| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Feb 16 The plight of Tibetans
has deteriorated since a wave of deadly protests shook the
region in 2008, as soldiers, spies and constant checkpoints put
the Chinese region into a "lockdown", the Tibetan prime
Relations between exiled Tibetan leaders and Beijing had
also deteriorated in the past four years as the Chinese
government shunned talks with Tibetan envoys, Lobsang Sangay
told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
Riots killed at least 19 people throughout Tibetan parts of
China in 2008, prompting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader,
the Dalai Lama, to call life in the region "hell on earth".
Beijing has tightened its grip on what it calls the Tibet
Autonomous Region since then, flooding the area with soldiers
and non-Tibetan Chinese, and squeezing the job prospects and
freedom of expression of the local population, Sangay said.
In the past year, Chinese authorities have grappled with a
spate of self-immolations protesting the Tibetans' plight.
Beijing has called the deaths acts of terrorism and accused the
Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, of fomenting unrest.
"What's happening is a lockdown of Tibet. And it's very,
very worrisome," Sangay said. "They really don't want the
outside world to know what's happening inside Tibet.
China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in in
1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture
and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought
development to a backward region.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising
against Chinese rule.
"What you see is more Chinese moving in, more jobs being
taken over, more presence in the administration, more military
presence and more discrimination," Sangay said.
He spoke to Reuters in a sparse meeting room at an office of
the Dalai Lama in central New Delhi. On the same morning, a
short drive away, dozens of police officers dragged crying and
screaming Tibetan protesters away from the manicured laws
outside the Chinese embassy, bundling them into vans.
The demonstration, by a few dozen Tibetan students, was
short-lived. Cries of "free Tibet" and "we want justice" quickly
fell silent and traffic noises picked up again as the protesters
were taken away.
Tension has risen in Tibetan parts of China since January.
Since last March more than a dozen Tibetans are believed to have
died by setting themselves on fire. The Dalai Lama has blamed
the self-immolations on "cultural genocide" by the Chinese.
Advocacy groups fear the burnings will continue or
accelerate before the Tibetan new year, which begins on Feb. 22.
Sangay denied stoking the self-immolations but hinted at the
prospect of further unrest during the new year, where he has
asked Tibetans to observe spiritual rituals rather than party.
"So you will go to the monastery to pray. Now if that is
seen as a gathering and a protest, then you are looking at a
very, very worrisome scenario," Sangay said.
Foreign journalists, academics and even domestic tourists
had been barred or discouraged from entering Tibetan areas,
Sangay said. Internet and phone services had been restricted and
military camps set up outside major monasteries, he added.
"It looks like the Chinese government is preparing for more
crackdown, (rather) than trying to really understand the
grievances of the Tibetan people," he said.
A Harvard law scholar, the 43-year-old Sangay is now the
exiled Tibetans' highest ranking political leader after the
Dalai Lama retired from political life last year. In May, China
effectively ruled out dialogue with Sangay's government, saying
it would only meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama.
"The Chinese government has not received our envoys since
January 2010," Sangay said.
The Dalai Lama still casts a long shadow over policy-making,
and many Tibetans worry what shape their struggle for greater
autonomy will take once the charismatic leader, with his message
of non-violence, dies.
"(It's a) lot harder because before, many decisions you
make, you have to seek his endorsement. Then you go to the
Tibetan people and say I have the endorsement of His Holiness.
Then you are shielded by that endorsement," Sangay said.
"Now, the final decision is yours. Then if something goes
wrong, obviously you'll be criticised."
(Editing by Nick Macfie)