Two Perspectives: Chinese Rule of Tibet is Legitimate
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 Richard Wang
For generations, Tibetan-Chinese relations have endured severe policy missteps, but Tibet has always been a brother to China. Their relationship is historically, legally, and economically inseparable.
First, in order to understand the current Tibetan-Chinese relations, one must understand their history. Although Tibetan history is muddled since the middle-twentieth century and Tibetan-Chinese relations have been both harmonious and full of conflicts, the two nations have seldom been apart since Yuan dynasty. In the mid-13th century, Tibet was officially incorporated into the territory of China. Despite waves of dynastic changes in eastern China, Tibet has remained under the jurisdiction of the central Chinese government. The succession of state theory in international law, which arose in the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, is about the replacement of one State by another in the responsibility of territory. The theory provides a legal base for the fact that all subsequent Chinese governments succeeding the Yuan Dynasty have had the right to exercise de jure sovereignty over Tibet.
After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), delegates from Tibet and China signed the 1951 Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, which states that “the Tibetan people shall return to the family of the Motherland the People's Republic of China”. Though it is highly debated whether the treaty was signed under duress, it is widely acknowledged that this agreement constitutes the legal basis of China’s sovereignty over Tibet. The 14th Dalai Lama sent a letter indicating acceptance of the treaty to China after five months, stating that "the Tibet Local Government as well as the ecclesiastic and secular people unanimously support this agreement." Nonetheless, a few year later, in 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama disregarded the agreement and initiated the Tibetan Uprising, a revolt that erupted in Lhasa for Tibetan independence. The unsuccessful uprising failed to separate Tibet from China, and the 14th Dalai Lama fled as a result.
Second, the Chinese government is the sole legitimate ruler of Tibet. The self-claimed “Tibetan government-in-exile” has no recognition by any other country in the world. As for the leader of “government-in-exile”, the 14th Dalai Lama is the most important and controversial figure in the debate surrounding Tibetan sovereignty. Some revere him like a god. He is surrounded by honors and titles: he is a religious leader, a 1989 Nobel Prize laureate, and a Distinguished Professor at Emory University. On the contrary, others accuse the 14th Dalai Lama of being a separatist who has tried to break the integrity of China’s territory and has never once acknowledged the benefits he received from China. According to State Council Information of the People’s Republic of China, 14th Dalai Lama is even corrupt: in 1959, he owns 208,000 ounces’ gold and 123,500,000 ounces’ silver which he received exploiting people. In addition, Michael Backman pointed out in his article, Behind Dalai Lama's holy cloak, the unclarity of the 14th Dalai Lama’s government budget. Backman claimed there was a huge difference between the donation Dalai Lama received and his explicit expenditure.
No one can determine the true face of Dalai Lama. Whether he is holy or corrupt is a question for people to answer in their own hearts, but even he no longer supports Tibetan independence. Realizing the benefits of positive relations between China and Tibet, he proposed high-level autonomy rather than independence. In an interview with South China Morning Post, he said: “Tibet is a part of the People's Republic of China. It is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China. Tibetan culture and Buddhism are part of Chinese culture. Many young Chinese like Tibetan culture as a tradition of China.”
Third, despite the differences and conflicts between Tibet and China, they complement each other economically. Subsistence agricultural work used to dominate the Tibetan economy and the GDP of Tibet is the lowest among China’s 31 provinces, but everything is beginning to change. Since China incorporated Tibet, China has devoted more than $100 billion dollars to the region in development assistance. China’s subsidies have funded massive transportation and infrastructure projects, including a 156-mile-long rail link from Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, to Shigatse and the 9.6 billion-yuan Zangmu hydropower station, on the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Furthermore, since the 1980s, a series of preferential policies have been implemented in Tibet, such as agricultural tax exemptions in pastoral areas. With China’s aids, its second and tertiary industries have developed. Additionally, the Han Chinese population in Tibet is steadily increasing. These people come to Tibet with passion to serve. According to a teacher from the Sichuan province interviewed by the Atlantic, many Han Chinese want to work in Tibet "because all of us know that Tibet is a less developed place that needs skilled people." As Han Chinese people come to Tibet with crucial skill and connections to China’s economic centers, Tibet’s economy will be able to develop more efficiently. Its education system is also developing with China’s help. Before the Chinese arrived, in 1951, there were no public schools in Tibet, whereas now there are more than 4,000. Meanwhile, Tibet is rich in resources like chromite, solar energy and geothermal energy. These natural resources can complement the Chinese economy while developing Tibet.
