US Vice President Mike Pence expresses concerns for human rights in Tibet

US Vice President Mike Pence expresses concerns for human rights in Tibet
October 16, 2018

Central Tibetan Administration, October 5, 2018- Washington: “America had hoped that economic liberalization would bring China into greater partnership with us and with the world. Instead, China has chosen economic aggression. In recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression,” US Vice President Mike Pence said in a loaded criticism of Beijing’s homeland and foreign policy at Hudson Institute.

In his remarks this Thursday, Pence alleged Beijing’s malign influence and interference in American democracy, businesses, academic institutions and media organizations.

“China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential election,” Pence said at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank.

“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working, and China wants a different American president. China is meddling in America’s democracy.

President Donald Trump first charged the Chinese government with meddling in the U.S. election last week during a United Nations Security Council session.

“To that end, Beijing has mobilized covert actors, front groups and propaganda outlets to shift Americans’ perception of Chinese policies. As a senior career member of our intelligence community recently told me, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”

In a sharp critique of Beijing’s policy towards religious freedom in its own homeland, Pence said, “Beijing is also cracking down on Buddhism. Over the past decade, more than 150 Tibetan Buddhist monks have lit themselves on fire to protest China’s repression of their beliefs and culture.

“A new wave of persecution is crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims…Last month, Beijing shut down one of China’s largest underground churches. Across the country, authorities are tearing down crosses, burning Bibles, and imprisoning believers. And Beijing has now reached a deal with the Vatican that gives the avowedly atheist Communist Party a direct role in appointing Catholic bishops. For China’s Christians, these are desperate times.

“In Xinjiang, the Communist Party has imprisoned as many as one million Muslim Uyghurs in government camps where they endure around-the-clock brainwashing. Survivors of the camps have described their experiences as a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uyghur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.”

“Today, China has built an unparalleled surveillance state, and it’s growing more expansive and intrusive – often with the help of U.S. technology. The “Great Firewall of China” likewise grows higher, drastically restricting the free flow of information to the Chinese people. And by 2020, China’s rulers aim to implement an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life – the so-called “social credit score.”

“In the words of that program’s official blueprint, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven, while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

Pence also accused CCP of using rewards and coercion to influence American businesses, universities, and think tanks, and government officials. He said, for instance, that China threatened to deny a business license for a major American corporation unless it spoke out against the Trump administration’s trade policies.

“Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a ‘province of China’ on its website. It also pressured Marriott to fire a U.S. employee who liked a tweet about Tibet,” the vice president said.

Pence implicitly warned that a new consensus is rising against Beijing.

“More journalists are reporting the truth without fear or favour, and digging deep to find where China is interfering in our society, and why – and we hope that more American, and global, news organizations will join in this effort.

“More scholars are speaking out forcefully and defending academic freedom, and more universities and think tanks are mustering the courage to turn away Beijing’s easy money, recognizing that every dollar comes with a corresponding demand. We’re confident that more will join their ranks,” the Vice President added.

Pence urged that Google should immediately end development of the “Dragonfly” app that will strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.

He further accused China of “reckless harassment” of the U.S. Navy during operations in the South China Sea. And noted that China has used “debt diplomacy” to expand its influence in Africa and elsewhere, offering billions of dollars in infrastructure loans aimed at benefiting China’s access to ports and other key transit hubs.

India’s top columnist and novelist Shobhaa De writes about Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s optimism and his personality

India’s top columnist and novelist Shobhaa De writes about Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s optimism and his personality

October 16, 2018

The Week, October 15, 2018 – The biggest star of the just concluded Himalayan Echoes literature festival (third edition) in Nainital was the articulate, dynamic and dishy Lobsang Sangay, elected president of the Tibetan-government-in-exile. Inviting him to the festival was indeed an inspired idea—good work, Janhavi Prasada (director of the festival). During her opening remarks, Prasada introduced the man, whose name means “kind-hearted lion”; the same man was once called a “hopeless son” by his father. Today, he is a globally sought-after leader passionately articulating the cause of his people.

