El Mercurio, a Spanish language daily from Santiago in Chile, has carried a report on the Tibet-China contact with analytical comments by Tibet and China scholars as well as officials of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the Chinese Government.

In its issue of August 2, 2003, El Mercurio gave a historical development of Tibet-China relationship. El Mercurio is a conservative daily read by over 300,000 people in Santiago. (Note: The report mistakenly refers to Tsongkhapa as the first Dalai Lama. He is not.)

Following is the full text of the English translation of the report.

Forgotten Conflicts: Tibet continues its fight for a wider autonomy

El Mercurio
Saturday, August 2, 2003

Although it’s been more than 50 years that China military occupied the territory, its habitants and leader in exile look for a solution.

When speaking about Tibet, people tend to think about monks in orange robes, the Himalaya and Buddhism. Nevertheless, Tibet and its history are far more than that. Particularly, since the communist government of Beijing joined this zone in the middle of the 20th century.

Where does Tibet arise from? The first Dalai Lama was Tsong-khapa (1357-1419), an exclusively religious figure and founder of a new Buddhist branch of celibate monks, located in three monasteries: Ganden, Drepung and Sera.

The acquisition of political power by his successors was a gradual process, and the government established by the lamas remained untouched until the 20th century.

The Dalai Lama used to govern through a minister chosen among the most important lamas, while the civil officials used to come from the lay noble families. The government headquarters were founded in Lhasa and a small army was created.


After Mao’s success in 1949, the newborn People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet. Despite the Tibetan denunciations, the UN did not intervene, just like the rest of the world powers of the time. The Tibetan resistance was crushed, and it is estimated that nearly 90.000 Tibetans died between 1951 and 1959.

The Dalai Lama escaped accompanied by his entourage to India in 1959. Tibetans were excluded of the government and the Tibetan feudal system of the lamas was eliminated.

In this way, the Dalai Lama’s struggle to have China leaving Tibet, has been extended to our days. Li Wuji, press attach? of the Chinese Embassy in Chile says, “Due to the subversive attitude of the Dalai Lama, contacts lack continuity. In these recent years, the Dalai has constantly changed his policy: when he thinks that circumstances favor him, he interrupts the contacts, when his situation is disadvantageous, he asks for a restart”.

But, is there any possibility of a wider approach with the current government of Beijing?

From the beginning of the Chinese occupation, the Tibetans in exile have denounced executions of activists, forced sterilization of Tibetan women and migration of thousands of citizens to other parts of China to resettle Tibet.

But the central government of China affirms that it has never applied the policy of encouraging the migration to Tibet. Li adds, “The rumors spread by the Dalai Lama’s Group about the large scale migration to Tibet (…) do not reflect any of the reality”.

China states that Tibet was “freed” by its troops, while Tibetans in exile rather speak of “invasion”.

“There is plenty of documentation on the Chinese abuses to human rights during the last years. Now that there is a new regime in Beijing, there exists the opportunity to have an historical turn and to create the conditions for the Tibetan Culture to flourish”, says David Phillips, expert on China in the Council of Foreign Relations.

The Chinese President, Hu Jintao, who assumed last March, has maintained a special contact with Tibet since 1989, when he was the head of the Communist Party in that region.”Hu Jintao is more oriented to economy and commerce, and his concern is that the Tibet issue could damage the reputation of China in the West. I think that Hu Jintao is genuinely more able to comprehend the claims of the Tibetan People”, says John Tkacik, expert on Asia in the Heritage Foundation.

During the last year, two delegations of the representatives of the Dalai Lama visited Beijing, invited by the Chinese government. These are not formal negotiations, nevertheless, the analysts coincide in stating that this step is meaningful.

“Independence is not an issue to us. What we are interested in, is the freedom to protect our culture, to decide the economical issues and to govern our own life”, affirms from New York, Tsewang Phuntso, representative of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

According to the Chinese Constitution, an ethnic regional autonomy has been established in Tibet, which is defined as an autonomous region, where the political rights of the different ethnic groups of Tibet are legally guaranteed to participate in the managing of the matters of the country and region. For instance, the position of the Chairman of the Permanent Committee of the People’s Congress of the Autonomous Region of Tibet, and the position of the Chairman of the Regional Government have to be assumed by Tibetans.

Li affirms, “The current rights of the Tibetan People were unthinkable in the old Tibet under the rule of the Dalai”. But Tibetans in exile are not satisfied and continue to look for a broader self-determination, as well as, the return of the Dalai Lama as leader.

“An autonomous Tibet with a democratic system of government and a complete separation of China in every item, except foreign policy, is definitely not possible. Something like that will never take place. Nevertheless, an autonomous Tibet with communist Tibetans… that’s something I see as viable”, says Melvyn Goldstein, director of the Investigation Center of Tibet in Cleveland.

It could be complicated for Beijing to offer more power to nationalists, and to have Tibet revolting in the future. As far as Tibetans in exile, to accept that Tibet is part of China, is to lose every alternative for independence. In this way, both sides have something to risk.

Milestones of the conflict

1950: 3.000 Chinese soldiers marched on to Lhasa “to free” T?bet.

1951: Delegation representing the Dalai Lama travels to Beijing to sign an agreement that declares al T?bet as part “of the motherland” of China.

1955-56: Revolt against the Chinese occupation. Refugee begin to be displaced to India.

1957: Emergence of “khampas”, Tibetan guerrillas.

1959: March 10 explodes the “Uprising in Lhasa” after rumors that the Dalai Lama would be abducted by Chinese authorities. In the middle of the chaos, the Dalai Lama escaped to India and Chinese imposed restriction on the Panchen Lama.

1965: Beijing created the Tibet Autonomous Region.

1966-76: The Cultural Revolution arrived T?bet and the Red Guards of Mao destroyed hundreds of temples.

1979-84: The Dalai Lama dispatched without success four missions to Beijing to negotiate the future of T?bet.

1989: In January, the Panchen Lama, considered a collaborator of Beijing, died of a heart attack.

March: Chinese declared the martial law in Lhasa.

October: The Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize.

1995: The Dalai Lama announced the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The Chinese authorities rejected boy selected by the Dalai Lama and select its own candidate.

1996: Chinese speared a strong offensive campaign against the Dalai Lama and prohibits his photos and forced the monks to declare its loyalty to Beijing.

1998: The President Jiang Zemin said that their exist “multiple channels of communication” with the Dalai Lama and at the same time asked to accept Tibet as a part of China.