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Wang Yang on the Roof of the Word
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Claude Arpi | Date:23 Aug , 2021 0 Comments
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

What is the Liberation of Tibet?

China wants us to believe that it liberated Tibet 70 years ago.

It did not really happen like this.

It is true that on May 23, 1951, Tibet and China signed an ‘Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’; it is also known as the 17-Point Agreement. But it sealed the invasion of Tibet, not its ‘liberation’.

The 17-Point Agreement

In his memoirs, the Dalai Lama has said that the Agreement had been signed ‘under duress’ and that the seals on the Agreement had been forged.

When he crossed the Indian border in March 1959 and reached Tezpur in Assam, the Tibetan leader denounced the Agreement.

He stated (using the third person) that in any case, the Chinese never respected the accord:

    • In 1951, under pressure of the Chinese Government, a 17-Point Agreement was made between China and Tibet. In that Agreement, the suzerainty of China was accepted as there was no alternative left to the Tibetans. But even in the Agreement, it was stated that Tibet would enjoy full autonomy. Though the control of External Affairs and Defence were to be in the hands of the Chinese Government, it was agreed that there would be no interference by the Chinese Government with the Tibetan religion and customs and her internal administration. In fact, after the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese armies, the Tibetan Government did not enjoy any measure of autonomy even in internal matters, and the Chinese Government exercised full powers in Tibet’s affairs. In 1956, a Preparatory Committee was set up for Tibet with the Dalai Lama as Chairman, the Panchen Lama as Vice-Chairman and General Chang Kuo Hun [Zhang Guohua] as the Representative of the Chinese Government. In practice, even this body had little power, and decisions in all important matters were taken by the Chinese authorities. The Dalai Lama and his Government tried their best to adhere to the 17 Point Agreement, but the interference of the Chinese authorities persisted.

Later on June 20, 1959, in a press conference in Mussorie, the Dalai Lama was more explicit. He explained:

    • To understand and appreciate the significance and implication of the recent tragic happenings in Tibet, it is necessary to refer to the main events which have occurred in the country since 1950.It is recognised by every independent observer that Tibet had virtually been independent by enjoying and exercising all rights of sovereignty, whether internal or external. This has also been impliedly admitted by the Communist Government of China, for the very structure, terms and conditions of the so-called agreement of 1951 conclusively show that it was an agreement between two independent and sovereign States. It follows, therefore, that when the Chinese armies violated the territorial integrity of Tibet they were committing a flagrant act of aggression. The agreement which followed the invasion of Tibet was also thrust upon its people and government by the threat of arms. It was never accepted by them of their own free will. The consent of the government was secured under duress and at the point of the bayonet. My representatives were compelled to sign the agreement under threat of further military operations against Tibet by the invading armies of China leading to utter ravage and ruin of the country. Even the Tibetan seal which was affixed to the agreement was not the seal of my representatives but a seal copied and fabricated by the Chinese authorities in Peking, and kept in their possession ever since.

But today the Chinese authorities are using this event to celebrate the ‘Liberation of Tibet’.

Visit of Wang Yang in Tibet

Strangely, the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) has decided to celebrate the May-23 event in August. Beijing was probably too nervous in May.

God knows!

On August 19, a central delegation from Beijing, led by Wang Yang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) arrived in Lhasa to attend the 70th anniversary functions.

Wang is No 4 is the Communist pantheon.

One can ask, why not celebrated the so-called liberation when the ‘Core leader’, Xi Jinping visited Tibet in July.

There is no answer to this.

Photos quickly circulated of Wang putting a khata around his own neck (strange tradition) and waving to the crowds “as the delegation was warmly welcomed at the Gongkar Airport by representatives from various ethnic groups and from all walks of life,” said Xinhua.

The Chinese agency further reported: “In the afternoon, Wang led the members of the central delegation to the Tibet Museum to attend the opening ceremony of an exhibition on achievements made during the 70 years”.

The exhibition includes “the peaceful liberation [1951], the democratic reform [1959], the establishment of the autonomous region [1965], the socialist construction, the reform and opening-up [1978], and the new era [Xi Jinpng’s], showcasing the significant progress achieved in Tibet’s economic and social development under the leadership of the CPC.”

Wang had been ‘entrusted’ by Xi Jinping to “lead officials in Tibet along with veteran senior Tibetan officials” to Tibet: “Wang recognized the high reputation they enjoy among various ethnic groups and their important contributions to developing Tibet,” said a release.

The Gang of Five Tibetan Communists

The ‘Gang of Five’ was Padma Choeling, a former Governor of Tibet and presently Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Phakphala Gelek Namgyal, the first ‘rinpoche’ to join the Party in the early 1950s, Legchok, a former Deputy Secretary of the TAR, former Red Guard Pasang and Ngabo Tenzin Jigme, representing his father the famous collaborator Ngabo Ngawang Jigme.

