Dear Mr Wen Jiabao,
I welcome you to India. Although I am not a citizen of this country, I was born and raised here in exile. India is the only home I’ve known. I belong to the second generation of Tibetan refugees, the children of Tibetans who escaped Chinese aggression in Tibet from 1959 by following in the footsteps of their leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
During your last India visit, on April 10, 2005, while you were busy addressing a group of Indian scientists on the ground floor of the Indian Institute of Science building in Bangalore, the media mob suddenly rushed out of the hall, leaving you speaking quite alone. Someone had climbed up the heritage building to the bell tower, unfurling a Free Tibet banner and bellowing slogans.
That was me.
Today I am writing this open letter to you. Even half a decade ago I knew that you were one of the more liberal leaders in China. Recently, your call for reforms to bring greater freedom and democracy to China reverberated across the international community. You already have a following among the ambitious and educated youth in China.
I have been following the epic struggle of Chinese writers, poets, film-makers and activists who have been bravely working for democracy and human rights in China. Many of them have been arrested or repeatedly harassed on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘selling State secrets’. China’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, is the best stellar example. He is a peace warrior, a new world hero. When Liu first demonstrated in Tiananmen Square in 1989, I was a boy. I grew up admiring all those Chinese students, teachers, intellectuals and labourers who sacrificed their lives and freedom by calling for reforms and universal rights to free speech the free world takes for granted.
These children of modern China truly are the guardians of the future People’s Republic. While appreciating and benefiting from the economic development in your country, they never stop working to push the limits of civil society’s universal norms. The world would be easier doing business with a prosperous new China that adheres to the principles of Beijing’s Constitution and legal framework. At the moment the free world is either intimidated by your formidable military prowess, or is in need of your dazzling financial reserves accumulated by selling cheap Chinese (‘slave’) labour to western corporations, not to mention the rampant exploitation of mineral deposits and other natural resources reaped from occupied countries like Southern Mongolia, Eastern Turkestan (which you label ‘Xinjiang’) and Tibet. Tibet is a major component of the larger problem of China.
In your ‘settlement of nomads projects’, thousands of Tibetan nomads have been coerced into selling their huge herds of yaks and sheep and been settled in matchbox concrete housing in the middle of nowhere — just as American Indians were herded into restricted ‘reservations’ in America a century or so ago. Proud Tibetan nomads, who enjoyed a rich culture and sustainable way of life, today watch impotently as their traditional pastures are dug up for mining, military airports, or road and railways infrastructure. Nomad boys are washing dishes in Chinese roadside take-aways while young nomad girls are quickly pulled into prostitution.
This year, when the earthquake struck the Jeikudo area of Yushu, you were the first Chinese leader to be there among the Tibetan population. You have seen for yourself that Yushu is the watershed of some of Asia’s most important rivers. Rivers rising in Tibet providing the downstream flows to the Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtse and Yellow River feed more than one-and-a-half billion of the populations of South Asia and China. But these rivers are now being dammed at many stages downstream — especially along the mighty Yarlung Tsangpo that flows into India as the Brahmaputra. Siltation on these rivers causes them to change course. Is Beijing oblivious to the fact that catastrophic flooding, already being suffered downstream from the Tibetan Plateau, will adversely affect the geopolitics of South Asia and its citizens?
The 2008 uprising in Tibet was brutally suppressed by a People’s Liberation Army crackdown. Today, Tibet is a militarised zone where people live under constant fear and suspicion. Despite the persecution of Tibetans and Uighurs, China is one country that is not threatened by terrorists. Even as you and your business delegation are in India for this State visit, we come out on the roads to stage our peaceful, non-violent protests. But will airliners be hijacked? Will suicide bombers attempt to assassinate a world leader? No.
Our activist ethics and restraint hold firm because we still haven’t lost faith in non-violence and its adherence by our leader, the Dalai Lama. And yet his proposal to accept ‘genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of China’ has been rejected outright by China. While you are here in India, why don’t you make the time to sit down and talk with him? There was a time in the 1960s when older generation Tibetans were concerned about the future of Tibet. Today, the struggle is lead by young Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet. We are electing our new prime minister and 44 members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile next year. The more educated, skilled, wealthy and with international contacts the Tibetan youngsters grow up to be, the more they will burn with the angst for a sense of belonging. The fact that we are not citizens of any country — living in uncertainty — the struggle means much more to us than our parents and grandparents. So among the youngsters the demand for independence is stronger. The recent change in the education policy in Tibet replaced Tibetan textbooks with Chinese ones. This further united our resolve that only independence can guarantee the survival of our people and nation. The 60 years of Sino-Indian relations is the statement of 60 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet. Mr Prime Minister, you will be retiring in 2012. You have a saying in Chinese: “Ren zhi jian si qi yan ye shan” (The man at his death tells the truth). It’s time the true wishes of the Chinese people be expressed. And there’s no one who can do it more effectively than you, Mr Wen.
Tenzin Tsundue, Dharamsala, India
Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan writer and activist based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh The views expressed by the author are personal.