BEIJING (Reuters) - China rescued Tibet from thousands of years of feudal serfdom, the region’s Chinese-appointed governor said on Thursday ahead of commemorations marking six decades of Communist Party rule.
Padma Choling also said that the retirement from political life of Tibet’s exiled and revered leader, the Dalai Lama, routinely denounced in Beijing, amounted to little more than “waves in a swimming pool.”
Communist rule, he told a news conference, had brought untold benefits to the remote, mountainous region, a notion strenuously denied by exiles and rights groups.
“In 60 years, Tibet has made two leaps forward,” he said. “The first from a feudal agricultural slave system to a socialist society. It leapt forward several thousand years.”
But Tibet started late, he said, and living standards remained quite low.
Monday is the 60th anniversary of what China calls the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet, the formal beginning of the Communist rule over the devoutly Buddhist Tibetans.
China points to education, housing and employment as benefits brought by communist rule to a once destitute people, as well as railways linking Tibet to the world. It says Tibet’s economy has grown by double-digits for 18 consecutive years.
However, the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising, has proved a persistent thorn in the side of China’s claims of bettering the lives of Tibet’s people.
He gave up his formal political role this year, now taken over by a new prime minister of the government in exile, Harvard law scholar Lobsang Sangay, elected in April.
CHINA SEES LITTLE IMPACT FROM NEW PM-IN-EXILE
Padma Choling, an ethnic Tibetan and a former soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, dismissed the change as meaningless. The only legal authority in Tibet, he said, was the one he worked for — under China’s Communist Party
“As one of my former leaders said to me: ‘waves in a swimming pool don’t shape the climate’. There’s nothing special about it,” he said.
A senior official of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department — which has led on-off talks with the Dalai Lama’s envoys — said last week that China had effectively ruled out dialogue with the new prime minister.
Padma Choling appeared to have little hope of further talks with the Dalai Lama.
“The key is whether he will truly give up on Tibetan independence,” he said, a repetition of China’s standard line.
The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence, saying what he wants is merely meaningful autonomy for Tibet.
Many Tibetans chafe under Chinese rule.
Protests led by Buddhist monks in March 2008 gave way to torrid violence, with rioters setting shops ablaze and turning on residents, especially Han Chinese, seen by many as intruders.
Rights groups have slammed China’s celebration.
“Beijing is ironically celebrating an agreement about promises made to Tibet but not kept,” Mary Beth Markey, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, said in an emailed statement.
Unmet pledges, including a large measure of self-rule, she said, “should be an occasion for reflection in Beijing and not coerced celebration in Tibet.”
Editing by Ben Blanchard and Ron Popeski