Xinhua noted that the CPC Central Committee, the NPC, the State Council, the CPPCC and the Central Military Commission (CMC) congratulated Xi Jinping by unveiling a plaque on which “Building a Beautiful and Happy Tibet and Fulfilling the Dream of Great Rejuvenation [of China]” was engraved.

The agency added that “20,000 cadres and masses of all ethnic groups gathered on the Potala Palace Square on the morning of the 19th to warmly celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.”

Wang Yang then gave a speech.

Xinhua said: “The ancient city of Lhasa is full of colorful flags, flowers and a joyful and festive atmosphere everywhere. Under the majestic Potala Palace, set up a podium in Tibetan style. Above the podium, the solemn national emblem and the banner of “Celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” stood out, and the background wall was hung with the emblem of the big celebration and the words ‘1951’ and 2021’ and 10 red flags on both sides. On the Potala Palace Square opposite the podium, people of all ethnic groups dressed in festive attire gathered here early from all directions, waving flags and bouquets in their hands, converging into a sea of joy.”

However, the faces were rather grim in the audience, although the ‘masses’ had to clap from time to time to the speech of Wang and others.

An interesting aspect of the ‘celebration’s was the composition of the delegation.

You Quan, minister of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) who deals with minorities (and Tibet in particular) accompanied Wang. Other delegates were Padma Choeling, Zhang Qingli (who infamously called the Dalai Lama, a ‘wolf in monk’s garb when he was serving as TAR Party Secretary) and presently Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the CPPCC and more importantly for India, Admiral Miao Hua, member of the Central Military Commission and Director of the CMC’s Political Work Department.

The Speech: from darkness to light

Under a warm ‘applause’ (a bit forced?), Wang Yang delivered a passionate speech, said Xinhua; Wang Yang observed that “the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet in 1951 was a major victory for the cause of liberation of the Chinese people and the unification of the motherland, and an epoch-making historical turn for Tibet. Since then, Tibet has embarked on a path from darkness to light, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to affluence, from autocracy to democracy, from closed to open, and a thriving new socialist Tibet stands tall at the top of the world.”

It sounds upanishadic!!

Wang mentioned the infamous Xiaogang villages on the border with India: “After persistent efforts, 628,000 poor people have all been lifted out of poverty, 266,000 people have been relocated from the bitterly cold land in the high mountains to live and work happily in river valley towns, and Tibet has joined the nation in building a moderately prosperous society on schedule.”

According to Xinhua, Wang Yang pointed out: “today the world is experiencing a major change that has not been seen in a hundred years, China is at a critical period to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, a new journey to build a modern socialist country has begun, and the economic and social development of Tibet also stands at a new historical starting point. 

The Tibetans warned

Tibetans were however warned, they need to “fully implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era, conscientiously implement the decision and deployment of the party central committee, and strive to write a new chapter of long-term stability and high-quality development on the snowy plateau.”

Wang concluded “…let us closely unite around the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, carry forward the great spirit of building the Party, inherit the ‘Old Tibet Spirit’ [the invasion of Tibet in 1950/51] and ‘Two Roads Spirit’ [the Sichuan-Tibet and the Qinghai-Tibet highways opened in December 1954], build a new socialist modernized Tibet that is united, rich, civilized, harmonious and beautiful, and make unremitting efforts to realize the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

There was no mention of the Dalai Lama, Beijing’s bête noire.

The Tibet Military Region, the Tibet General Force of the Armed Police, the TAR Political and Legal Department and the Tibet Branch of the Buddhist Association of China were congratulated.

It was noticed that the Chinese–selected Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu who is President of the Tibet Branch of the Buddhist Association of China, only furtively appeared in the TV reports.

he is clearly not in Beijing’s good papers, though his services will be needed for the succession of the Dalai Lama.

Lt Gen Wang Kai, the commander of Tibet Military Region, one Tenzin, ‘representing the masses’ and Liang Nangyu, the representative of Tibetan aid cadres, also spoke at the function. 

A Grand Gala

Later in the day, a ‘grand gala’ was held to celebrate of the so-called Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.

Xinhua reported that in the afternoon of August 19, Wang Yang watched the cultural performance ‘Tibetan Children’s Heart to the Party’, together with more than 600 cadres and people from all walks of life in the TAR.”

However, the Chinese Panchen Lama was missing in action. He was probably unhappy to have been relegated to the third row in front of Potala in the morning; he played a very marginal role during the entire visit, it was noted.

The CCP’s mouthpiece continued: “The performance reflected the glorious course of Tibet from peaceful liberation to prosperous development over the past 70 years through the first part ‘Sunshine Shines on the Plateau’, the second part ‘Striving for a New Era’ and the slogan ‘Always Follow the Party’, showing the great importance and deep concern of the Party Central Committee to Tibet with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, and expressing the boldness of Tibetan people of all ethnic groups to unswervingly follow the Party and strive for building a new socialist modernized Tibet.” Propaganda is Thy Name.

