Why Does Tibet Unnerve China? – Analysis


Nepal’s largest selling daily – Kantipur, referring the Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs- Nepal (MoFN) , reported (September 13,2012) that the ministry will demand clarification from U.S. embassy in Nepal on the alleged meeting of American Assistant Secretary of State Robert O Blake with Tibetan refugee in Kathmandu without the knowledge of his ministry. Blake in his meetings with all the leaders of major political parties, ministers and Prime Minister during his recent visit to Nepal pleaded with them to ensure the rights of Tibetan refugee to live with dignity and fairness and give Tibetan pilgrimage – refugee safe transit passage to Dharmashala, India where there holy leader Dalai Lama is living in exile.

What Blake did not articulated directly but hinted broadly was that for some years under Chinese pressure Nepal has been undergoing harsh treatment with Tibetan refugee living for years in Nepal and is using excessive force even against their peaceful demonstrations. Similar is the case with pilgrim-refugee making efforts to use Nepali territory. Betraying its century long tradition of receiving any guest in trouble with honor and dignity, Nepal has been denying safe passage to Tibetan refugee to reach India and instead has been making their forced deportation to Tibet.

But it is quite surprising that a major global power is putting extreme pressure upon its internally weakened and squeezed neighbor against Tibetan refugees even in issuing legitimate papers of their identification and Nepal to appease its Northern neighbor is complying what China wants.

Speaking at a function organized to mark the 60th anniversary of peaceful liberation of Tibet on July last year in Lhasa, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to be the next party General Secretary next month and President the next year, took a firm stand against Dalai Lama and his followers. Mr. Xi ‘s appointment as the vice chairman of the central military commission last year – one of the most powerful post and being to represent China’s central government in Tibet this year carries meaning. China in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989 has seen toppling of Zhao Ziyang- a formidable reformer and secretary-general of the Chinese Communist Party, soon after for showing sympathy with student demonstrators. In the current context stiff position against Dalai Lama brings rewards and Mr. Xi knows it very well.
Three days before Xi’s address U.S. President Barrack Obama had a 45 minute long meeting with Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, despite China’s angry denunciation and warning that such a meeting would damage Sino-U.S. relations badly.

Obama, a tireless supporter for better relation with China since his election campaign had refused to have such a meeting during his first year in White House. But ultimately bowed to the strong criticism coming from all sections of American society, changed his mind in 2010. In 2011 too, U.S. law makers from both parties led by House Speaker John Boehner, welcomed Dalai Lama at the Capitol Hill and hailed him as a global inspiration for the cause of freedom and human dignity.

They urged the President meet with Tibet’s exiled leader and honor his global stature which Obama readily agreed to.
Obviously, Dalai Lama enjoys tremendous popularity in the United States and no president from either party can ignore a Nobel laureate .Conscious that this needs a delicate balance between China and Dalai lama, President Obama besides expressing his avowed commitment to the China’s sovereignty over Tibet and at the same time did not miss to underline the continued American support for the distinct cultural identity of Tibetan people and human rights there.

Tibetan History and Khampa uprising

When Dalai Lama visits any places it does not become big news per se, but when China gets unnerved at his visit and uses all the raucous it can, it hits the headlines in international media.

Tibet is an ancient civilization. Its history dates back to 127 B.C. Tibetthat was independent for hundreds of years, had extended its strong influence from Mongolia in north to Bengal in South. There are dozens of documents to prove its independent national entity. However, there are equally strong evidences to support that it has remained under Chinese control for other hundreds of year. Indubitably, under such Chinese tutelage Tibet was enjoying maximum internal autonomy at most times a de facto independence.

Tibetan history took a new course in October 1950, when about 40,000 PLA force entered into Tibet from eight directions. The small Tibetan force, consisting less than 8,000 troops, was completely routed and half of them were killed. Dalai Lama then only 15 years old boy appealed the UN for international intervention. The world looked at India, but then Indian Premier J.N. Nehru declined to support any such initiative in spite of heavy pressure from his own party and colleagues in his government.

On May 23, 1951 a seventeen point agreement was signed between the Tibetan and Chinese government on “Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet “ which mentioned – “Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the motherland . . . China” . . ., and “the Local Government of Tibet shall actively assist the People’s Liberation Army to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defenses “. The language of the agreement and the agreement itself is an example of a special status Tibet was enjoying before this take over.

Besides, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Britain and India had diplomatic missions in Lhasa and it is also reported that U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt had sent emissaries to Lhasa to request assistance in their war against Japan during the Second World War.

After the agreement was signed, the farmers of Kham and Amdo in eastern Tibet stood up against the Chinese. They not only posed a stiff resistance but also caused a heavy loss to Chinese army. This invited massive suppression from China that involved mass arrest to public execution and bombardment of ancient monasteries like Chatreng and Litang as well as killing thousands of monks and civilians taking refugee there.

This forced Khampas and Amdowas seek strong external backings. And readily, CIA extended its covert support with trainings and arms supply to them. The numbers and fighting capacity of Khampas soared up, but in the mean time, when a U 2 spy plane of USA was downed by Soviet Union in its way to USSR from Tibet on May 1, 1960 it caused serious ramifications in global politics .

