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  Tibet: The Truth from Facts - Executive Summary

source:, updated by The Office of Tibet,
the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London.
Contents may not be altered.


As the international community takes an increasingly keen interest in the question of Tibet, the demand for information grows. The world is no longer obsessed with the political ideological conflict between the two superpowers of the Cold War period, so that Governments and non-governmental actors can, once again, turn to other burning problems, such as the situation in Tibet. Many Governments are in the process of reviewing their foreign policy on many fronts. They should also thoroughly review their Tibet policy in line with the post-cold war international reality.

Initiatives by parliaments and conferences in different parts of the world to address the human rights situation in Tibet and its underlying political cause as well as moves by a growing number of countries to take up the issue again at the United Nations have met with strong resistance from the Government of the People's Republic of China. One of the results have been a stream of propaganda booklets, following the Stalinist and Maoist tradition, intended to convince foreign readers of China's right to rule Tibet and the great benefit it brought to the people of Tibet.

The Present document, Tibet: Proving Truth from Facts, is intended to respond to the new demand for concise information on key points of the Tibetan question, and at the same time, to serve as a response to the Chinese propaganda, particularly the one issued by State Council under the title of Tibet -- Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation, and published as White Paper. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile does not have the resources to respond to each misrepresentation of the Tibetan situation which appears in the Chinese propaganda. But truth being on the side of the Tibetan people, we feel the need from time to time to restate the facts plainly, and trust that this will serve the cause of truth and justice.

This publication touches upon many areas of concern: the fundamental question of the status of Tibet, the validity of China's claim to "ownership" of it and Tibetan people's right to self-determination; the "17-Point Agreement" and its effect on Tibet's status; the events surrounding the resistance to Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama's flight to India; the Tibetan social system before the Chinese occupation and democratic reforms initiated by the Dalai Lama; human rights conditions in occupied-Tibet; deprivation of religious freedom; socio-economic conditions and colonialism; population transfer and control; the state of Tibet's environment; issues related to the militarisation of Tibet; and the efforts that have been undertaken to find a solution to the question of Tibet.

One aspect of the Tibetan situation has been insufficiently highlighted in the past, even though it is fundamental to understanding the context of much of what is happening in Tibet today. This is the profoundly colonialist nature of Chinese rule in Tibet. We tend to identify colonialism with European colonial expansion in the past two centuries. But, as the Malaysian, Irish and other governments pointed out during the United Nations General assembly debates on the Question of Tibet, colonialism in all its manifestations must be brought to an end, whether perpetrated by countries in the West or the East.

The Chinese themselves view Tibet in colonial terms: that is, not as part of China proper, but as non-Chinese territory which China has a right to own and exploit, on the basis of relationship that existed 700 years ago, or, at best, 200 years ago. This attitude is evident already from the title of the Chinese Government's White Paper, which refers to the "ownership" of Tibet. If Tibet were truly an integral part of China for hundreds of years, as China claims, Tibet could not form the object of "ownership" by the country it is already a part of. The very notion of "ownership" of Tibet by China is colonialist and imperialist in nature.

Colonialism is characterised by a number of important elements, all of which are abundantly present in China's rule over Tibet. The most common characteristics of colonialism are:*domination by an alien power; *acquisition of control through military force, unequal treaty; *frequent insistence that the colony is an integral part of the "mother" state; *maintenance of control through instruments of military or administrative and economic power in the hands of the colonial power; *active or passive rejection of alien domination by the colonised people; *suppression, by force if necessary, of persons opposing colonial rule; *chauvinism and discrimination; *the imposition of alien cultural, social and ideological values claimed to be "civilising"; *the imposition of economic development programmes and the exploitation of natural resources of the colony, primarily for the benefit of the colonial power; *promotion of population transfer of citizens of the metropolitan state into the colony and other forms of demographic manipulation; *disregard for the natural environment in the colony; and, in most cases, *an obsessive desire to hold on to the colony despite the political and economic cost.
Most of these characteristics are discussed in this document. Some of these issues are also discussed in the Chinese White Paper on Tibet, in a manner and style which only confirms the colonialist or imperialist view of Tibet held by China's leadership.

Status of Tibet -- Who "owns" Tibet?

