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Free Tibet: A Challenge of Centuries

Free Tibet: A Challenge of Centuries

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By Kaitlyn Posa Following the 2008 shooting of Tibetan protestors in Ngaba, the Free Tibet movement has gained widespread support in the international community.[1] With a vocal support system and the backing of the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s most celebrated and controversial leaders, the question is, will Tibet be “free” in the foreseeable future? There are multiple views concerning the most appropriate future for Tibet. The Chinese government holds the view that Tibet is a part of China, while others seek an independent Tibet.[2] The Dalai Lama, however, champions the “Middle Way Approach,” seeking autonomy but not independence for his homeland.[3]

Chinese troops and citizens have occupied Tibet since 1950, although the region has officially been a part of China since the 13th century.[4] Since this time, Tibetans have been protesting their occupation. In 1959 the Tibetan people attempted an uprising against the occupying Chinese government. This rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and led to the flight and exile of the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to India along with the Tibetan government-in-exile.[5]

Many Tibetans believe that China is actively repressing their culture and religion. The Dalai Lama claims that China has killed 1.2 million people, although China contests this assertion.[6]

The last major protest against Chinese rule in Tibet occurred on March 16, 2008, in a peaceful protest in Ngaba during which up to 20 people were shot and killed by police and hundreds more wounded.[7] However, there have been more recent, smaller protests as well. On 17 March 2015, a 19-year-old monk by the name of Lobsang Kalsang was arrested by police for allegedly walking through the streets of Ngaba holding a picture of the Dalai Lama and shouting, “Freedom for Tibet.”[8] Since 2011, at least 70 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese control.[9] There have been four self-immolation protests on March 16th by monks from the same monastery in Ngaba in the years of 2011 through 2014.

Although there was hope that the Chinese Tibetan policy would change when General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, was elected in 2013, it appears that this hope was misplaced. In November 2012, the Beijing government denounced a statement by UN human rights official, Navi Pillay, expressing concern over the reports of disappearances and excessive force used against peaceful demonstrators. The Chinese government responded that it would “not tolerate interference in its internal affairs.”[10] As recently as March of 2015, the Chinese government has shown no sign of relinquishing control of Tibet. The government has released a statement claiming the right to locate the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after the death of the current Dalai Lama of Tibet.[11] Although the current Dalai Lama has advised his followers to disregard any candidate chosen for political reasons, the Chinese government maintains their right to decide not only who the reincarnation of this religious leader is, but if the line of reincarnation will continue at all.[12]

The Chinese government has also recently publicized economic and infrastructure development in Tibet and lauded the progress in this region. However, the people protest this modernization, as they believe that it is an attempt by China to gain more control over Tibet by determining the citizens’ livelihoods. They are also concerned that the creation of a railway linking Lhasa and Qinghai province will create a flood of Han Chinese immigrants that will dominate the economy and culture of Tibet.[13].

Given the history of the People’s Republic of China, freedom for Tibet in the near future seems unlikely. The island of Taiwan, governed by the independent government of the Republic of China, has been fighting for recognition as an independent nation since the 1940s.[14] China has refused to acknowledge this government as legitimate and continues to consider Taiwan as part of China.[15] As recently as April 2015, the Chinese government has refused to acknowledge the government of Taiwan even in name, despite closer economic ties to the island nation.[16] Similarly, a Chinese ambassador claimed as recently as 2006 that the full territory of Arunachal Pradesh, partially ceded to India in 1996, was part of China.[17] The Xinjiang province has been the site of regular uprisings since the birth of the People’s Republic of China by the Uyghur people, who claim that the province, self proclaimed East Turkestan, is not a part of China.[18] The Chinese government has shown no signs of backing down in regard to the “One China” principle it espouses in relation to Taiwan and all these “Chinese” regions.[19] Given this recurrent obstinacy of the Chinese government in relation to their territories, hope for Tibet’s movement towards autonomy is slim.