At 50, Sangay cuts a dashing figure. Impeccably and fashionably attired, the Harvard-educated human rights law expert speaks his mind with clarity and fluency, especially when he describes the plight of his fellow Tibetans. He talked about his childhood in Darjeeling, where he was born to refugee parents, and sold sweaters to make ends meet. Despite the early hardships, he managed to win scholarships and come up the hard way. As the political spokesperson for Tibetans, he has an enormous responsibility on his hands. He says he gets all the guidance from the spiritual leader, the venerated Dalai Lama, who has anointed him the Sikyong (ruler or regent). It is a role he takes most seriously, as was obvious when our flight from Delhi landed in Pantnagar and a contingent of local Tibetans rushed to greet him and seek blessings.

At the festival, he was relaxed and charming, frequently cracking jokes at his own expense. During a conversation with author Patrick French, who has visited Tibet more than once and written about it, the sikyong reeled off several anecdotes of his many travels, narrating how many times important meetings at government levels were cancelled at the last minute because of pressure brought on organisers by the Chinese. His message of peace and non-violence translating into the eventual goal—Tibet for Tibetans—is delivered firmly with admirable determination. He talked about patience being the key attribute, one which Buddhism preaches and propagates. He cited examples of the Berlin Wall coming down when nobody expected such a development to ever take place. He mentioned the break-up of the Soviet Union, and stated that a similar turning point would come for Tibetans, too.

Listening to him in rapt attention were several prominent citizens of Nainital. Given the festival’s emphasis on the environment, ecological issues and the furthering of cultural arts and crafts of the region, the venue was appropriately festooned with Tibetan prayer flags and dotted with stalls showcasing local, artisanal produce.

Driving to the ever popular China Peak (aka Naina Peak), which is a popular place for trekking and camping, I thought of the irony of the name given by the British to the picturesque site. Here was Sangay informing us about the many injustices Tibetans faced at the hands of Chinese oppressors, and here we were, enjoying the salubrious climate and making plans to visit China Peak on our next trip! I want to suggest a name change to Prasada—why not lobby with local supporters and rename the popular picnic spot? Why China or Naina Peak? Why not Tibet Peak? That would please Sangay. He could be invited back to Himalayan Echoes with his wife and three-year-old daughter. Who knows, anything is possible, like he said. Tibet may yet reclaim its freedom. Till then, a strong, independent and distinct identity will have to do!

US state of Wisconsin adopts Tibetan as official minority language

US state of Wisconsin adopts Tibetan as official minority language
March 5, 2018

The Tibet Post, March 5, 2018 – According to reports from the United States, Tibetan has been officially adopted as a minority language in the state of Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Tibetan Association announced on Wednesday, February 28, “We are very happy to announce here that the Common Council has unanimously adopted Tibetan being one of the official minority language! This has been a big achievement to the community.” announced the WTA Facebook page on Wednesday.

Madison’s city common council held a meeting on February 27th, with regard to the approval of compressive language access plan by the City of Madison where representatives of the Tibetan community presented cases on the “importance as well as the need to have the Tibetan language recognized due to the increase in its usage in this city.”

The capital city of the State, Madison city, has a long history with the Tibetan immigrant community dating back a few decades. On Thursday (March 1), the Tibetan community commemorated the 25th anniversary of the US-Tibetan Resettlement Project. There is a sizable Tibetan community in the city of Madison which is the second-most-populous municipality in Wisconsin state.

Tibetan leader Dr. Lobsang Sangay: It’s either China transforms you, or the world transforms China

Tibetan leader Dr. Lobsang Sangay: It’s either China transforms you, or the world transforms China
March 5, 2018

The Japan Times, February 28, 2018 – Japan and the international community should pressure China to find a peaceful solution to its long-standing conflict with Tibet, the president of the Tibetan government-in-exile told The Japan Times in a recent interview in Tokyo.

“It’s either China transforms you, or the world transforms China,” Lobsang Sangay said.

“It’s important that the international community … coordinates (its) approach on China,” said the 49-year-old leader, who was on a weeklong visit to Japan in February.

