Speaking in Mumbai on Wednesday, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama reportedly said the new rail link to Lhasa was bringing prostitutes and beggars to Tibet:

Beggars and the handicapped are coming to Lhasa in huge numbers. China is also forcing prostitutes to go to Lhasa, leading to the increased danger of AIDS.

The rail link amounts to a “second invasion of Tibet,” according to exiles. Poor Chinese villagers and young girls forced into prostitution are among those deposited by rail in the old Tibetan capital, according to the DL, who also says the railway line may have a negative environmental impact by allowing the Chinese to mine at high altitudes, and contaminating the fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau.

The Dalai Lama’s words are very likely true. Tibetan exiles re-visiting their country surely find a very different place than the one they left behind, as will Cuban exiles in Miami waiting for Fidel Castro’s regime to fall so they can “go home.” Granted, the situation in Tibet is far different, but the Dalai Lama’s words decrying “the handicapped” coming to Lhasa sound, to a reader in the comfortable West, a little unfortunate. (It should always be remembered that we hear everything through multiple filters of translation and fallible news reports as well.)

The DL speaks on behalf of his exiled people and his intentions are no doubt good, but prostitutes and “job-seekers” moved around China at Beijing’s whim — indeed it is scarcely possible to move around China unless Beijing wants you to — deserve our compassion and sympathy first and foremost. The Chinese government continues to tear Tibet apart brick by brick, and the railway to Lhasa accelerates that work. This is an ongoing tragedy. Tibet as it was before the invasion may someday disappear beneath waves of Chinese migrants, but in that case shouldn’t we still hope that those migrants, poor and benighted as these news reports make them out to be, find a better life in Tibet?

Philip Ryan, Webmaster