The Free Tibet movement is still in full swing globally, with marches this year from San Francisco to New Delhi to mark the 56th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day, a day to commemorate the failed uprising of 1959.[20] However, the current prognosis for Tibetan autonomy is not favorable. Given China’s history with refusal to recognize autonomous governments and the statements released in recent years regarding Tibetan relations, it seems that China is not willing to give any ground on this issue. Something major will have to change if Tibet is going to win its freedom in the upcoming years. The lingering question is, what will change the Chinese government’s mind?

[1] “Tibetan Protest Marks the ‘Massacre of March 16, 2008'.” Voice of America- Tibetan. March 19 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/content/article/2685738.html.

[2] “Q&A: China and the Tibetans.” BBC News. August 15 2011. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-14533879.

“Is Tibet a country? Tibet's legal status.” Free Tibet. Accessed April 2 2015. http://freetibet.org/about/legal-status-tibet.

[3] “His Holiness's Middle Way Approach For Resolving the Issue of Tibet.” His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Accessed April 2 2015. http://dalailama.com/messages/middle-way-approach.

[4] “Tibet profile – Overview.” BBC News. November 13 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16689779.

[5] “Tibet profile – Overview.” BBC News. November 13 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16689779.

[6] “Tibet profile – Overview.” BBC News. November 13 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16689779.

[7] “Tibetan Protest Marks the ‘Massacre of March 16, 2008'.” Voice of America- Tibetan. March 19 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/content/article/2685738.html.

[8] “Tibetan Protest Marks the ‘Massacre of March 16, 2008'.” Voice of America- Tibetan. March 19 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/content/article/2685738.html.

[9] Patience, Martin. “Will China's new leaders change Tibet policy?” BBC News. November 24 2012. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-20457627.

[10] Patience, Martin. “Will China's new leaders change Tibet policy?” BBC News. November 24 2012. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-20457627.

[11] Sangay, Lobsang. “Tibetan Leader: Chinese Government Can’t Choose Next Dalai Lama.” TIME. March 30 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://time.com/3763526/chinese-government-dalai-lama-reincarnation/.

[12] Sangay, Lobsang. “Tibetan Leader: Chinese Government Can’t Choose Next Dalai Lama.” TIME. March 30 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://time.com/3763526/chinese-government-dalai-lama-reincarnation/.

[13] “Tibet profile – Overview.” BBC News. November 13 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16689779.

Yeh, Emily. “Taming Tibet: Landscape Transformation and the Gift of Chinese Development.” Foreign Affairs. March/April 2014. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/140921/emily-t-yeh/taming-tibet-landscape-transformation-and-the-gift-of-chinese-de.

[14] Winkler, Sigrid. “Biding Time: The Challenge of Taiwan’s International Status.” Brookings. November 2011. April 2 2015. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/11/17-taiwan-international-status-winkler.

[15] Winkler, Sigrid. “Biding Time: The Challenge of Taiwan’s International Status.” Brookings. November 2011. April 2 2015. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/11/17-taiwan-international-status-winkler.

“U.S. Relations With Taiwan.” U.S. Department of State. February 12 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35855.htm.

[16] Blanchard, Ben and JR Wu. “China says Taiwan welcome to join AIIB with appropriate name.” Reuters. April 1 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/01/us-asia-aiib-taiwan-idUSKBN0MS36G20150401.

[17] “Arunachal Pradesh is our territory: Chinese envoy.” Rediff India Abroad. November 14 2006. Accessed April 6 2015. http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/nov/14china.htm.

[18] Strampe, Kelsey. “Ethnic Conflict and Natural Resources- Xinjiang, China.” American University. May 10 2006. Accessed April 6 2015. http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/xinjiang.htm.

[19] Winkler, Sigrid. “Biding Time: The Challenge of Taiwan’s International Status.” Brookings. November 2011. April 2 2015. http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/11/17-taiwan-international-status-winkler.

[20] “Tibetans Across the World Marked 56th Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising.” Voice of America- Tibetan. March 11 2015. Accessed April 2 2015. http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/content/article/2675730.html.

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