Address of Mr. Pema Jungney, the Chairman of the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies, at the 4th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet, Edinburgh, 18-19 November 2005

The Honorable Chris Balance, the President of the Scottish Cross Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, the Honorable Harry Cohen, the President of the UK Parliamentary Group for Tibet, respected Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the Chairman of the Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration, and respected fellow parliamentarians and friends across the world, on behalf of the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies, I would like to thank you for your presence here at the 4th
World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet.

My colleagues in the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies and I are delighted that we have been able to organise the fourth World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet here in the beautiful city of Edinburgh. This convention comes after a gap of eight long years. And for this reason, at the very outset, I would like to thank both the Scottish Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet and the UK Parliamentary Group for Tibet for shouldering the heavy responsibility of organising this important convention. Without their support, it would not have been possible to hold this convention.

For the benefit of new participants at this convention, let me briefly go over the first three parliamentarians’ conventions on Tibet. The first convention was held in New Delhi in March 1994. The convention was attended by 69 parliamentarians from 25 countries. It adopted the Delhi Declaration which calls for the formation of all party
parliamentary groups for Tibet in respective legislative bodies around the world and to create an international network of parliamentarians to coordinate activities for the cause of the Tibetan people. It also calls upon the parliamentarians to prevail upon their governments to speak up for the rights of the Tibetan people.

The second convention on Tibet was held in May 1995 in Vilnius in Lithuania. This was attended by 88 parliamentarians from 25 countries. It reaffirmed its support for the Delhi declaration and called upon governments around the world to support the efforts of the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama to restore the rights of the people of Tibet through a peaceful settlement.

The third parliamentarians’ convention on Tibet was held in April 1997 in Washington, DC. 63 parliamentarians from 27 countries attended the convention. The convention reaffirmed its support for His Holiness the Dalai Lamas Middle-Way Approach of seeking genuine self-rule for the whole of Tibet within the People’s Republic of China.

Since the convention on Tibet in Washington, DC, the number of formally organised parliamentary groups for Tibet has grown to 27, spread across 27 countries, mainly in the West and Latin America and also in countries like India and Japan. In countries like the United States, where they choose not to have formal support group, nevertheless the parliamentarians have been equally active. Along with the Tibet Support Groups, these parliamentary groups for Tibet have been instrumental in
highlighting the issue of Tibet in the international forums and bringing the concerns of the Tibetan people to the attention of their respective governments to influence on the Peoples Republic of China.

Because of the sustained international pressure brought on China, the authorities in recent years released some high profile political prisoners like Takna Jigme Sangpo, Ngawang Chophel and Ngawang Sangdrol. The sustained expression of international concern on the vexed issue of Tibet has also in part resulted in the Chinese
authorities re-establishing ties with Dharamsala and accepting visits by the Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to discuss the concerns of the Tibetan people.

We would like to say emphatically that all these positive developments would not be possible without the efforts of the worldwide Tibet movement and especially the sustained support of the various parliamentary groups for Tibet.

However, there are still issues that are of deep concern to the Tibetan people. For this reason, this convention is designed in such a way that we will have time and opportunity to explore these issues in greater detail. We have prepared a detailed background papers on the four core issues of concern to the Tibetan people and I hope that you have had time to go through them.

The issues of great concern to us are China’s western development programme, the still appalling human rights situation in Tibet, the deteriorating environmental situation, and our own sincere efforts to create the right environment for substantive discussions on the issue of Tibet.

China’s western development programme was launched in 1999 by the then President Jiang Zemin. The economic reason for the western development programme is to bridge the yawning economic disparity between the rich coastal areas of eastern China and the impoverished western regions. The Chinese authorities hope to accomplish this by accelerating the economic development in the poor western regions of the country and thus bringing a measure of economic equality between the east and west.

However, in Tibet much of the development activities pursued there are concentrated in infrastructure, namely improving communications, roads and initiating the ongoing construction of the railroad to Lhasa. The first train, on a trial basis, thundered into the Tibetan capital on 15 October 2005 amidst great official fanfare.

Tibetans in Tibet, however, suspect that the real reason for the development in infrastructure is to enable China easier access to Tibet’s rich mineral and other natural resources. The Tibetan people say that this will make it easier for China to cart away these resources to the mainland to fuel its development and to bring in more
Chinese settlers onto the Tibetan plateau to ease the pressure of population on other parts of China’s crowded regions.

Tibetans in Tibet also assert that the vast majority of Tibetans are not benefiting from the economic boom that is going on in Tibet. Chinese settlers, who are attracted to the ongoing boom on the roof of the world, are the main beneficiaries and the common Tibetans are increasingly marginalised and remain as poor as before, if not poorer.

Although Tibetans from Tibet say that they are left pretty much to themselves as long as they don’t involve themselves in what the authorities perceive as political activities, the human rights situation in Tibet continues to remain grim. Compared even to coastal China, the authorities keep a tight lid on normal human activities in
Tibet. Dissent of any form in Tibet is still punishable by imprisonment. The whereabouts of the Panchen Lama recognised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama continues to be a matter of deep concern for us.

Authorities permit the free practice of the rituals of Buddhism, so as to give the impression that there is religious freedom in Tibet: being allowed to say prayers, worship at temples and monasteries, make offerings at these places and to take the sacred walk around holy places. But these are the outward form of Buddhism and not its real
substance. The essence of Buddhism is for a teacher being freely allowed to teach his wisdom and insight to his students and his students in turn passing this wisdom to their own students, which creates an unbroken lineage of Buddhist knowledge orally transmitted from teacher to students. This is banned in Tibet. This ban on the free
teachings of the Buddha undermines the very ability of the Tibetan people to hold on to their spiritual and cultural heritage.

Tibet’s fragile eco-system and the devastating impact of China’s rapid economic development on this system are of particular concern to us. Tibet is Asia’s water tower. 10 of Asia’s major rivers originate from Tibet. According to environmentalists, they feed about 47% of the Earth’s total human population. So what China’s does or does not do in Tibet has a major impact on millions of people downstream. Rumors of China’s plans to divert the Brahmaputra River, which flows downstream to India and Bangladesh, and despite the official ban, the un-official logging of Tibetan forests contribute to the annual devastating flooding in India, Bangladesh and in China itself.

As for the ongoing railway project, Tibetans in Tibet fear this will help China accelerate the migration of its jobless population onto the Tibetan plateau and cart away Tibetan resources. Many Tibetans fear this will inundate Tibetans in a sea of Chinese settlers.

On the bright side is the renewed contacts between Dharamsala and Beijing, which started in 2002. Since then the Envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mr. Lodi G. Gyari and Mr. Kelsang Gyaltsen, along with their two senior assistants, made three visits to Beijing, including Tibetan areas, and had a frank and substantive discussions with their counterparts at the Chinese embassy in Berne in Switzerland this summer. It is our sincere hope that these contacts will lead to a peaceful  settlement of the protracted issue of Tibet, that satisfies the wishes of the Tibetan people and which meets the genuine security concerns of the Chinese authorities.

We believe that it is in this area that the members of parliaments around the world could be the most effective in prevailing upon the Chinese leadership to settle the issue based on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle-Way Approach.

In conclusion, I would like to once again thank the Scottish Cross Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet and the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet for their involvement in the organisation of this important conference. I would also like to express the appreciation of the Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies to all the members of the organising committee and others who have worked so hard to ensure the smooth running of this conference.

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