Tibet's status at the time of the Chinese invasion in 1949 must be judged on the basis of the facts existing at that time and during the decades that preceded it, that is, on the basis of Tibet's modern history rather than, as China tries to do, its ancient history. Tibet was independent at the time of China's invasion: The country possessed all conditions of statehood under international law; there was a defined territory, a population inhabiting that territory; and a functioning Government exercising authority over that territory, and possessing the ability to enter into international relations.
China contends that Tibet did not maintain international relations independently of China and that no country recognised Tibet's independence. This is not true. Although Tibet chose not to develop extensive international relations, following an isolationist policy for much of its history, it did maintain bilateral relations with countries in the region by whom it was, indeed, recognised.

A study of Tibet's history reveals that, contrary to Chinese Communist claims, Tibet at no time became an integral part of China. It is not disputed that at different times Tibet exercised influence on or came under the influence of its neighbours. It would be hard to find any state in the world today that has not been subjected to foreign domination or influence for some part of its history. Tibet, however, was never colonised or annexed through the use of force. Thus, today, despite more than 40 years of occupation, Tibet is an independent country under illegal occupation. This has been recognised by many, including the US Congress and the Parliament of Australia, as recently as 1992.

The Tibetan people are today one of the best examples of a people with the right to self-determination. Recent prestigious international law conferences have stressed the need for the early realization of the Tibetan people's right to self-determination.

The Dalai Lama has called on China to agree to the holding of an internationally supervised plebiscite, so that Tibetans can express their wishes, in accordance with their rights, through democratic means. This China has, to date, rejected.

The Invasion and illegal annexation of Tibet: 1949-1951

The Chinese Government claims that the so-called "17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet", signed in 1951 -- after the defeat of the small Tibetan army -- shows that Tibetans not only agreed to, but actually invited Chinese Communist troops to "liberate" Tibet. The facts show that the Tibetan Government was coerced into accepting the document drafted by China and imposed upon the Tibetan negotiators under the threat of all-out military conquest.

Treaties imposed by the threat or use of force upon a country are not valid under international law, and cannot, therefore, serve to legitimise an otherwise illegal invasion of territory. China, in fact, believes all unequal treaties and agreements to be invalid. There can hardly be a better example of an unequal "agreement" than the 1951 Tibetan-Chinese 17-point treaty.

National Uprising

Resistance to the Chinese occupation started to take on organised forms as early as 1952, reached massive proportions in 1959, and has continued, primarily underground, ever since.

Despite the Dalai Lama's efforts to find a modus vivendi with the Chinese Government once it became evident that effective international response to the Chinese aggression was not forthcoming, the cycle of resistance and violent repression was not to be prevented. As refugees were pouring into Lhasa from Eastern Tibet with accounts of Chinese atrocities there, and as the Chinese presence throughout the country became increasingly oppressive, the Tibetan people rose up against all odds, in desperation and hope, in March 1959.

The uprising was brutally put down by the PLA, which claimed to have killed over 87,000 Tibetans between March 1959 and October 1960 in Central Tibet alone. The Dalai Lama fled the country under the protection of Tibetan guerilla forces only hours before the compound where he had stayed was shelled by Chinese artillery, killing thousands of Tibetan people who had gathered around the palace to protect him.

Neither the uprising, nor the Dalai Lama's escape was planned. All the facts show that the Dalai Lama did all he could to prevent an open confrontation between Tibetans and the mighty Chinese army. The consequences of the confrontation which occurred were devastating: the Chinese troops massacred thousands of people; tens of thousands were taken to concentration camps or labour camps where most died; Tibetan cultural and religious institutions were destroyed and the population was subjected to terror campaigns and massive "re-education" efforts which the Chinese in China experienced only years later during the Cultural Revolution.

Traditional society and democratic framework for future Tibet

China has always tried to justify its policy in Tibet by painting the darkest picture of traditional Tibetan society. Tibetan society before the Chinese invasion was, by no means, perfect. That was the reason why the Dalai Lama initiated far-reaching reforms soon after he assumed full temporal authority in the early fifties. Whatever be the case, no country can invade, occupy, annex and colonise another country just because its social structure does not please it.

In terms of social mobility and wealth distribution, traditional Tibet compared favourably with most Asian countries. Every administrative posts below the Dalai Lama was held by an equal number of monk and lay officials. Although lay officials hereditarily held posts, those of the monks were open to all. Monasteries offered equal opportunities to all to rise to any height through their own scholarships. A popular Tibetan aphorism says, "If mother's son has the knowledge, the throne of Gaden (the highest position in the hierarchy of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism) has no ownership".
All land belonged to the state which granted estates, to monasteries and to individuals who had rendered service to the state. The present Dalai Lama attempted to introduce land reforms by proposing that all large estate holdings of monasteries and individuals be acquired by the state for distribution amongst peasants. He created a special reform committee which was authorised to hear and redress complaints by individuals against the state authorities.

