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China Defends Tibetan Development Plan

China is defending its economic plan in Tibet by saying development has brought prosperity to all people living in the region. At the same time, Tibetan activists outside of the country denounce what they see as Beijing’s broader plan to wipe out their culture and religion.

Tibetan activists have long accused China of promoting development policies that mainly benefit migrants from China’s ethnic Han majority.

Padma Choling, the chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, rejects the claim and says his main goal has been to oversee economic development and social stability - for all people in Tibet.

He says his government will make sure people in Tibet enjoy prosperity and what he called a “well-off” life. He said his government will ensure the safety of their lives and property.

Padma Choling’s comment was apparently in reference to the government action aimed at putting down ethnic riots in March 2008, when demonstrating Tibetans became violent and attacked Han Chinese shops. About 21 people were killed in the demonstrations.

Mary Beth Markey, president of the advocacy group, International Campaign for Tibet, says raising living standards can be a positive development for the region. But she disputes that development has equally benefited native Tibetans and Chinese migrants.

She says recent unrest in Tibet and other ethnic Tibetan areas in China are indications of the deep problems that persist despite economic progress.

“What we’re seeing in Ngaba, at the Kochi monastery and the surrounding area is endemic throughout Tibet. It is a demonstration of the underlying tensions that exists and the underlying problems that China, by ignoring Tibetan priorities, is failing to address,” said Markey.

Tibet’s top spiritual figure, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India in 1959 where he has lived ever since. Earlier this year, he stepped down as the Tibetan exile movement’s political leader. In April, exiled Tibetans voted to elect 42-year old Lobsang Sangay to replace the 75-year old Dalai Lama.

But the Dalai Lama’s retirement from political life apparently has not changed China’s stance toward him.

Padma Choling told reporters in Beijing that the man he referred to as “Dalai,” has - in his words - never done a good thing for the Tibetan people. At the same time, Choling said the Chinese government will only have talks with him and his representatives.

He says there is no basis for contact between the Chinese government and the Tibetan government in exile, which he says is an illegal organization.

Markey calls China’s position a mistake, because it does not take into account the fact that Tibetans get much of their identity from their culture, not from the Dalai Lama.

“When his holiness passes away, which is going to happen, there is going to be a Tibetan leadership in exile, and there are going to be voices inside Tibet who are still pressing for this kind of political reform," she said. "So I think it’s folly on the part of the Chinese to think that when his holiness the Dalai Lama leaves the planet, that their problem with Tibet is over. That’s just simply not the case.”

Although the Chinese government constantly vilifies the Dalai Lama and bans public displays of his picture, many ethnic Tibetans inside China still revere him.