'Running out of time': Tibetan president-elect warns of cultural genocide

Beijing denies it breaches the human rights of Tibetan people. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING/NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - The top political leader of Tibet's government in exile said on Friday that there is an urgent threat of "cultural genocide" in Tibet, and the international community must stand up to China ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Penpa Tsering, who was this month elected president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said they are committed to a peaceful resolution with China, but Beijing's current policies threaten the future of Tibetan culture.

"Time is running out," said Tsering, speaking from Dharamshala in India. "Once it is eliminated, it doesn't make sense to fight for anything," he said.

Rights groups and Tibetans in Tibet say the government has put strict controls on religion, language education and labour, while encouraging immigration by Han people, China's largest ethnic group.

"I have always said we are not against multiculturalism... but one single majority population completely overwhelming a minority population, that amounts to cultural genocide, especially when it's enforced by the state," Tsering said.

Beijing denies it breaches the human rights of Tibetan people. It says its development policies have eradicated absolute poverty in the region and are backed by all residents.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday evening.

Chinese troops took Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a "peaceful liberation". In 1959, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled into exile, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Founded after the exile, the CTA maintains its own executive, legislative and judicial bodies in Dharamshala. As many as 150,000 Tibetans are living in exile.

Tibet has since become one of the world's most restricted and sensitive areas. Journalists, diplomats and other foreigners are barred from travelling there outside of tightly managed government tours.

"If you are not challenging China's practices right now, then China will get away with everything," said Tsering, responding to a question about the 2022 Winter Olympics. "There has to be a stop to this."

China this month celebrates the 70th anniversary of its control over Tibet with press events and a government-sponsored tour to the region.

In a white paper released in state media on Friday, Beijing said that prior to China's intervention, Tibet was a "wretched and backward feudal serfdom" that was "doomed to die out".

"Money alone does not bring happiness," said Tsering. "If we had been independent we could have been economically as developed as Tibet is today," he said.

Dialogue between Beijing and the CTA has stalled since 2010.

Tsering said that the Dalai Lama's return to China was crucial to reopen a dialogue.

"We'll use all ways and means to reach out to the Chinese government," said Tsering. "If the Chinese don't respond to us the only way we can keep the issue alive is to reach out to the international community," he said.

The CTA and Tibetan advocacy groups have received a boost in international support amid rising criticism of China's human rights record, particularly from the United States.

In November, Tsering's predecessor Lobsang Sangay visited the White House, the first such visit by a CTA president in six decades.

A month later, the US Congress passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which calls for the right of Tibetans to choose the successor to the Dalai Lama, and the establishment of a US consulate in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Tsering reiterated that when the 14th Dalai Lama passes he will be reincarnated only in a "free country", according to his wishes. China says it has a right to select the Dalai Lama's successor according to Chinese law.

"Why are they so concerned with the 15th Dalai Lama?" said Tsering. "The 14th Dalai Lama is still living and he wishes to go to China... the Chinese government leaders need to learn about Buddhism first."

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