Sangay said China, which controls Tibet, is a threat to “real democracy and freedom of speech,” while noting that many Tibetans, including monks, have set themselves on fire to protest Beijing’s rule over their homeland.

When he spoke to Japanese lawmakers during the visit, Sangay expressed concern that more and more countries are shying away from the Tibet issue amid China’s increasing economic clout, as exemplified by its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build networks of trade and infrastructure in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, according to Jiji Press.

The interview with the most powerful Tibetan leader after the Dalai Lama was held on Feb. 20, just days before the Communist Party of China said it plans to abolish the two-term limit on the presidency. The ruling party’s proposal, announced on Sunday, paves the way for Xi Jinping, 64, to stay in office beyond the end of his second five-year term in 2023.

As China continues to insist that Tibet has always been part of its territory —while Xi further cements his grip on power — Sangay believes the next five years will be critical for his cause.

He has been traveling the world in an attempt to win support for the nonviolent struggle of the Tibetan people.

“Xi Jinping is on a second term. Normally on a second term, you try to do something big, something for your legacy,” Sangay said. “That’s why it is the next five years that the international community should press China to find a peaceful solution on the issue of Tibet.”

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, while many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of their history.

The Dalai Lama and a large number of his followers have been living in exile in India since they fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.

Sangay, born in a refugee camp in 1968, became the head of the Central Tibetan Administration in 2011, the same year the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government-in-exile. Sangay was re-elected in 2016.

The Harvard-educated leader said there is also a plan to find a successor to the Dalai Lama, who is 82. Speaking also on Tibet’s vision for the next 50 years, he said, “We must start brainstorming as to how to preserve our identity, our culture, our language, our religion.”

He said his people must also consider how to provide improved education to younger generations “so they become more sophisticated” and learn how to become effective leaders.

He said the 50-year plan also needs to address “how we make ourselves economically sustainable — in exile or inside Tibet.”

The latest visit to Japan by Sangay was his fourth as Tibetan president. He first visited Japan in 2012 and then once a year since 2016.

To deepen ties with Japan, which has the world’s largest parliamentary support group for Tibet, he said, “I promise that I will keep coming back every year.”

China displays a major show of military force in Tibet during Tibetan new year

China displays a major show of military force in Tibet during Tibetan new year
March 5, 2018

International Campaign for Tibet, March 3, 2018 – A major show of military force was in evidence today (March 2) during an important prayer festival at Kumbum monastery in eastern Tibet as Tibetan New Year (Losar) rituals draw to a close. Footage from Kumbum shows marching ranks of black-uniformed troops in riot gear, giving the impression of a war zone rather than a peaceful prayer festival, the Monlam Chenmo.

Footage and images circulating on social media showed celebrations of the Monlam Chenmo across the Tibetan area of Amdo over March 1 and 2 (2018), with a particularly strong military presence at the ancient Kumbum monastery (in present-day Qinghai), where thousands of devotees gather each year to offer prayers and view the famous butter sculptures.

The images also show airport-style scanning gates at the entrance to Kumbum, and People’s Armed Police troops in camouflage gear marching in front of the traditional Tibetan Buddhist butter sculpture offering. The intimidating display of military force is consistent with celebrations of Monlam Chenmo over the past few years; in 2015, the ranks of uniformed paramilitary police appeared to outnumber religious devotees at the festival, which is one of the most significant religious gatherings in Tibet, attracting thousands of pilgrims. Footage and images from 2015 showed troops in riot gear carrying guns jogging into the monastery.

Other images from across eastern Tibet show crowds of thousands of pilgrims gathering to mark the Monlam Chenmo, or Great Prayer Festival, which is observed in the first Tibetan month that started on February 16 this year. Gatherings of this size for Monlam Chenmo are a testimony to Tibetan resilience and the determination to express their religious identity, even in the face of an intimidating security presence and increasingly pervasive ‘grass roots’ surveillance measures.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the first half of the first month (ending this year on March 2) is described as the ‘Festival of Miracles’, celebrated as part of the Great Prayer Festival.

