Against the background of considerable commotion in the international arena caused by various circumstances surrounding the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War in Beijing, another important event in China almost went unnoticed.
At first glance, it seems that it is of an entirely internal nature. However, there are forces within it that affect important aspects of major (regional and global) policies. That is why it deserves the attention of outside observers.
The topic in question is the package of measures connected with the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which took place on 1 September 1965. The formation of TAR drew a line under a succession of various events (including tragic ones) that took place in Tibet after PLA troops put an end to the period of its previous (equivocal) international legal status in 1950.
The most important of these events was Beijing’s holding the sixth “Tibet Work Forum” on 24-25 August of this year. Created in 1980 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, it is the largest governing body of TAR. The key moment of the forum was the leader of China Xi Jinping’s speech, in which two points stand out in particular.
The first emphasises the primary importance of the task of ensuring national unity, as well as long-term and overall social stability, the fight against separatism and the management of TAR in accordance with existing laws.
Comments in the semi-official Global Times on the point, mentioned above, it is stressed that by making this point, the Chinese leader highlighted the TAR’s equal status among all other provinces without any mention of any “historical” features associated with Tibet.
It’s important to note that from the perspectives of a number of representatives of the numerous foreign Tibetan diaspora, that TAR is only part of the “historic” Tibet is just one of these features.
Although this region is huge and takes up an area of 1.2 million square km (going by these figures, it is the second or third largest of the five autonomous regions of China), propaganda materials of organizations acting on behalf of various groups of Tibetan emigrants, put “historic” Tibet at over a third of the territory of China. These organisations believe, that Tibet’s largest areas have been subsumed into the four provinces which neighbour the TAR. This has resulted in the native population undergoing an assimilation process into the numerous Han Chinese who have “flooded into the area,” often accompanied by serious excesses against the local religion and culture.
But Beijing has its own powerful arguments in the propaganda war against the “outsiders,” namely, the Tibet Autonomous Region’s clear progress in all socio-economic ratings. According to official data, the GDP of the region increased hundredfold and the average life expectancy almost doubled in the period from 1993 to 2014. Where for centuries the transport infrastructure had been the mountain paths along which yaks were the main transport, tens of thousands of kilometres of roads and railways, as well as modern airports have been built.
What’s more, the dispatching of a religious cult seems entirely satisfactory these days. In the TAR’s population of 3 million, there are approximately 50.000 monks and about 2000 active monasteries. According to the same official data, there has been no problem with “sinicization.”
According to the very people claiming to represent all overseas Tibetans, the differences with the central government of the PRC regarding the meaning of the category of “Tibet,” and all that has been happening there since 1950, is in fact the core of the Tibetan problem. The leading figure among these individuals remains the spiritual leader of world Buddhism (and, thus, of all Tibetans) the 14th Dalai Lama, who formally retired from political activity in 2011. Since 1959, his residence has been in the Indian city of Dharamsala, which is home to a large part of the almost 100,000 Tibetans who have accumulated in India over several waves of emigration, as well as to their “parliament and the government in exile.” This is a source of the frequent and various problems which occur in China-India relations.
In September 1987, in an open letter entitled “Five Point Peace Plan,” addressed to the US Congress, the 14th Dalai Lama offered his vision of how to solve the Tibetan problem, which is sometimes referred to by the term, the “middle way.” Presenting himself as “the leader of the Tibetan people and a monk of the Buddhist religion, which is based on love and patience,” he called the aforementioned events of 1950 “Chinese aggression.” The letter further stated that in the course of the settlement of the situation in Tibet, it was necessary to consider the security concerns of China and India, whose friendly relations had began to deteriorate after the occupation of Tibet by PLA troops.
It’s true that, after the People’s Liberation Army troops were led up to the Indian border, it was proved once again in New Delhi that love at a distance is fundamentally different than living with a subject of recent adoration in a first-hand contact situation.
As if commenting on these new realities, the letter further stated that “the process of restoring good relations between the two most populated countries in the world would be much easier if they were separated (as it had been throughout history) by a large and friendly buffer region.” Of course, by this he meant “historical” Tibet.
This, and the demand for “the removal of Chinese troops and military bases from the border area with India,” along with a proposal to start negotiations on the future status of Tibet and the institutionalization of relations “between the peoples of China and Tibet,” took the contents of the letter from the sphere of political realities to the realm of non-scientific fiction.
In fact, with the second of the above-mentioned theses in Xi Jinping’s speech at the last “Tibet Work Forum,” he finally put an end to the protracted process of formulating (a kind of) response from the PRC leadership to the main ideas in the letter, published thirty years ago by one of its main opponents. This response is now short and clear: There can be no question of China accepting the 14th Dalai Lama’s “middle way” regarding the “Tibetan problem” (because it doesn’t exist.)
The weight of this response was reinforced by military exercises (unprecedented in scale in mountain conditions), which began in late July 2015, in the Chinese military districts immediately adjacent to the border with India. The message contained in these exercises is aimed not only at the leader of the Buddhist world, but also the country of his current residence. The PLA military manoeuvres should also be attributed to the most important events, carried out in China in honour of the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.