TIBET 23 May 2011 China annexed Tibet 60 years ago

On 23 May 1951, China annexed Tibet. The 60th anniversary is likely to see the "roof of the world" closed to foreign visitors, headlines from Beijing about benefits China has bestowed in 60 years on what it calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and a possible change in the political leadership of the Tibetan government-in-exile. It could also be an occasion for more "Free Tibet" demonstrations at the gates of Chinese embassies around the world.

The Chinese government banned foreign tourists from entering Tibet in March. The ban, which will probably last three months, takes the region through several sensitive dates. The first is Mar 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against China. The second is the Mar 14 anniversary of violent anti-government protests in Lhasa in 2008. The third is the 60th anniversary of the annexation. Tibetan grievances with the Chinese government flare up and mass protests by Tibetan exiles and their supporters commonly happen on all three dates. The Chinese government blames unrest on followers of the Dalai Lama.

The annexation gave rise to a Tibetan independence movement—led by the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and a campaigner for Tibetan autonomy on the world stage. After the failed 1959 uprising, he fled Tibet and set up a government in exile in India. Most of Tibet's monasteries were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s during China's Cultural Revolution. Thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed during periods of repression and martial law.

Many countries openly support the Tibetan cause, but not to the extent of openly disputing China's claim of sovereignty. Tibet's media are tightly controlled by the Chinese leadership. Official radio and TV stations have extended their reach across much of the mainly-rural region.

Beijing says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule. But rights groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing Beijing of political and religious repression. Beijing denies any abuses. China points out that a new railway link between Lhasa and the western Chinese province of Qinghai will boost economic expansion, but critics say it is likely to increase the influx of Chinese migrants rather than benefit Tibetans. Beijing recently announced it is building three national parks at its landmark attractions. Tourism is an important revenue earner.

Over 50 years after the popular uprising in Tibet against Chinese Communist rule and his eventual flight to India, the Dalai Lama in March that he plans to formally step down as political leader of the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile, while retaining his role as spiritual leader.

Tibet is expecting an estimated 7.5 million tourists this year, and the figure is hoped to double by 2015.

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