In a teaching on March 2 (2018) in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama told devotees: “The Day of Miracles is celebrated as part of the Great Prayer Festival that has been held in Lhasa for almost 600 years. It commemorates an occasion during the Buddha’s life when he defeated other ascetics in a display of miraculous feats.”

The Tibet Autonomous Region is currently closed to foreign visitors in what has become an annual closure linked to the sensitive political anniversary of the 1959 Uprising on March 10. This year also marks the ten-year anniversary of the wave of overwhelmingly peaceful protests that swept across Tibet from March 10, 2008.

Decoding the puzzle of the Indian govt. circular distancing itself from Dalai Lama event

Decoding the puzzle of the Indian govt. circular distancing itself from Dalai Lama event
March 5, 2018

The Wire, March 03, 2018 – With a top official having directed all functionaries to avoid any commemorative events organised to mark 60 years of Dalai Lama’s exile in India, there is a bit of a puzzle about the underlying message from this order since the Modi government had earlier projected that it was ready to play the ‘Tibet card’.

The Indian Express reported on March 4 that Cabinet Secretary P.K. Sinha had issued a classified circular“discouraging” government functionaries – political and bureaucratic – from attending events organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile to mark the key anniversary over the next few months.

The circular was apparently issued to central ministries and state governments on the urging of the new foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale. The letter from Gokhale to Sinha was dated February 22, as per the newspaper. A day later, Gokhale travelled to Beijing on his first visit to China as foreign secretary.

The Ministry of External Affairs responded to reporters queries on the Indian Express report by stating that India has not changed its position on the Dalai Lama. Describing him as a “revered religious leader” who is “deeply respected” by Indians, the MEA added that the Dalai Lama is “accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India”.

According to some sources, similar circulars have been sent out in previous years as periodic reminders to government officials to keep their distance.

However, according to another former Indian diplomat, it was a “little surprising” that a formal circular was issued. “Government does at times discourage people from attending a meeting, but this was a pre-emptive move…and done on a formal circular,” he said.

Former director of the Institute of Chinese studies Alka Acharya also wondered if these notes were a normal routine. “It would not be surprising if such notes were sent around by the MEA from time to time in the past as well, possibly on the eve of state visits or when some very high-profile functions were organised,” she said.

The Cabinet Secretary’s circular gave the reasoning that the Dalai Lama’s upcoming commemorative events would be held at a “very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the SCO summit in June. The Times of India reported that there are important bilateral meets planned ahead of that high-level visit by Modi.

India-based French expert on Sino-India ties and Tibet, Claude Arpi, described himself as “sad” at the issuing of the circular, adding that “sensitive time means nothing”. “Times have been ‘sensitive’ since the Dalai Lama crossed the border at Khenzimane on March 31, 1959. It will remain ‘sensitive’,” asserted Arpi.

China has frequently raised the issue of presence of Tibetan refugees and activities of Dalai Lama with the Indian government. The default Indian position has always been that India is a “open society” and there are not many restrictions on freedom of expression, including for refugees.

“It is a sensitive issue that has always been managed. The Dalai Lama has been meeting senior government functionaries. A complete restriction on him is something we have never accepted,” said the former Indian diplomat.

In fact, he pointed out that the circular could give the impression to the Chinese that the government has more leverage on the activities of the Tibetan exiles. “It raises expectations,” he said.

Arpi agreed that China will also ‘note’ that India agreed “to their demand and ask more”. “It will not help India in the long run,” he argued, adding, “…if the time was really sensitive, one or two ministers could be told not to meet HHDL (His Holiness Dalai Lama). Why a circular? [This is] uncalled for.”

He asked whether China would have been ‘nicer’ and supported Indian aspirations at the UN Security council if India had capitulated at Doklam. “The answer is No”.

UN experts call on China to release Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk

UN experts call on China to release Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk
February 26, 2018

Central Tibetan Administration, February 22, 2018 – A group of UN human rights experts* expressed concern over incarcerated Tibetan language rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk and called on China to release him “immediately”.