Famine and starvation were unheard of in independent Tibet. However, from 1950 onwards, the Chinese military and civilian personnel were fed on the state buffer stocks. They forced the Tibetan populace to sell their personal stock of grains at nominal prices.

Soon after his arrival in India, the Dalai Lama organised the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. A series of democratic changes were initiated. A popularly-elected body of people's representatives, known as the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies, was constituted and a draft constitution for future Tibet promulgated. The constitution even contained a clause whereby the executive powers of the Dalai Lama could be curtailed by a majority of two-thirds of the total members of the National Assembly.
In 1990, the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies was expanded and its authority strengthened. The Assembly now elects the council of ministers, who were formerly appointed by the Dalai Lama. A Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission was also set up to act as the judiciary.

In 1992, the Dalai Lama announced a Guideline for Tibet's future polity. It provided that the future government of Tibet would be elected by the people on the basis of adult franchise. The Dalai Lama said he himself would not "play any role in the future government of Tibet, let alone seek the Dalai Lama's traditional political position". The guidelines said:
Future Tibet shall be a peace-loving nation, adhering to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence). It shall have a democratic system of government committed to preserving a clean, healthy and beautiful environment. Tibet shall be a completely demilitarised nation.
The Tibetan struggle is, thus, not for the resurrection of the traditional system as the Chinese claim.

Human rights

The Chinese occupation of Tibet has been characterised by systematic and gross violations of human rights. This has resulted in the death of over 1.2 million Tibetans (one-sixth of the population) between 1951 and 1979, and exile of some 80,000.
Although, today, the Chinese Government argues that Tibetans enjoy freedom and human rights, all evidence points to continuation of gross violations of human rights. Organisations, such as the Amnesty International, Asia Watch, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, the International Commission of Jurists, Pax Christi, SOS Torture and France Libertes have documented and reported widespread and systematic abuses against individual Tibetans and against the Tibetan people, their culture and religion. A number of governmental delegations to Tibet, such as those from Australia, Austria, and Switzerland, confirmed the seriousness of these charges.
Human rights violations in Tibet are inextricably linked to China's colonial policy in Tibet, which cannot tolerate any form of opposition to Chinese absolute rule over this territory. In 1991 the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a resolution on the "situation in Tibet", calling attention to the violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of the Tibetans "which threaten the distinct cultural, religious and national identity of the Tibetan people". The UN Secretary General prepared a note for the UN Commission on Human Rights (E.CN 4/37) containing numerous detailed reports of human rights violations in Tibet, and since then, these United Nations bodies have continued to hear and consider evidence of such rights abuses in Tibet, and international concern for the situation in Tibet is growing.

Socio-economic conditions and colonialism

During his visit to Tibet in 1980, Chinese Communist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang publicly admitted that Tibetans had not benefitted under the Chinese rule. Few other Chinese leaders have had the courage to admit the failure of Chinese rule in Tibet. Instead they boast -- in typical colonial manner -- about the great social and economic benefits China has brought to the "backward" Tibetans.
It is true that under Chinese rule, roads, airfields, power stations and bridges have been built in Tibet. In recent months the country has also been opened to foreign investment for a faster economic development. Yet, as most travellers to Tibet recognise, this limited development will primarily benefit the Chinese colonialists, Government and military rather than the Tibetan people. The Tibetan population is still among the poorest in the world, the literacy rate of Tibetans in Tibet (as opposed to those in exile) is shockingly low, unemployment among Tibetans (as opposed to Chinese settlers) in Tibet is growing fast, and in all walks of life, Tibetans are subjected to discrimination.

It is clear that if the Tibetan people are left to run their own affairs as they have been for the past 34 years in exile, their economic, social and cultural situation will definitely improve significantly.Religion and national identity

Tibet's earliest religion is Bön. Buddhism flourished in Tibet in the seventh century. Receiving royal patronage, it spread throughout Tibet. With the assumption of power by the Dalai Lamas in 1642, the era of "harmonious blend of religion and politics" was established in Tibet.
Buddhism has not been a mere system of belief to the Tibetans; it encompasses the entirety of our culture and civilisation and constitutes the very essence of our lives. Of all the bonds which defined Tibetans as a people and as a nation, religion was undoubtedly the strongest. Tibetan national identity became indistinguishable from its religion.

