Fifty years have passed since the Tibetan national uprising against Chinese rule. The Chinese military’s crushing of the March 1959 rebellion led the then 24-year-old Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetans, to flee across the Himalayas to India. One year also has passed since the large-scale protests in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and other areas inhabited by Tibetans.

The situation that Tibetans now find themselves in is a far cry from what they want and their resentment at Chinese rule is strong. Fearing a recurrence of last year’s protests and eager to prevent it, Chinese authorities have put the autonomous region and Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai and Sichuan provinces under virtual martial law.

On March 10, the 50th anniversary of the rebellion, the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India, severely criticized Chinese rule in Tibet. He said, “Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction.” But he reaffirmed his pursuit of the “middle way” in seeking a high degree of autonomy for the Tibetan regions, not independence, through a dialogue with Chinese authorities.

China has justified its policy by issuing “White Paper: 50 Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet,” which says Chinese rule abolished a feudal slave-holding system and that Tibetans’ lives have improved over the past 50 years.

President Hu Jintao, who in 1989 cracked down on the independence movement in Tibet as the top Chinese official there, told the recent session of the National People’s Congress that while he is against granting Tibet independence, he will push economic development and improvement of people’s lives.

It is unfortunate that China calls the Dalai Lama a “splittist.” It is hoped that China will pursue talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader’s side in earnest. The danger exists that the more remote the prospect for improvement of the Tibetan situation becomes, the more radicalized younger Tibetans become with the risk that the situation could be destabilized.

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