Dharamsala: Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, on Tuesday, accused China of having brought “hell on earth” to his homeland in a speech on the sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising. As Chinese authorities deployed a massive security force across the Tibetan plateau to prevent protests, he demanded “legitimate and meaningful autonomy” for the region in a speech at his exile base in northern India.
Residents of Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, reported no protests on Tuesday morning but—as in other Tibetan areas of China—it appeared to be partly because armed soldiers and police were patrolling the streets in a show of force.
Middle path: The Dalai Lama addresses the media in Dharamsala, on the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. Ashwini Bhatia / AP
The Dalai Lama said China had brought “untold suffering and destruction” to the Himalayan region in a wave of repressive campaigns since the uprising on 10 March 1959 that forced him to flee.
“These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth,” he said, adding they caused the deaths of “hundreds of thousands” of his people.
“Even today Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear,” he said. “Their religion, culture, language, identity are near extinction. The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death.”
The anniversary of the failed uprising is being marked by vigils and protests in Dharamshala, as well as in places as far afield as Washington and Canberra.
The Dalai Lama’s comments were dismissed as “lies” in Beijing. “I will not respond to the Dalai Lama’s lies,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.
“The Dalai Lama clique is confusing right and wrong. They are spreading rumours. The democratic reforms (under Chinese rule) are the widest and most profound reforms in Tibetan history,” Ma said.
China has ruled Tibet since 1951 after sending in troops to “liberate” the region the previous year.
However, the 73-year-old Dalai Lama still retains enormous support among the roughly six million devoutly Buddhist Tibetans who live in China, despite Beijing’s efforts to demonize him.
In his speech, the Dalai Lama voiced frustration that repeated rounds of talks between the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile and Chinese officials have yielded no progress. “And quite apart from the current process of Sino-Tibetan dialogue having achieved no concrete result, there has been brutal crackdown on the Tibetan protests that shook the whole of Tibet since March last year,” he said in his speech, broadcast via the Internet to exiles and supporters worldwide.
The Dalai Lama resisted pressure to radicalize his campaign against China, sticking by his “middle way” policy of non-violence. “We Tibetans are looking for legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in Lhasa on last year’s anniversary erupted four days later into anti-Chinese rioting that swept into other parts of western China with Tibetan populations.
Last year’s unrest deeply angered China’s leaders as they prepared for the Beijing Olympics in August, and they responded with a huge military crackdown across Tibet that triggered condemnation around the world.