Monasteries, temples and hermitages were found in every village and town throughout Tibet. By 1959, there were a total of 6,259 monasteries and temples with about 592,558 resident monks and nuns.
Soon after their invasion of Tibet, the Chinese authorities began to undermine the traditional social system and religion of Tibet. "Religion is the enemy of our materialist ideology and believing in religion is blind faith. Therefore, you should not only not have faith in religion, but should also condemn it, " people were told. By the middle of the fifties, monasteries, temples, and cultural centres were systematically looted and destroyed in eastern Tibet. The physical desecration and destruction was accompanied by public condemnation of religion and humiliation and ridicule of religious persons.
Contrary to official Chinese assertions, much of Tibet's culture and religion was destroyed between 1955 and 1961, and not during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) alone. By 1976 only eight monasteries and nunneries had escaped Chinese destructions.

Since 1979, some superficial religious freedom was allowed. This included selective renovation of places of worship and allowing people to indulge in rituals like prostrations, circumambulations, etc. But the propagation of the teachings of the Buddha is discouraged and strictly controlled. The essence of Buddhism lies in mental and spiritual development achieved through intensive study with qualified lamas, understanding and practice. But the Chinese authorities discourage this in their campaign to misrepresent Tibetan religion.
Contrary to Chinese claims, most of the renovation work of the places of worship, including the "state-sponsored" ones, came through the initiative of the Tibetan public who contributed their labour and money. The assistance given by the Chinese government only forms a fraction of the total costs.
The Chinese authorities, even now, do not let the functioning units of the monastic universities to continue their traditional religious practices. Admission to monasteries are controlled, number of monks limited and political indoctrination is undertaken in the monasteries. The management of monasteries is placed in the hands of a maze of state bureaucracies.

Though China no longer bombs or sends Red Guards to destroy Tibet's monasteries, its aim still remains the same as before: total elimination of Tibetan religion and culture.Population transfer
China's assault on the Tibetan religion, culture and national identity is nearing its terminal and irreversible phase through the implementation of China's "final solution" to the Tibetan problem: absorption of the Tibetans through sheer force of numbers.

In many regions of Tibet and in the urban areas, Tibetans are already greatly outnumbered by Chinese settlers and administrators. All instruments of political, economic, social and even cultural power in Tibet are in the hands of the Chinese, so that any talk of autonomy by Beijing is mere window dressing. In reality, Tibetans are fast being marginalised and becoming a second-class citizens in their own country.

Exact figures for the Chinese and Tibetan populations of Tibet are not available. Chinese population statistics are unreliable with respect to Tibet and hide the magnitude of the Chinese population transfer going on. Those statistics are also entirely inconsistent with other statistics released by the Chinese Government for the region. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile, on the other hand, is not permitted by the Chinese authorities to carry out scientific surveys of the situation, and must, therefore, rely on clandestine reports and estimates from a variety of observers.

Despite the lack of exact figures, and despite Chinese denials, the evidence points to a deliberate and long-standing population transfer policy. The policy is carried out largely with the help of Government incentive programs for Chinese from various Chinese provinces to relocate in Tibet. Higher wages, special housing, business and pension benefits are but some of the incentives provided.
China's fourth population census in 1990 put the Chinese population (including a small number of Mongols) in the Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo at 4,927,369. However, it is said that there is at least one un-registered Chinese against every two registered ones. The actual Chinese population, both registered and unregistered, in these areas should be about 7.5 million. In the recent years, China is reported to have stepped up the transfer of its population to the "TAR" also.

