Sunday, 11 October 2009

How my trip to Tibet changed my mind. by James Gray MP

Taken from the Gazette & Hearld Sept. 24th (North Wiltshire)
INSPIRED by Brad Pitt's film Seven Years in Tibet and feeling outraged by the murdering Chinese who invaded the mountain kingdom, I jumped at the chance to see things for myself.  The invitation came courtesy of the Parliamentary All Party Group for China and, alongside ex-Liberal leader Lord (David) Steel, cross-bench peer Lord (David) Alton and a Labour MP, I spent last week in Tibet and China. We journeyed by train from Xining in mid-China over the 5,000 metre high mountains to Lhasa, thankfully not needing the oxygen masks which many of the other passengers were gasping into.  While wondering at the sheer engineering skill of it, all of us felt a slight queasiness as to exactly why they had done so? Was this neo-colonialism or militaristic? What we found in Tibet was a former tiny theocratic and feudal country transformed into a modern Chinese way of life.  GDP per head has rocketed, the infrastructure improved, new schools and universities, life expectancy even for the poorest farmers, many of whom have been rehoused, has more than doubled. Of course we felt some sentimental nostalgia for the mountain kingdom of 100 years ago. But there is no doubt about it, the way of life is massively better under China than it could possibly be in an independent nation state Tibet.  We were of course deeply concerned about reported human rights abuses - as we are across China. We pressed the Chinese hard on reports of a large number of monks who had disappeared after last March's riots, of a local official who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the minor offence of communicating with the outside world, and of two people sentenced to death for opposing the Chinese. Similarly we pressed the Chinese hard on the status of the Dalai Llama, and how it might be that he could be allowed to return to Llasa after his 50 years in exile. So we by no means blindly accepted some of the - at times pretty crass - propaganda which our Chinese hosts tried to feed us. But overall, I have to admit that Chinese sovereignty over Tibet is very much in the best interests of the ordinary people of that lovely country, and the Chinese are going to great lengths to preserve their heritage and give them religious freedom. So I will not in the future be flirting with Bradd Pitt type sentimentality by calling for a "Free Tibet."

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