China Tightens Its Grip on Tibet In Attempt to Rule Feisty Region

During his three-year stint in Tibet, the young Beijing engineer, a member of China's ethnic Han majority, said he made a lot of money but counted the days until he could leave.

"It was a good opportunity because China wants to develop Tibet's economy," said the man, who agreed to go to Tibet because he was unemployed and would receive more than double the pay he was earning in the Chinese capital. "But I never felt very comfortable."

The returned worker is part of Beijing's aggressive campaign to assimilate Tibet, the Buddhist Himalayan kingdom that has fought Chinese Communist control for over four decades. China occupied Tibet in 1951 and suppressed an uprising eight years later, during which the Dalai Lama, whom Tibetans considered to be Buddhism's god-king, escaped to India, where he still lives.

Although denied by Beijing, China is using the massive settlement of Han Chinese along with an iron fist against dissent and separatism to strengthen its hold on the mountainous region, international human rights groups have charged.

China claimed in March that Han Chinese account for only 79,000 of Tibet's 2.39 million people. A survey completed in late 1995 showed their numbers are declining. That is contested by Western observers who estimate the largely urban Chinese population at 150,000 and likely to grow with the development of several copper mines in the region.

"China runs Tibet like a colony," says a Tibetan intellectual who travels occasionally to Beijing. "Tibetans are put in certain political positions for show, although the Han Chinese control economic and political power."

International human rights monitors say repression is on the rise. This month the United States-based International Campaign for Tibet reported that a new drive is under way to suppress Buddhists, more tightly control Tibetan officials, and detain monks and nuns, the most potent threat to Chinese rule. Amnesty International has also reported growing government oppression during the last three years.

Human rights activists had hoped that evidence of torture, arrest, and religious intolerance in Tibet would lead to a censure of China for human rights abuses by the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva. However, last week, for the fifth time, China succeeded in blocking a resolution sponsored by the United States and the European Union criticizing Beijing's human rights record.

Since 1994, China has harshly limited the numbers of monks and nuns in monasteries, suspended restoration of religious sites, and stepped up political indoctrination inside religious organizations. Of Tibet's 610 political prisoners as of January 1996, more than half were nuns and monks detained for criticizing Chinese rule or distributing pro-independence literature.

"Changes in China's campaign against monasticism in Tibet over the past year and a half are ominous. [They] represent a tightening of control in stark contrast to the trends of easing control in eastern China," said the new report by the International Campaign for Tibet.

The group reported that Tibetan monastics are routinely tortured and beaten.

"We must further strengthen control over temples and monasteries, continue patriotic education of monks and nuns, and take control of other religious sites in accordance with the law," said Li Que, Tibet's deputy Communist Party secretary, as quoted in the Chinese press.

China continues to try to boost support for the young boy selected by Beijing last December as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second-holiest religious leader after the Dalai Lama. The official New China News Agency said the boy was winning acceptance by growing numbers of pilgrims to the Tashilumpo Monastery in Tibet, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama.

China is at odds with the Dalai Lama, who enraged Beijing by designating another boy last year as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. That boy and his family are believed to be under detention in Beijing.

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