Tung praises Tibet's gains
People from western countries should go to Tibet to see for themselves the progress the Himalayan region has made over the past five decades, Tung Chee-hwa, a vice-chairman of the nation's top advisory body, has urged.
In a speech at Columbia University in New York, Mr Tung, a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said the many Chinese friends with whom he had talked reacted to the riots in Tibet on March 14 with 'sadness, anger and bewilderment'.
'Sadness because of the loss of innocent lives as a result of the riots,' the former Hong Kong chief executive said, referring to the violent protests in Lhasa that mainland authorities said led to the deaths of 18 civilians and one police officer and left more than 800 injured.
Mr Tung said in his speech on Friday that while the Chinese felt angry because the riots 'orchestrated by exiled Tibetan organisations' were 'designed to put maximum pressure on China before the Olympic Games', they were also bewildered because of allegations in the west of oppression and violation of human rights in Tibet.
Comparing the situation in the 1950s and what it is today actually suggested another story, he said.
'In the 1950s, only 2 to 3 per cent of Tibetan children of primary school age had access to education,' Mr Tung said, compared with more than 90 per cent in that age group receiving education today.
While life expectancy for Tibetans in Tibet had been 35 in the 1950s, today it was 67. In the 1950s, the gross domestic product was US$40 million, he said. Last year Tibet recorded GDP of US$4.5 billion and per-capita income reached US$1,500.
The population of Tibet had also risen, he said, with latest estimates at 2.8 million - of which 2.65 million were Tibetans, compared with a little more than 1 million recorded in Tibet 'in the 1950s and for many, many years before that'.
'The increase in population in Tibet demonstrates that as a society, Tibet is moving forward in the right direction,' Mr Tung said.
Acknowledging more needed to be done if Tibet was to continue on its path, he said: 'But I hope that before you draw your conclusion about Tibet, you will look at the facts, not just from me, but facts from other sources. Better still, come to Tibet and China and see for yourselves.'