The policy and practice of population transfer is not only violative of the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of civilian population into occupied territory, unless it is done with full and informed consent, it also constitutes a violation of the human rights of the people into whose territory the settlers are being transferred. This is evident from the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Resolutions, and from the results of the UNPO Conference on Human Rights Dimensions of Population Transfer (Conference Report 2/1992). In Tibet, population transfer presents the greatest threat to the survival of the Tibetan people and culture and is therefore a form of ethnic submersion and cultural genocide.Environment
For centuries Tibetans lived on their sparsely populated plateau in harmony with nature. Respect for all forms of life and for nature is a basic tenet of Buddhism, and in Tibet's plateau environment maintenance of the delicate ecological balance is vital for the survival of animal, plant and human life.
The Chinese occupation and militarisation of Tibet, the large influx of Chinese settlers and the colonial exploitation of Tibet's natural resources in total disregard of environmental consequences is having devastating effects on the environment. Tibet has lost most of its rich forests, causing alarming desertification of vast areas, degradation of grasslands or their conversion into agriculture for Chinese settlers. This has also caused irreparable damage to many of Tibet's precious nomadic pasture lands. Nuclear testing and weapons production, uranium mining, and dumping of hazardous waste is having predictably dangerous effects on human and animal life in some parts of Tibet.Militarisation
Chinese control in Tibet has been and continues to be maintained by a large military force. The number of the PLA troops and other security forces in Tibet varies, and so do the independent estimates of their strength. In the entire area of Tibet there are, at any rate, several hundred thousand well armed and equipped men. In the north of Tibet China has nuclear installations and testing grounds, and recently it has developed the capability of fast deployment of troops by air from military bases anywhere in China. The heavy militarisation of Tibet is evident to any visitor to Lhasa and other important places in Tibet. Lhasa is virtually surrounded by military camps and the inner city has a heavy presence of special armed police and under-cover security personnel.

Several dozen nuclear warheads are believed to have been stationed in Tibet. The first nuclear weapon was brought onto the Tibetan plateau in 1971 and stationed in the Tsaidam basin, in northern Amdo. As China's ground-based nuclear missiles can be transported and fired from trailers, efforts to locate and count missiles in certain areas remain difficult.

China's primary weapon research and design facility, known as the "Ninth Academy" is located in Dhashu (Haiyan) in the northeastern Tibetan province of Amdo. The facility is the most secret organisation in China's entire nuclear programme and remains today an important and high security military weapons plant. It was responsible for designing all of China's nuclear bombs through the mid-seventies. It also served as a research centre for detonation development, radiochemistry and many other nuclear weapons related activities.

In 1988, China carried out in Tibet what the Jiefangjun Bao of 16 September 1988 called "chemical defence manoeuvres in the high altitude zone to test newly-developed equipment". According to a TASS report of 3 July 1982, "China has been conducting nuclear tests in several areas of Tibet in order to determine the radiation levels among the people living in those parts."

The militarisation of Tibet not only represents an oppressive burden on Tibetans and a source of fear and, in many cases, terror, but it is also a source of instability and potential conflict in the region. In 1962, it led to the first Sino-Indian war in history, and tension on the border has remained high since then.

Quest for solution

The Dalai Lama and his Government have repeatedly made efforts to find a negotiated solution to the grave situation in Tibet. In 1979, China's supreme leader Deng Xiaoping stated that anything except total independence of Tibet could be discussed and resolved. This has remained the stated position of the Chinese government, but China has consistently behaved contrary to that position. In reliance upon Deng Xiaoping's statement, the Dalai Lama made a number of proposals, both bi-laterally and publicly, to the Chinese Government for negotiations. Sadly, these overtures were not reciprocated by China.
In 1980, the Dalai Lama proposed sending teachers to Tibet from among well educated Tibetan refugees to help improve the education of young Tibetans. In 1987, the Dalai Lama announced a Five-Point Plan and a year later elaborated on that plan in a speech delivered in Strasbourg. The Strasbourg Proposal, as it later came to be known, contained far reaching concessions which fully responded to China's declared interests in Tibet. Despite the fact that all these initiatives fell well within China's stated policy, that anything except total independence could be negotiated and resolved, the Chinese Government refused to come to the negotiating table.

Early this year, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile proposed to send a high level delegation to Beijing to deliver a letter and note of the Dalai Lama to China's leaders and, once again, to attempt to open an official dialogue. At the time of writing, China has yet to propose a date.
The Dalai Lama's desire to seek a peaceful negotiated solution is well known and has earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and numerous other awards. But it takes two to negotiate, and despite China's insistence that it is willing to talk, it always raised obstacles or sets conditions that cannot be met. The Tibetan Government welcomes the efforts of many concerned governments who have called on China to agree to negotiations without preconditions. It is hard to understand China's reluctance to do so, unless it believes in achieving a solution to the Tibetan question through a combination of force and population transfer or ethnic submersion.

Hope for the survival of Tibet and its people and culture now lies in the ability of the International community to persuade China that it should act with moderation, respect the Tibetan people's rights, and enter into earnest negotiations with representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people in order to seek a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution, in keeping with the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Tibetan people.

source:, updated by The Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London. Contents may not be altered.