Europe’s missing nod to Tibet’s development track record

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jokhang, Tibet

Outisde Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet [Mi..chael/Flickr]

Tibet has come a long way since the feudal serfdom that was still widespread in the 1960s. Today’s EU leaders would, undoubtedly, welcome the progress and democratic reforms carried out since the region’s autonomy came into effect, writes Ciyang.

Ciyang is second secretary of the Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU.

When Tibet’s regional ethnic autonomy came into effect in 1965 little was known about its human rights track record. The leaders of today’s EU would have deplored the region’s – at the time – feudal serfdom which saw serfs (who constituted 95% of Tibet’s population) suffer cruel political oppression, inequality and economic exploitation.

Today’s EU leaders would, undoubtedly, welcome the progress and democratic reforms carried out since the region’s autonomy came into effect, enforcing the abolition of laws from the middle ages which divided people into classes and ranks and measured the value of lives in gold (according to weight) or hempen rope. The headline “EU welcomes progress in Tibet” would be a natural acknowledgment of the facts.

Thanks to the unified leadership of China’s central government Tibet has come a long way since the ’60s. Today, Tibetan people do not shy away from voicing their economic and social demands.

As a Tibetan living and working in Brussels, I was surprised to read some misconceptions about the Tibet in the article of Madi Sharma, published on 7 December 2015 under the title Chinese erosion of Tibetan identity should not be tolerated.

As one of 55 minority groups living in China, since the 1950s, Tibetans have opened up to the outside world. In fact, the region has achieved a remarkable level of economic and social development. Tibet’s GDP increased 281-fold in 50 years. Per capita disposable income has increased annually by 10.7% for urban dwellers and by 10.9% for farmers and herdsmen. Urban unemployment has fallen below 2.5%. All farmers and herdsmen now have access to healthcare, and average life expectancy for all Tibetans has almost doubled since the 1950s to reach 68.17 years. Tibetans have free access to education from preschool to secondary school.

But development in the Tibetan autonomous region is not limited to infrastructure and services alone. The people of Tibet also enjoy religious freedom and respect for their culture.

Significant efforts have gone into protecting and developing the Tibetan language, with the region enacting three provisions in 1987, 1988 and 2002, to provide a solid legal base for the study, use and development of the Tibetan language and script. Bilingual education, with Tibetan as the first language, is widespread in Tibet.

There are 30,462 bilingual teachers in kindergartens, primary and intermediate schools, and 5,800 teachers of Tibetan language in primary and intermediate schools. Both Tibetan and Mandarin are used in important meetings and documents. Tibetan is in fact the first ethnic-minority language in China to attain international standardisation. The use of Tibetan is also widespread online, enabling a new platform for learning and developing the language as well as for protecting Tibet’s cultural heritage.

The right to freedom of religious belief is enshrined in the Chinese Constitution. Tibet has 1,787 sites for different religious activities and more than 46,000 resident monks and nuns. Under the 12th Five-Year Plan, the state allocated one billion Yuan to renovate and protect 46 key cultural relics. Religious activities are fully respected, protected and practiced throughout the region.

However, religion must not be used as a political tool. Self-immolation is against Tibetan Buddhism teachings. Instead of condemning this extreme behavior, the Dalai Lama and followers have been openly glorifying it and even inciting more people to participate.

As a born and raised Tibetan, I believe that sacrificing lives for ulterior political goals is fundamentally wrong and should be strongly condemned.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the region has never been so developed. Tibetan identity is not eroded but well protected. Building a bright and peaceful future for Tibet is the duty of its people, as well as that of China as a nation.

Looking to the future, I am convinced that policies aiming to aid the region together with measures set out in the Sixth Tibet Work Conference in August will drive Tibet’s economic development and secure social stability – and maybe bring the missing statement from Europe “welcoming progress in Tibet”.

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