The leader of Tibet’s exiled government on Thursday compared China to the regimes of North Korea and apartheid South Africa when it came to Beijing’s iron-fisted control over Tibetans.
Speaking on a trip to Paris aimed at putting the spotlight back onto the Tibetan cause, Lobsang Sangay told AFP in an interview that the arrival of Xi Jinping as China’s president had done nothing to ease the situation in the Himalayan region.
The Communist regime is accused of widespread repression of Tibetans’ religion, culture and language that has sparked an unprecedented wave of self-immolations, but Beijing categorically denies this, saying it has brought prosperity and better living conditions to an impoverished region.
“Inside Tibet, nothing has changed, in fact it has gotten worse,” Sangay said, ahead of a meeting with French parliamentarians.
He said surveillance cameras had been installed all over major urban centres in Tibetan areas, and that Tibetans had been issued with “identity cards with second-generation high-tech chips.”
“That means if you show it to any hotel or any check point, they will know exactly where you are from because all your biometrics are in that second-generation ID card.
“It’s almost like a reminder of North Korea or East Germany or the apartheid regime — the control over Tibetan people, (their) every movement.”
– ‘Shooters on roof tops’ –
Sangay, who took over as political leader of the Tibetan cause in 2011 when the Dalai Lama pared back his role, is in Paris until Saturday when he will attend a European rally marking a failed 1959 uprising against China.
That uprising forced the Dalai Lama to flee, and the Tibetan spiritual leader has been living in exile in India ever since.
Both the Dalai Lama and Sangay advocate greater autonomy for the Tibetan region within China, but Beijing accuses them of being separatists and wanting flat-out independence.
As such, Beijing is resisting calls to resume talks with Tibetan officials that broke down in 2010 on securing political and cultural freedoms for Tibetans, and Sangay said Thursday there was still no progress on that front.
In the meantime, more than 130 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at Beijing’s rule and perceived repression, most of them dying.
Sangay said that on certain sensitive dates — such as the March 10 anniversary of the start of the 1959 uprising — “you will see shooters on roof tops (of the Tibetan capital Lhasa) looking at Tibetans with their binoculars and guns.”
“If you go to any of the major monasteries, just outside the gates there is a military camp.”
The Tibetan cause, once hugely popular worldwide thanks to the celebrity status of Nobel Peace Prize winner the Dalai Lama, has lost its momentum in recent years as countries grow increasingly reluctant to go against economic powerhouse China.
Sangay acknowledged this, but said Western countries did not need to make a choice between doing business with China and supporting greater Tibetan autonomy.
He pointed out that business between the United States and China appeared to go on as usual despite US President Barack Obama’s public encounter last month with the Dalai Lama in Washington, which was slammed by Beijing.
“Money is important, so you must have business engagement with China. At the same time, you should stand up for your moral values,” he said.
“Otherwise you come to France… the country of liberty, and you find that the very word French people take pride in is not supported when it’s actually needed.”