In the public statement issued today, the group of UN human rights experts expressed concern over labelling “inciting separatism” against Tashi Wangchuk, who was featured in a documentary film calling for “linguistic and cultural rights in Tibet”. The experts called on China to “drop” all the allegations against his comments featured “in an article and video documentary in the New York Times”.

The experts condemned the Chinese authorities for detaining Tashi Wangchuk and “criminalization of his freedom of expression as well as his right to stand and speak up for what he perceives as human rights violations in his region and country”.

The experts further notified the Chinese authorities to respect and uphold the “right of persons belonging to minorities to use and promote their own culture and languages without restrictions, and without fear of reprisals or criminalization”.

In November 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an opinion concerning Tashi Wangchuk during its 80th session in Geneva. The Working Group urged China “to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr Wangchuk without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, including those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

In February 2017, a group of five UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern over the “arrest, initial incommunicado detention and continued detention” of Tashi Wangchuk. The Rapporteurs further expressed concern over the “separatist charges” to “criminalize” Tashi Wangchuk for exercising freedom of expression and “defense of cultural rights”.

A two-member delegation from the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) of the Central Tibetan Administration consisting of Secretary Sonam Norbu Dagpo and Kalden Tsomo, head of UN and Human Rights Desk, is currently in Geneva for a week-long advocacy that began on Monday, 19 February 2018.

*Experts who issued public statements are Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Mr. Jose Antonio Guevara Bermudez, Chair- Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Three Tibetans holding valid passports are refused entry to China

Three Tibetans holding valid passports are refused entry to China

February 26, 2018

Radio Free Asia, February 23, 2018 – Chinese authorities at Chengdu airport in Sichuan blocked three Tibetans holding foreign passports from entering China on Thursday, questioning them harshly and detaining them for hours before expelling them, Tibetan sources say.

No explanation was given for the move, which saw the three members of the group, who had hoped to visit family members in Sichuan, sent back to South Korea after being turned away, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Two members of the group held South Korean passports, and the third held a U.S. passport, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They were detained for eight hours in a small room at the airport, without even a drop of water to drink,” RFA’s source said, adding that a Chinese immigration official and other police officers took turns interrogating the group.

“Besides asking them all kinds of questions, they also searched their web chat and notebooks and made copies of their telephone contacts,” the source said.

“The authorities did not listen to any of their explanations, and the group feels that they were scorned and mistreated because of their Tibetan origins.”

All three held valid visas to enter China, RFA’s source said.

Strict screening

Tibetans with foreign passports go through a strict screening process and must meet conditions required only of Tibetans when applying for visas at Chinese embassies overseas, the source said.

“But even then, many of them encounter various problems on the way, such being stopped and searched at the airport or having their visas revoked when they arrive,” he said.

Harassment is seen more frequently in the lead-up to politically sensitive dates, such as the March 10 anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan national uprising against Chinese rule, he added.

Chinese control of passports held by Tibetans living in China has meanwhile blocked travel by members of the ethnic group hoping to travel to India to attend religious teachings given by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

In January, authorities in northwest China’s Qinghai province blocked Tibetans from traveling outside the country by refusing to reissue passports confiscated the year before.

The move affected hundreds of Tibetans traveling as pilgrims to India and Nepal and as tourists to other Asian countries, and came amid official concerns over Tibetans’ presence at a series of Buddhist teachings led by the Dalai Lama in January.

U.S. Under Secretary for Public Affairs reiterates its support for Tibet

U.S. Under Secretary for Public Affairs reiterates its support for Tibet
February 26, 2018

Voice of America, February 23, 2018 – Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein recently marked the Tibetan New Year by recognizing the many contributions of Tibetans globally as well as Tibetan-Americans in the United States. At the same time, he noted that “Tibetans face great challenges in other parts of the world, especially on the Tibetan plateau.” Under Secretary Goldstein reiterated U.S. support for “the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.”