Visit to Nagchu

“With comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party Central Committee’s cordial care and the fond wishes of the people of the country”, Wang Yang and some members of the Beijing’s delegation visited Nagchu City (earlier called Prefecture); they visited the cadres and masses of all ethnic groups in Nagchu, continued the propaganda.

Wu Yingjie, the TAR Party Secretary accompanied Wang and his colleagues.

Xinhua observed: “Early in the morning of the 20th, Wang Yang and his party took the train to Nagchu City. Once off the train, the central delegation took a car to the Seni County ecological animal husbandry industry demonstration base. Wang Yang walked into the shed, detailed understanding of the base intelligent forage planting, yak dairy products traditional processing, etc., the base to drive the employment of farmers and herdsmen, to promote the local people’s income practice affirmed.”

Here again, he left behind a plate with the inscription sent by Xi Jinping, “Building a beautiful and happy Tibet and fulfilling the dream of great rejuvenation”. 

Visiting some projects

Wang Yang is said to have inspected the grass-roots party organization construction work in Dronyi (Gemar) village, Gemar Lhoma town, Seni county. The usual propaganda speeches were given: “Hangjia Middle School in Seni county, built in 2017, is the largest single project in Zhejiang Province’s 13th Five-Year Plan to aid Tibet, with more than 2,000 students, and the new semester has begun. Wang Yang came here to learn more about the work of education aid to Tibet, hoping to continuously improve the level of education in Tibet, so that more children grow up to become successful.”

He also visited a hospital and inspected the progress of high-altitude scientific and technological tree planting in Nagchu City.

Perhaps more importantly Wang Yang opened the Nagchu-Yangpachen section of the Beijing-Tibet National Highway G6.

In Nagchu he was accompanied by Zhang Qingli, Admiral Miao Hua and other members of the central delegation. Again it must be a first for Nagchu to see a three-star admiral in this remote, cold, deserted high-altitude region. But Miao had probably come to the Roof of the World for ‘political work’ and to follow up on his colleague General Zhang Youxia’s visit in July.

This is a serious issue for India.

Other Visits

While Wang was in Ngachu, You Quan of the UFWD went to Lhoka (Shannan) to meet the ‘masses’ while Padma Choeling visiting Shigatse and the Tashilhunpo, where he briefly met …guess who?

Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-designated Panchen Lama.

It is not known if they discussed in Tibetan or in Mandarin.

Lobsang Gyaltsen, the Chairman of the TAR Regional Congress and No 2 in Tibet accompanied Padma Choeling in Shigatse, while Che Dalha, head of the TAR government (and no 3 in the TAR hierarchy) went to Lhoka.

Gyaltsen Norbu was briefly seen in the Tashilhunpo monastery with Padma Choeling and Lobsang Gyaltsen.

Other Officials present

Zhang Yijiong, a senior member of the UFWD and designated-interlocutor of the Tibetans was in attendance.  He was following his boss, You Quan everywhere.

Another UDWD official, Sithar (or Sitar) was also present during the visit. He was once described as: ‘one-time Tibetan serf, now frontman for China.

A few years ago, Reuters wrote: “For many fellow Tibetans, Sitar is a Chinese government puppet, but for the Communist Party, the former serf is a model of loyalty and rising political star.”

Reuters’ correspondent continues: “Sitar, who goes by one name and whose ancestors were serfs for generations until 1959, has risen to be a vice-minister of the Party’s UFWD and a key defender of government policy in Tibet. The article further said: “[Sithar] has emerged as one of the most prominent ethnic Tibetans backing China’s fight against Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile based in northern India. In that role, Sitar has come to embody the divide between a Tibetan political elite that has embraced China’s programme for controlling and developing the region, and discontented Tibetans and exiles who instead see exploitation and repression.”

All this does not mean that negotiations with Dharamsala will start soon.

In any case, to discuss what? 

When one reads the speeches of the delegation, the positions are too far part.

In Lhasa, the function concluded with these words: “O Party, O Party. You are the sun rising in the east, shining on the snowy mountains and grasslands …A song ‘Always follow the Party’ contains the ambition of the Tibetan people of all ethnic groups to forge ahead with a new journey under the guidance of Xi Jinping’s thought of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, pushing the atmosphere to a climax.”

There is clearly no negotiations possible today. 

It has to be noted that it is the third visit by a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo in two months (Xi in Amdo in June and in Central and Southern Tibet in July and now Wang in Lhasa and Nagchu).

Tail End: Don’t you think that the ‘pigeons’ figuring in the photo at the beginning of this article, look like drones? Was China nervous during the Celebrations? Is Beijing not sure that Tibet has really been liberated? To be followed…


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