Women and men in colorful local costumes danced and sang at the foot of the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, the region's exiled god-king. Chinese soldiers also marched in formation, some carrying an enormous Chinese flag.
Tibet -- the vast, sparsely populated region known as "the roof of the world" -- is one of China's five autonomous regions populated by ethnic minority groups. Human rights groups say abuses are widespread and that there is no real autonomy there.
Alison Reynolds, director of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, told RFE/RL that the celebrations are a "major propaganda opportunity” for China to promote its version of autonomy. “The celebrations provide China with numerous opportunities to describe how they feel that Tibet has benefited from being under Chinese rule," she said. "China is seeking to show that Tibet has autonomy and that autonomy is perfectly adequate.”
A 52-member Chinese government delegation attended today's festivities, with Jia Qinglin -- ranked fourth in the Communist Party hierarchy -- serving as master of ceremonies. Jia noted that Tibet has undergone “tremendous changes” in the past decades. He also underlined the region’s two major tasks, development and stability, saying China will crack down on separatist activities to ensure social stability and state safety.
Beijing says life has improved tremendously in Tibet under its rule and that the region’s gross domestic product has tripled since 1965.
However, Alison says few Tibetans have benefited from Beijing’s development plans. “Despite there being large-scale investment in Tibet, a vast majority of Tibetans are not benefiting economically from it. They need a very different kind of development. What they’re getting is large-scaled infrastructure projects that fuel the migration of Han Chinese settlers into the region, and put further pressure on its religion and on its culture,” Alison said.
China is currently building a nearly 2,000-kilometer railway to connect Tibet to the rest of the country, which it says will help the region participate in the Chinese economic boom.
The executive director of the Amsterdam office of the International Campaign for Tibet, Tsering Jampa, told RFE/RL that China's announcements show a continued emphasis on hard-line policies in the region. “These [comments] indicate continued emphasis on hard-line policies against Tibetan culture and religion," she said. "And this means the [further] assimilation of the Tibetans into the wider Chinese economic and cultural model.”
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule, says he wants real autonomy for his homeland and denies Chinese accusations he is seeking independence.