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For Beijing, Tibetan issue does not exist

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One wonders why the White Paper on Tibet attacks the Dalai Lama when he is China’s best bet. But a perusal of the lengthy document makes it clear that, for the communist regime, there is no ‘Tibetan issue’; all is fine

The State Council Information Office (China’s Cabinet) recently released a White Paper, ‘on the development path of Tibet’. It is not the first WP published by the Chinese Government on Tibet; in fact, it is the 13th since 1992, when the State Council, tried to justify its position about ‘ownership and human rights’. The characteristic of the latest avatar is best described by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala: “[it] tries to belittle His Holiness the Dalai Lama by questioning his sincerity in dealing with China. His Holiness admired around the world and revered by the Tibetan people, does not need any certificate on his motivation from the Chinese Government.”

One wonders: Why such a violent attack on the Tibetan leader, when many in China realise that he is undoubtedly the best bet if Beijing wants to find a solution to the Tibetan issue. But reading through the longish paper, it is clear that for the communist regime, there is no ‘Tibetan issue’; everything is fine and wonderful on the roof of the world. Beijing, however, warns: “The wheels of history roll forward and the tides of the times are irresistible. …Any person or force that attempts to resist the tide will simply be cast aside by history and by the people.”

One can only agree with Beijing, except for the fact that they mistakenly judge the tides’ direction. Democracy, freedom of thought and speech are accepted concepts everywhere on the planet, except in a Middle Kingdom which seems to have passed into a reverse gear. The WP asks the Dalai Lama to ‘put aside his illusions’ about talks on Tibet’s future status. For Beijing, the Dalai Lama has little understanding of modern Tibet, but keeps ‘a sentimental attachment to the old theocratic feudal serfdom’.

The WP argues: “The only sensible alternative is for the Dalai Lama and his supporters to accept that Tibet has been part of China since antiquity, to abandon their goals of dividing China and seeking independence for Tibet. …The Central Government [Beijing] hopes that the Dalai Lama will …face up to reality in his remaining years.”

Tibet has been part of China since antiquity however raises a serious question: What is China? A few years ago, Ge Jianxiong, Director of the Institute of Chinese Historical Geography, Fudan university in Shanghai stated in an article in China Review: “If we ask: How big was eighth century China and if we speak about the borders of the Tang dynasty, we cannot include the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. [Tibet] was sovereign and independent of the Tang dynasty.”

Mr Ge went further and questioned the notion of ‘China’: “First of all, ‘China’ (Zhongguo) only officially became the name of our country with the founding of the Republic of China in 1912. Before this, the idea of ‘Zhongguo’ was not clearly conceptualised. The concept of ‘China’ has continued to expand. From referring specifically to the central plains of China, the concept has since grown to now refer generally to a whole nation…”

The timing of the WP’s publication is linked to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1965, Tibet was divided in five areas, with Southern and Western Tibet becoming the Tibetan Autonomous Region, while other parts of historic Tibet were officially integrated in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai.

The WP categorically rejects the concept of a historic ‘greater Tibet’, as well as the Dalai Lama’s demand that all the Tibetan-inhabited areas should be incorporated into a unified administrative area. Beijing also condemns the Dalai Lama’s middle way approach which seeks a genuine autonomy for roof of the world, simply because China believes that the Dalai Lama’s ultimate goal is independence, which he has denied time and again. Beijing also can’t accept that the religious leader decides on his own to terminate the Dalai Lama Institution: It is for the party to decide!

In several cases, Beijing put in the Dalai Lama’s mouth statements that he never made: “The Red Han people were snakes in your chest and abominable, …the Han people are like psychopaths, ...they tortured us Tibetans ruthlessly and treat us like beasts”.

More serious is the constant distortion of history. Take the Tibetan uprising of March 1959, in which the entire population of Lhasa participated to protect the Dalai Lama. Beijing says: “In 1959, the Dalai party launched a large-scale armed revolt against officials the Central Government stationed in Tibet, and massacred local Tibetans who supported democratic reform.”

The Tibetans remember the facts differently: “In a crackdown operation launched in the wake of the National Uprising, 10,000 to 15,000 Tibetans [by the People’s Liberation Army] were killed within three days.” Dharamsala quotes a Chinese source (a secret 1960 Tibet Military District Political Department report) which admits that “between March 1959 and October 1960, 87,000 Tibetans were killed in Central Tibet alone.”

Dharamsala affirms that according to the information that they compiled, over 1.2 million Tibetans died between 1949 and 1979. In its report on Tibet in 1960, the International Commission of Jurists confirmed these facts. A couple of decades ago, I remember seeing in Dharamsala the files documenting the casualties of these tragic years; it is perhaps time for the Central Tibetan Administration to come out of its shyness, show the world what really happened in Tibet and publish these records. But there is still some irony in Tibet.

As the WP was released, a Chinese official website, vtibet.com, reported the renovation of a palace in Tronkhang village of Nyingchi prefecture; the building is said to be the house where Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama was born. The Tibetan leader, who is reverently called “The Great Thirteenth” by Beijing, fought all his life to make Tibet an independent nation; this ‘detail’ has now been forgotten by Beijing. Another irony, Lhasa has been awarded by the ‘CCTV Economic Life Survey’, China’s highest happiness index for five years in a row; it is however not mentioned, if the ‘happiness’ is for the migrant Hans or local Tibetans! More sadly, as long as the tide does not change, the doors seem closed for the Dalai Lama.

For India (which is never criticised in the WP), the publication is also significant as it shows that, despite its claim of becoming a ‘normal’ nation, a power which wants to lead Asia (for example in the two New Silk Roads project or with the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank), the Middle Kingdom remains rather feudal as far was freedom, plurality (and history) is concerned.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits China next month, he should go with pride: India has succeeded in growing and developing, with her citizens remaining free human beings. This is not the case in China.

 
 
 
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