The Chinese government's efforts to develop the growing Tibetan economy impressed the president of the European Economic and Social Committee during his recent "fact-finding" visit to the autonomous region.
Mario Sepi, the leader of the consultative interest group with ties to the European Union, visited the Tibet autonomous region from Aug 11-15 and came away from his trip feeling "rather positive."
"I saw the booming economy in Tibet with a great amount of investment from the central government, especially in infrastructure construction," he told China Daily in an exclusive interview. "I also witnessed the strong will of the people to work and participate in this economic growth."
He did, however, add that he detected "a sense of uncertainty" in the populace after seeing a large police force in Lhasa, capital city of Tibet.
On March 14 last year, the city was consumed by a bloody riot that led to the deaths of at least 18 civilians and one policeman. Reports have said that 382 civilians and 241 police were injured.
"The consequences of the March 14 riot are still felt," Sepi explained. "I do have an impression that the police in the streets are not against people, but to fight against uncertainty."
He added that he did not witness any police officers abusing people. "You can see people and monks perform their own prayers freely in the streets and respecting their own forms of religious expression," Sepi wrote in his blog after paying a visit to the historic Jokhang Temple.
Sepi said that the city's uncertainty is likely linked to development. Some people think that economic growth may mean that Tibetans have to relinquish their culture and values, he said.
"But this is not true because strong cultures such as, I think the Tibetan one is, do not lose their identity," he said. "I think the perceptions from the West are based too much on ideology and prejudice."
Sepi added that the major objective of his trip was to try to shift attention from ideology to concrete problems concerning the everyday life of Tibetans based on social and economic issues.
The central government has been willing to develop the local economy to narrow the economic gap between Tibet and the rest of the country, Sepi claimed.
Sepi urged for more opportunities for Tibetans to shift their creative energy to more active engagements such as providing vocational training, motivating Tibetans to participate in economic growth instead of passively receiving money from the central government.
A local NGO handicraft development center, he said, managed to increase the revenues of certain rural families by nearly 10 times in just five years.
"It proves how people can be stimulated when given a chance," he said.
Sepi said he is optimistic about Tibet's future. "I believe Tibet will enjoy growth, in terms of economy, and also in terms of relevance for China," he said.
(China Daily September 19, 2009)