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As the world meets in Sydney will it remember Tibet?

By Lara Damiani - posted Thursday, 6 September 2007

When some of the world's most powerful leaders meet in Sydney for APEC 2007 this week, the environment will be on top of their agenda. But while they'll talk about measures to reduce greenhouse emissions, it's unlikely they'll talk about how they can reduce the massive environmental devastation occurring across the roof of the world - Tibet.

Brutally invaded by China in 1950, Tibet is a peaceful Buddhist nation that borders India, China and Nepal. Today it is a nation on the brink of extinction.

A land of 2.5 million square kilometres, Tibet supplies 60 per cent of the world’s fresh drinking water. Some say that the world’s next great war will be fought over water and not oil. So it’s not hard to see why China refuses to relinquish its control over Tibet. The “roof of the world” is also rich in minerals and natural resources and massive deforestation and mining is occurring across the Tibetan plateau. Some of the worst offenders are western companies bidding for the rights to mine and destroy what was once pristine land.


Tibet today continues to be an oppressed nation where there is no freedom of speech. This oppression and control was witnessed first hand by me. I am a documentary maker who recently returned from filming in Tibet. To avoid suspicion and so as not to endanger the lives of the local Tibetan community and the guides, filming was undertaken under the guise of a tourist.

I’d heard that religious and political websites were banned in Tibet but didn’t think it was actually true until I went there and saw it for myself. In Tibet and Beijing I couldn’t access any website with political or religious reference to Tibet while Tibet Tourism websites were numerous. Especially those operated by Chinese Tour Companies. With the assistance of a monk, I managed to secretly film what is probably one of only two remaining public pictures of the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Images of the Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet.

I was also stopped and questioned by Chinese military for filming a bridge outside of Lhasa. Being stopped for filming was a bit hairy. I was worried that I may have put my Tibetan driver and guide at risk and also that my tapes and camera might have been confiscated. Fortunately, neither of those things happened but I think I was just lucky. Obviously, they saw that I had filmed the soldier guarding the bridge which is why they stopped me. I think this is indicative of the “cover-up” game that China plays.

One Sunday morning we went out to film and photograph a public event - Tibetans dancing. Interspersed among the crowd were at least 20 to 30 uniformed policemen, keeping an eye on everyone. Strange for a family-friendly morning. There were children, mums and dads and grandparents. Not the sort of event we in Australia would expect to have even one police officer attending.

It’s clear that this is designed to foster intimidation, evidenced in the fact that people in Tibet are too afraid to talk about religion or politics in public. While China has taken advantage of the tourist dollar and turned Tibet into a pretty thriving tourist town, making money from the major icons and monasteries, it was obvious that there is a lot more going on under the surface.

I spoke to a Tibetan man in his early 50’s who had never even seen the Tibetan flag. I tried to get someone to drive me around the outskirts of Drapchi prison which holds political prisoners and couldn’t find anyone willing to do it. I was even told not to take a taxi because if I got a Chinese taxi driver he could potentially be a spy or if I got a Tibetan taxi driver, I could be putting him at risk purely for driving me there.


Many people still don’t really know what is going on in Tibet. Including many Chinese people who’ve been getting a very skewed version of history as evidenced in the Tibet Museum in Lhasa which is a farce. It contains profoundly obvious overtones of the Mao era. It proudly boasts that it was “opened in October 1999 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Tibet's Democratic Reform” and signs behind glass cabinets talk of the “peaceful liberation of Tibet”. However, publicly available film archives prove that there was no “democratic reform” in Tibet nor was there any “peaceful liberation”. It was brutality and oppression at its best with Chinese troops converging onto the nation’s capital with guns and canons, destroying thousands of monasteries and killing, imprisoning and torturing thousands upon thousands of innocent Tibetans.

Sadly, it’s just another piece of Chinese Government propaganda designed to distort the truth with displays and signage illustrating a very dishonest view of Tibetan history. I wasn’t allowed to film in the museum and within a few minutes of entering and seeing the farcical historical display I immediately understood why.

There were many Chinese tourists in Tibet when I was there and those that visit the Tibet Museum are exposed to blatant untruths. This adds to the propaganda that continues to be created by the government in China about Tibet.

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About the Author

Lara Damiani cut her teeth in one of Australia’s toughest industries - fishing. At 23 she was that industry's youngest female executive officer. In 1997, she left the industry to travel overseas and write a couple of books and later worked as a freelance writer. In 2006 she made the transition into the world of film to make movies with messages powerful enough to shake the world and to pursue her passions - human rights, social justice and world peace. The Tibet Project is her own initiative as an independent filmmaker based in Adelaide, South Australia. The Tibet Project is a documentary that will provide a contemporary look at the issue of Tibet.

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