppression leads to violence, because the Chinese will suppress it with violence, and then some Tibetans will not be able to keep to nonviolent discipline, as you saw on those videos from the Chinese state. They don’t show you any videos, as independent journalists would have, of Chinese troops firing live ammunition into crowds and beating monks, and so forth, which they always do.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Robert Thurman, your sense of — given the fact that we’re about 200 days away from the Olympics in China, that the Tibetan people see this — this moment as a chance to be able to get before the world in a way that they’ve not been able to do in the past what is going on in Tibet?

ROBERT THURMAN: Well, yes, they do see it as that, but it’s not really that calculated. In other words, they sort of see the Chinese sort of parading around saying, “We’re so great, and we’re so nice to everybody, and everyone in Tibet is so happy,” and then, in other words, they see them saying that, and then they react emotionally to that, because they are so miserable and they are being so oppressed and they are being completely violated, you know, in their identity, and they’re supposed to just stop being Tibetan, basically, which is what the Chinese are saying openly.

And so, it isn’t like it’s a calculated scheme — “Now we’re going to do something, you know, to do something about the [inaudible] the Chinese” — not at all, although, of course, the emotional feeling of most Tibetans is that the Chinese shouldn’t be allowed to host the Olympics, because the Chinese are not behaving in a civilized manner in Tibet. For sure, their genocidal face is absolutely clearly shown to the world in Tibet. But on the other hand —-

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Thurman, we -—

ROBERT THURMAN: — the Dalai Lama and the leadership is all for the Chinese to do the Olympics, because they feel that only if the Chinese sort of come out in the world and sort of try to be normal and be transparent and let people see what they’re really doing, then they won’t — then they will stop doing all these totalitarian and dictatorial things.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Thurman, we only have a few more seconds. You’re very close to the Dalai Lama. You’re coming out with a book on the Dalai Lama. What he said about stepping down as political leader of Tibet, if the violence continues?

ROBERT THURMAN: Yes. Well, the context of that is like Gandhi, when sometimes they would have nonviolent nationwide strikes in India to protest the British domination of them, and then some members of the Dalai — Gandhi’s movement would sort of flip out, and there would be local violence somewhere, they would burn a police station, or some things like that happened in the Indian independence movement. And in those times, immediately Gandhi would call off any sort of strike, and he would say he is not leading this, and, you know, he would denounce his own followers if they went or moved over from nonviolence to violence.

And what the Dalai Lama is saying there merely is that if his followers lose the discipline of being nonviolent, which is what they mainly have done for forty years or fifty years under the most extreme oppression, but if any of them blow it or lose it and it becomes like a violent movement — you know, the young people who are impatient or the people in Tibet who are really being beaten too hard — then, however, he will not lead the movement, because he will not adopt a violent strategy. That is what he’s saying.

And I’m sure that the Tibetans will react to that very, you know, strongly, although he’s different than Gandhi in that he didn’t call for this movement at the moment. But he — but by saying that if they do violence, that’s his reaction to those videos that the Chinese showed, where some Tibetans were taking this chance to burn shops and things, which of course is very oppressive to them. They have no shops of their own in Lhasa. The Chinese have taken over all the commerce in Lhasa. And the Tibetans have no — the Tibetans are really impoverished by the so-called development of Tibet, because the development of Tibet the Chinese have been doing is all to colonize it with Chinese. So it’s developing it so Chinese can live there, which itself is futile, because the Chinese can’t live at 13,000 feet long term; they get sick. So it’s a really sad story.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Robert Thurman, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you very much for being with us, a professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University. Also, on the line with us, we have been joined by Lhakpa Kyizom, who is a Tibetan activist, speaking to us from Dharamsala, India.

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