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Two Perspectives: Chinese Rule of Tibet is Illegitimate

Two Perspectives: Chinese Rule of Tibet is Illegitimate

Image source: Wikimedia

Image source: Wikimedia

Editor's Note: As part of the Globe's "Two Perspectives" series, this article is being published in order to further debate on campus about the political status and future of Tibet. An article opposing this viewpoint has been published simultaneously, which we encourage you to read for more perspective.

By Tsering Choedon

On February 13th, 2015 the Emory chapter of Students for A Free Tibet (SFT) hung a Tibetan national flag at the Dobbs University Center (DUC) as part of the SFT “Tibet Flag Challenge” campaign. The campaign was launched to mark the 102nd anniversary of the proclamation made by the 13th Dalai Lama on Tibetan Independence Day.  

On March 24, 2015, members of the Chinese Students Union at Emory (CSUE) ripped off the Tibetan national flag from the DUC claiming that it was “offensive to many of Chinese students.” This was done without approaching the Emory administration, which was a blatant attack on the “freedom of expression” of SFT members at Emory.

SFT members had acquired prior permission from the proper university administration to hang the Tibetan national flag. Hence, DUC Director Ben Perlman recognized it to be a lawful act of the SFT, rejected the CSUE protest, and further allowed the SFT to hang a new Tibetan national flag at DUC.

Following this, CSUE initiated a petitioned Emory for a “non-biased and open environment.” In the fall of 2015, a report was published in the Sino-Emory Newsletter with distorted and biased opinions lacking factual support regarding the incident. It reported that “Tibet was, is and will be a part of China” without any legitimate historical or contemporary sources.

This kind of rhetoric by certain Chinese student groups who were raised with the idea that China liberated Tibetan people from “feudalism and serfdom” is not isolated to this incident. On the contrary, there has been a recurring trend of protest across universities in the United States, as exemplified by the Chinese students’ protest against the Dalai Lama’s recent invitation to be the keynote speaker at the UCSD graduation ceremony. The protest was based on the claim that the Dalai Lama is a “separatist” who “sought to divide the motherland.” Such student groups lack essential facts regarding the Tibet issue, as confirmed by the Chinese-born writer Jianglin Li who stated: “Like everyone in China, I was raised on the party line. I never thought to question it until I came to the U.S. for graduate study in 1988 and discovered how differently people here think of Tibet.”

In order to substantiate my claim that Tibet has been illegally occupied by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it is imperative to understand the ways in which the PRC took complete control of Tibet in 1959, what has been happening in Tibet since then, and how the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile population has been making efforts to resolve the issue.

 Firstly, the claim of a so-called "Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” is an excuse to legitimize the illegal occupation of Tibet. A year after the foundation of the PRC, in October 1950 Chinese troops attacked Eastern Tibet’s provincial capital of Chamdo. This eventually resulted in a highly controversial negotiation, known popularly as the “17- point Agreement” which officially claimed “Tibet as a part of China” for the first time in history. This document was signed on May 23, 1951 by Tibetan officials under duress of further military attacks. By September 1951, Chinese troops marched into Lhasa and continued their brutal military occupation of Tibet. Consequently, the Dalai Lama, the religious and then political leader of Tibet, was forced to flee Tibet and formally denounced the “17-point Agreement” as null and void upon reaching India, declaring it to be “thrust upon the Tibetan Government and people by the threat of arms.”

 Secondly, the PRC has consistently and persistently been internationally reported to be violating human rights in Tibet. Following the occupation, China ruthlessly suppressed any opposition in Tibet, confining 200,000 to forced labor camps and subjecting the civilian population to torture. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) reported that there existed a prima facie case on the part of the Chinese to attempt to destroy the national, ethical, racial, and religious identities of Tibetans by killing and causing serious bodily and mental harm members of the group.  In October 1959, the UN passed Resolution 1353, calling for "respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life." In December 1961, the United Nations passed Resolution 1723, calling for "the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms including their rights to self-determination." Again, in December 1965, The UN Resolution 2079 renewed the call for the "cessation of all practices which deprive the Tibetan people of the human rights and fundamental freedoms which they have always enjoyed."

While China claims to have transformed Tibet into a “socialist paradise,” as recently as 2017, Freedom House described Tibet as “one of the two most oppressed places in the world.”  Over the years, China initiated oppressive policies such as the mass settlement of ethnic Han Chinese on Tibetan territory, making Tibetans a minority in their homeland; forced resettlement of Tibetan nomads under the guise of development and thus attacking the traditional way of life; destruction of the Tibetan natural resources and environment; and restrictions on religious freedom and traditional cultural practices. Such continued oppression and brutality have led to a new form of protest by Tibetans in Tibet: since 2009, over 140 Tibetans have self-immolated.

 Thirdly, the Dalai Lama proposed the “Middle Way Approach” in the 1980s whereby he called upon China to grant genuine autonomy to the six million Tibetans across the three provinces of Tibet without seeking a territorial secession of Tibet from China.  The “Middle Way Approach” was and continues to be supported by the majority of the Tibetan population in exile, whereby Tibetans hope to preserve their distinct culture, religion, and national identity while still remaining a part of China. In response to the offer made by the Dalai Lama for negotiation, China demanded the Dalai Lama to acknowledge that “Tibet has been an integral part of China since antiquity” and “Taiwan is a province of China.” This stipulation has led to the stalemate of the negotiation since the Chinese demand directly contradicts historical evidences. Despite the Dalai Lama’s pragmatic and peaceful initiatives to resolve the Tibet issue in the mutual interest of both parties, the Chinese government continues to attack him as a “separatist.”  

The Chinese student groups’ love and loyalty towards their country is undoubtedly respectable but such patriotism cannot be employed as a tool to spread their government’s propaganda in educational institutions. Respecting others and their opinions is an integral part of learning. As students with the privilege to an education and a wealth of resources, we must seek to address disagreements objectively, ethically, and respectfully. With regard to debunking the “Tibet being a part of China since antiquity,” this writer humbly and highly recommends Last Week Tonight with John Oliver as a starting point.  

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