One way the U.S. has supported the Tibetan people is through the Tibetan Scholarship Program, which has made possible the exchange of over 400 Tibetans from communities in India and Nepal. Participants pursue graduate-level education at U.S. colleges and universities in disciplines that address pressing needs within Tibetan communities.

Indeed, the U.S. will celebrate in April the Tibetan Scholarship Program’s 30 years of academic exchanges with an alumni event in Dharamsala, India. Through presentations and photo exhibits, program alumni will share how they have applied the knowledge, values, and relationships they gained while in America to positively impact their communities back home.

The United States is committed to promoting sustainable development and environmental conservation in Tibetan communities, and to supporting humanitarian assistance to Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.

The United States remains committed to improving respect for the human rights of Tibetans, including their freedom of religion. “It is important that Tibetans be able to practice freely their faith and select their religious leaders in keeping with their own customs and traditions, without interference,” stressed Under Secretary Goldstein.

“Finally, and most importantly,” said Under Secretary Goldstein, “we recognize that the Tibetan people must have a voice in their own future.”

China censors social media in Tibet fire breakout at the hallowed Tibetan Buddhist temple.

China censors social media in Tibet fire breakout at the hallowed Tibetan Buddhist temple.
February 19, 2018

CNN, February 19, 2018 – Fire appears to have engulfed the gilded roof of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple, though details on the extent of the damage are scarce even two days later.

Chinese state-controlled media confirmed a blaze broke out Saturday at the Jokhang Temple in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, and reported that it was quickly brought under control. No injuries were reported.

Authorities appear to be censoring mentions of the fire online and suppressing any details of the cause or aftermath.

Some social media posts on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform like Twitter, appear to have been erased by government censors. The ability to re-post and comment on other posts was disabled by Monday afternoon after working earlier in the day.

The status of Tibet is one of China’s most sensitive politics topics. Travel to the region is heavily restricted and news about the region is often censored.

Jokhang Temple is widely considered to be one of the most sacred and important sites in Tibet. Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves in front of the temple every day, as they have since it was first built in the 7th century.

Devastating news from Lhasa of the Jokhang temple on fire.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of videos being shared online showing the fire, and could not reach authorities for comment due to the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese state media Xinhua said the bustling Barkhor market which surrounds the temple was reopened Sunday. The temple was also open Sunday but will be closed for the next few days as monks celebrate the New Year holiday, Xinhua reported.

China’s state-controlled Tibet Daily News confirmed there had been a fire but it has since been put out. No one was hurt and the surrounding area is now “back to normal,” according to the paper.

Jokhang is one of China’s most heavily-secured sites.

The square outside the temple has seen a number of anti-China demonstrations by Buddhist monks over the years, protesting what they say are consistent attempts by the Chinese government to suppress Tibetan culture and religious freedom.

The temple itself is constructed mainly of wood. It’s age, primary building materials, constant burning of incense inside and the fact that the interiors are small and cramped, would make firefighting difficult. A CNN team that visited the temple in 2016 saw little firefighting equipment.

Simmering tension

Tibet was de facto independent following the collapse of the Qing dynasty, but was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1951, after the communist party won the country’s civil war, to the chagrin of many in the Tibetan Buddhist community.

After a failed revolt against Chinese rule in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama — Tibet’s spiritual leader — fled to India. The Dalai Lama’s former home, the Potala Palace, is located just a few kilometers away from Jokhang Temple.

Simmering defiance from Tibetans sometimes boils over into large-scale riots. Activists say more than 140 people have lit themselves on fire in protest of Beijing’s rule since 2009.

China requires all foreign tourists to have permits and sometimes shuts down access for weeks at a time. It only rarely allows reporters to visit the region. CNN has been permitted to visit twice since 2006.

However, China has been grooming the region for a boom in tourism. New villages have been built and a second rail line, connecting Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to Lhasa has been. China already has a 1,956 kilometer railway line between Qinghai and Tibet.

Many Tibetans feel that the increase in visitors and the influx of Han Chinese, China’s dominant ethnic group, has put their native culture and religion under siege from a government that sees religion as an existential threat to their leadership.