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By The Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is the exiled spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. This article is drawn from a speech by the Dalai Lama earlier this year marking the 42nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. The Dalai Lama is in Washington to see U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush.

DHARMSALA, India -- More than 50 years ago, Tibet was occupied by China. More than 40 years ago, in 1959, thousands of Tibetans began their life in exile after suppression of a national uprising against the occupation. Three generations of Tibetans have lived through this darkest period of our history, undergoing tremendous hardship and suffering. Yet the Tibetan issue is still very much alive.

Whether the Chinese government admits it or not, the world is well aware of the grave problems inside Tibet. Besides being a constant source of international embarrassment to China, the Tibetan problem is harmful and detrimental to the stability and unity of the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese government continues to whitewash the sad situation in Tibet through propaganda. If conditions inside Tibet are as the Chinese authorities portray them to be, why do they not have the courage to allow visitors into Tibet without restrictions? Instead of attempting to hide things as ''state secrets,'' why do they not have the courage to show the truth to the outside world? And why are there so many security forces and prisons in Tibet?

I have always said that if most Tibetans in Tibet were truly satisfied with their state of affairs, I would have no reason, no justification and no desire to raise my voice against the situation in Tibet. Sadly, whenever Tibetans speak up, instead of being listened to, they are arrested, imprisoned and labeled as counterrevolutionaries. They have no opportunity and no freedom to speak the truth.

If the Tibetans are truly happy, the Chinese authorities should have no difficulty in holding a plebiscite in Tibet. Ultimately the Tibetan people must be able to decide the future of Tibet. I would wholeheartedly support the result of such a referendum.

The Tibetan struggle is not about my personal position or well-being but about the freedom, basic rights and cultural preservation of 6 million Tibetans, as well as the protection of the Tibetan environment. In 1992 I stated clearly that when we return to Tibet with a certain degree of freedom, I will not hold any position in the Tibetan government. I have always believed that Tibet should follow a secular and democratic system of governance.

But I do consider it my moral obligation to the 6 million Tibetans to continue taking up the Tibetan issue with the Chinese leadership and acting as the free spokesman of Tibet until a solution is reached. The trust placed in me by the Tibetan people increases my sense of responsibility.

Successive leaders of the People's Republic of China, from Mao Tse-tung and Zhou Enlai to Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang, have repeatedly acknowledged the ''special case'' of Tibet's status. The 17-point agreement of 1951 between the Tibetans and the Chinese, embodying the original spirit and concept of ''one country and two systems,'' is the best proof of this recognition. No other province or part of the People's Republic of China has any such agreement with Beijing. The Chinese government promised to respect the ''unique nature'' of Tibet.

Despite these assurances, for the most part Chinese policy in Tibet has been misguided by a deep sense of insecurity, distrust, suspicion and arrogance, and by a glaring lack of understanding, appreciation and respect for Tibet's distinct culture, history and identity. What is ''unique'' today about Tibet is that it is the poorest and most oppressed area, where policies implemented by ultra-leftist elements are still active, even though their influence has long been diminishing in China proper.

My position regarding the Tibetan freedom struggle has been to seek genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people. I believe that a resolution of the Tibetan issue along the lines of my approach will bring satisfaction to the Tibetan people and greatly contribute to stability and unity in the People's Republic of China.

Last July, my elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, once more made a personal visit to Beijing and brought back a message from the United Front Department, reiterating the well-known position of the leadership in Beijing on relations with me. So far the Chinese government is refusing to accept my delegation in spite of the fact that, between 1979 and 1985, the Chinese government had accepted six Tibetan delegations from exile. Yet now it is stalling on acceptance of a Tibetan delegation. This is a clear indication of a hardening attitude in Beijing and a lack of political will to resolve the Tibetan problem.

Patience, courage and determination are essential for us Tibetans in a situation of such challenge and of fundamental importance. I firmly believe that there will be an opportunity in the future to seriously discuss the Tibetan issue and face the reality, because there is no other choice either for China or for us.

(c) 2001, The Dalai Lama. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 5/23/01)

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