China and the Question of Tibet
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 05 Feb , 2024

Since China’s invasion of Tibet in 1951, Beijing’s propaganda machinery has been striving to maintain its precipitancy inproving the legitimacy of its claims on Tibet. In the process, China has tried to wipe the Tibetan identity byreplacing it with the Han Chinese identitythroughelimination ofTibetan icons, symbols, history, language and culture.

The Tibetan government in exile in India and its supporters around the world struggle to spread awareness on Tibet while having to counter the China set narratives.

On 25 January 2024, a hearing was held on the ‘Legal Status of Tibet” by the Estonian Parliament . The hearing was chaired by MP Juku-Kalle Raid, Chair of the Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet and a member of the Foreign Affairs Commission.

There were 35 parliamentarians, journalists, academicians and Tibet supporters who were present at the hearing.

 Sikyong Penpa Tsering, Representative Sonam Frasi from the Office of Tibet, London, Professor Hon-Shiang Lau and Dr Michael van Walt van Praag were also present at the hearing.

 Sikyong stated the historical context ofTibet and Tibet’s stance for a Middle-Way Approach. He also stressed on the importance of rectification of the historical information proving Tibet’s independence before its invasion by the People Republic of China (PRC).

According to Prof Lau, there was sufficient and substantial evidence of Chinese Imperial records proving clearly that all the past Imperial dynasties in China,such as the Ming and Qing, considered Tibet as an independent nation and never a part of China. This was reaffirmed by Dr Michael van Walt van Praag’s presentation which portrayed the perspective from a legal stance.He furtherexplained, since the historic records from time of antiquity legitimize the Tibet’s claim, it is easy to comprehend why Chinais persistent with its trading partner nations to declare ‘Tibet as an internal issue of China’.

This would provide the necessary justification for denying Tibetanstheir right to self-determination.

On 29 January 2024, Sikyong Penpa visited with the members of the Latvian Parliamentary Support Group for Tibetto discuss the conditions in Tibet, international support for Tibet, and to seek a concrete action at the Latvian Parliament to acknowledge the legitimacy of Tibet .

Despite the support shown in Latvia , there was no formal statement made by  the Latvian Government on PRC’s human rights violations at the Universal Periodic Review on China last week.

The Tibetan delegation also visited  Vilnius, Lithuania on Jan 30th 2024 to advocate  Tibet’s historically independent status and the threat from President Xi Jinping’s Government in China.

Additionally, it is important to mention that most Baltic States, though in solidarity with Ukrainians in regards to the Ukraine-Russia war, still prefer to continue their business with Russia.

While the Tibetans strive toprove the legitimacy of their state, it is yet to be determined as to how far the Baltic States would extend their favoursto Tibet when there remains a doubt in regards to their actions in regards to Ukraine with a certain inclination to China as well.

Chinese Subjugation of the Tibetan Snow Lion (Background)

On March 10, 1959, thousands of Tibetan citizens assembled around the Potala Palace in Lhasa owing to the imminent threat from the communist Chinese government to abduct and assassinate their leader, Dalai Lama. It was apparent that, with the previously existing Sino-Tibetan tensions, the disgruntled feelings of the Tibetans would soon shape into a national movement.

 What initially started as peaceful protests fast transformed into an uprising against the Chinese government, leading to the massacre of many Tibetans who resisted the oppression from China. Since that fateful day, March 10 has been marked as the single most important – albeit one of the most tragic days – in the history of Tibet. It is also referred to as Tibetan Martyrs’ Day, honouring all those who sacrificed their lives for their nation. By 2009, there were hundreds of reports of Tibetan self-immolation in protest against Chinese occupation.

On March 11th2023, a huge protest was organized by expatriate Tibetans in front of the Chinese Embassy in Vienna, Austria. The demonstration consisted of more than 150 Tibetans protesting against the atrocities and human rights violations committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Tibet, while anti-China pamphlets were also distributed.

In February 2018, China`s public security bureau in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) released a notice to the public to cooperate with the government and inform the authorities of any activities pertaining to the “underworld forces”. Most of the illegal activities mentioned were pertaining to a large number of cultural, traditional and informal activities related to the Tibetans. Preservation of language, dispute mediation or even initiative for environment preservation were viewed as initiatives to secretly support the Dalai Lama or an effort to mobilize a Tibetan freedom movement. All restrictions were implemented to curtail Tibetan human rights. In a notice issued by Nagchu county in TAR, a reward of 100,000 yuan (US$ 15,600) was announced for any tip-off or information in regard to the illegal activities outlined in the notice.