Consequently, President Eisenhower decided to discontinue CIA operations making it easy for the Chinese government to quell the Tibetan Uprising. A few hundred Khampa guerillas took refuge in Manang and Mustang districts of Nepal adjoining Tibet. They were receiving logistics and arms support from CIA even after U2 incident. But finally, the CIA withdrew its support to Khampas in Manang and Mustang after U.S. President Richard M. Nixon’s historic visit to China in February 1972. When the uncompromising Khampa commander Gyato Wangdu was gunned down at Tinker Pass in Mustang- Nepal by Royal Nepal army in June 1974, Khampa rebellion remained shelved in history.

Resignation of Dalai Lama and his new successor Lobsang Sangay

After Deng Xiapong was elevated as the strong man of China he had a meeting with the elder brother of Dalai Lama- Gyalo Thondup and told him that apart from total independence all the other issues between China and Tibet can be discussed and resolved. On March 23, 1981, Dalai Lama – in exile since 1959, sent a letter to Deng even showing regards for “communist ideology which seeks the well-being of human beings in general and the proletariat in particular, and in Lenin’s policy of equality of nationalities”. Further he mentioned “if that same ideology and policy had been implemented it would have brought much admiration and happiness”. Since then there are several rounds of fruitless talks between China and Dalai Lama’s representatives.

In March last year on 52nd anniversary of Tibetan Uprising, Dalai Lama declared his desire to retire from active politics and asked the Tibetan government in exile replace the existing constitution with a democratic one in which the political leadership of the Tibetan community is elected for a fixed term. In an election held on the same month 42 years old Harvard academic Lobsang Sangay was elected as the third prime minister of the Tibetan Government in exile. Election of Lobsan as premier carries much meaning. Dalai Lama during his speech has made a meaningful expression regarding his resignation that – “It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run”, he said.

Dalai Lama may have foreseen that the Chinese government may interfere in selection procedure of his successor- the 15th Dalai Lama which in a way will shatter the cause Dalai Lama has fought for his whole life. However even if his spiritual mantle is handed over to anybody under controversy, the political legitimacy will remain with the elected Tibetan government in exile to help them take decisions independent of the authority of Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama may also have developed a sense of helplessness in him for his failure in achieving real autonomy for Tibetan people even during his six decade long ceaseless fight; however he has succeeded in making Tibetan issue acknowledged as worldwide. But the frustration among the Tibetans in exile continues to soar up.

By his recent act Dalai Lama has also tried to address that disappointment. The new government taking over the charge next month may feel free to look for other options to achieve Tibetan autonomy.

Sangay the young political successor of Dalai Lama has made his priority clear – restore freedom in Tibet and make Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet possible in his life time. He has shown his level of confidence with his claim that his generation can continue their fight as long as necessary. Civil society networks these days have brought profound changes in many societies and Sangay in this regard can show skill and ability to achieve his aim quite successfully.

And obviously, it is the responsibility of China to address the popular discontents among Tibetans or Uighurs in Xinjiang. Chinese political system may make abundance of wealth but Chinese themselves know much that they knew less how to manage discontents among people. If this continues it may eat up the great success story invented by China in the last three decades.

This article was published in The Reporter and updated on September 14, 2012

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai is the former President of Nepal Teachers' Association, Teachers' Union of Nepal and General Secretary of SAARC Teachers' Federation. Currently, he is the Advisor of Nepal Institute for Strategic Affairs (NISS). Mr. Bhattarai has also authored four books -- two of them are about Nepal's Relations with India and one each on educational Issues and Nepal in global Geopolitics.

3 thoughts on “Why Does Tibet Unnerve China? – Analysis

  • September 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    The Dalai 14 is a foreign funded separatist. He is also the only known living “leader” of a religion that owned serfs. He never even apologized.

    Those in Dharamsala are not Tibetans – they are Indians of Tibetan descent. There is a big difference. They may have a say in Indian affairs, but absolutely no say about China’s Tibet.

    • September 15, 2012 at 8:17 am

      Tibet is NOT China….
      How can you peacefully liberate Tibet killing mor than million Tibetans thru all this brutal occupation?
      Fortunately the Tibetan cause is getting stronger in the world ,China is getting weaker by the month,its economy is slowing down while most chinese re still in poverty….I do wish the chines people all the best,but Tibet has to get free!!!!
      This PRC government is too brittle not eventually break…..
      By the way..the tibetans in India are still Tibetans legally…they have no other nationality..
      We all pray for Tibet to be free from this ugly and murderous primitive China…hoping that freedom will come to the chinese people too….
      Peace….Tibet Will Be Free!!!

    • September 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Aren’t you ashamed of writing still in that CCP 50 cent style ????

      Why don’t you mention CCP Bloody crimes to their own falungong people ?
      CCP holds the rest of the pupil as modern slave. Bo Xilai transfere over 4 billion Dollars to abroad ! Where did he get that amount of money?


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