Cultural, linguistic and religious assimilation

In 2022, the Chinese government demolished the 99 feet Buddhist statue of Padmasambhava. In the same year, reports of demolition of two more Buddhist statues was reported. It is understood, the action to destroy the icons and statues of Buddhism is China’s ploy to stomp out anything Tibetan and infringe on their right to religious freedom.

Post the destruction of the Buddhist statues, comparisons were made between Taliban and the Chinese, who in the past were responsible for the destruction of the 15th century Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

Considering all things Tibetan were illegal by the CCP, several Tibetans by default have been considered to be in violation of Chinese law.

As a member of the UN, China has accepted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As such, its own crackdown on Uyghurs and the Tibetans displays a disregard for international law and human life. The first wave of the Chinese repression targeted the individuals connected with demonstrations or dispelling any anti-China information. This was followed by tightened and more rigid security in various areas of TAR, where stationing CCP cadres in every village or monastery would conduct and aid further house-to-house surveillance.

In 2014, “Document 9”, an internal CCP briefing paper, was circulated that stated that the civil advocates in the society were plotting to overthrow the CCP leadership. It would prove to be a threat to the political authority of the CCP. Since the circulation, CCP has found justified reasoning in introducing more addendums to the restrictions on non-governmental activities nationwide.

China`s consistent effort to create cultural, linguistic and religious assimilation under Xi Jinping`s “one ethnic nation” spells the demise of the Tibetan and Uyghur identities. In the process, many Tibetans, Uyghurs and other minorities are separated from their families to receive instructions in Chinese medium in state-run institutions or schools, which function as boarding schools. These institutions function primarily to integrate non-Chinese ethnicities into the dominant Han culture, thereby diminishing gradually the influence of their original identities. It is apparent that by denying the children the knowledge of their heritage, culture and language, the Chinese aim to commit cultural genocide. With no strong ties or loyalties to one’s origins, regions like TAR or Xinjiang could be controlled more effectively by China, as no group would be willing or able to oppose.

UN Human rights experts have also expressed serious concern about the cases of harassment, enforced disappearances, arbitrary prosecution, and detention of lawyers, women rights activists, and human rights activists with regard to China`s crackdown. This also includes China`s mass surveillance in the Xinjiang region, entrenched censorship and consolidation of anti-terrorism and sedition law, which is also now applicable to Hongkong.

In 2022, on basis of the reports from the US Department of Treasury, the US announced sanctions on two Chinese officials, Wu Yingje and Zhang Hongbo, for alleged human rights violations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In December 2022, the US Senate advanced the Tibet-China conflict Resolution Act, displaying its interest in resolving the Sino-Tibet conflict. The bill calls for a resolution to the conflict and has acknowledged the Tibetan right to self-determination. Senators Todd Young (Republican-Indiana) and Patrick Leahy (Democrat-Vermont) together introduced this bipartisan bill, while recognizing that CCP`s motivations in the TAR were “self-serving” with failed negotiations due to CCP`s refusal to cater to any Tibetan interest. TheUS in its resolve to support Tibet, has dissolved the so-called “Tibet Question” narrative i.e. whether Tibet was ever a part of China as claimed by the Chinese. While the American support in favour of Tibet may come as a humanitarian effort, strategically it also provides the US with the opportunity to discredit and limit the growing Chinese influence. This move was welcomed by the Dalai Lama`s office of Tibet in Washington D.C.

Sikyong Penpa Tsering from the office of Central Tibetan Administration in India also viewed the decision as a positive step. The Chinese foreign ministry, in a rebuttal to the US, applied sanctions on two American citizens and called US accusations baseless and interference in Chinese internal affairs.

In June 2022, the leaders at G7, in relation to China addressed matters in regards to China’s commitment to democracy in Hong Kong, calling Beijing’s actions “non-transparent and market-distorting interventions” in the economy, and also conveyed their concern over the human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also an invitee at the meeting.

While China views the 14th Dalai Lama as a separatist, India has consistently maintained its stand to honour him as an esteemed guest of India. Since 1959, India continues to be home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan exiles who struggle to fight for the homeland they left behind.

China’s strategy of Sinicization of Tibet is the very reason why one would question the need for the Sinicization of entities that are already Chinese. The question remains, with the traction building against the treatment meted out by China for Tibet, will the Dragon continue its subjugation of the Snow Lion as the world continues to watch.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Aparna Rawal

is an Independent Researcher and Analyst specialing in Af/Pak region and Counter Terrorism.

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