While much evidence indicate that Tibet should not be independent from China, some Tibetans have concerns, claiming: China unduly interferes in their religious exercises, especially the process of choosing the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is the central figure in Tibetan Buddhism and people in China and Tibet have the rights to enjoy freedom of religion. However, the operation of religious organizations must abide by laws. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has maintained in Employment Division v. Smith that an individual's religious beliefs do not excuse a person from obeying a valid and neutral generally applicable law. Similarly, the Chinese government officially supports freedom of religion. Article 36 of RPC’s 1982 constitution specifies, “Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.” At the same time, it states that: “No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.” The 14th Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism are in no way exempt from these neutral generally applicable laws and states regulations.
According to current law, since the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have strong political power in Tibet, deciding their legitimate successors must be regulated by the Chinese government, specifically the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Subcommittee of Ethnic and Religious Affairs. Furthermore, the phenomenon of reincarnation is an important tradition that directly impacts the beliefs of Tibetan people. Jigmé Ngapo, director of Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan Service and an expert in Tibetan religion and political affairs, has said that the fate of Tibetan Buddhism is at risk if the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is no longer a core tenant of the religion. Realizing the complex situation, the State Administration for Religious Affairs published State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5, officially named Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas, which states that “it is an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas. The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups.”
However, the current Dalai Lama and his supporters, who oppose to China’s involvement, have proposed many times to cancel the reincarnation system. The 14th Dalai Lama thinks it is better to have no Dalai Lama than a “stupid one”. Nevertheless, the 14th Dalai Lama cannot be the sole voice on the issue. The 14th Dalai Lama is a religious leader, but he cannot tread on the law and constitution. It would be more reasonable for him to change the current reincarnation system by submitting proposal to Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Besides religious exercise issues, some Tibetans argue about the Chinese regional ethnic autonomy policy. Regional ethnic autonomy means that ethnic minorities practice regional autonomy in certain areas. In an article published in the Central Tibetan Administration, Sangye Kep, the chief editor of Tibet Bulletin, points out the dilemma of the Chinese regional ethnic autonomy policy. When designing its Tibetan autonomy policy, China did not take the religious beliefs, culture, and the tradition of Tibetan people into full consideration. Since the regional national autonomy policy is highly relevant to local people, China has made concession to give Tibetan more autonomy. In 1980, the general secretary of communist party, Hu Yaobang, emphasized giving Tibet more autonomy, and asked Tibetan officials to protect the interests of their people. Accordingly, China has adopted some policies changes. First, the autonomous region is permitted to protect, develop and utilize local natural resources. Second, the Regulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region on the Work of Town gives Tibet more local political power. In recent years, Tibet has formulated 23 local laws and regulations, made 21 legal decisions, and cleared up or revised 23 laws and regulations.
Moreover, the environmental problems in Tibet are attracting attention from all over the world. The 14th Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan includes “restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment”. China has put an emphasis on environmental issues recently. According to the Chinese White Paper on Tibet, China plans to invest $2.7 billion on environmental protection projects aimed at steadily improving the region's ecosystem by the mid-21st century. According to Regulations of the Tibet Autonomous Region on Environmental Protection, the people's government will strengthen the application of scientific technologies, develop the environmental protection industry, and carry out clean production.
As for the human rights record and Tibetan indigenous culture, China recognizes the damage it inflicted on Tibet during socialist movement following its incorporation of Tibet. It is necessary to protect the Tibetan culture and respect the aboriginal language, while developing the economy and embracing reconciliation. Currently, policies and rights implemented in Tibet include: regional legislative authority empowered by the State, the right to use and develop the Tibetan language, the administrative right of regional economic development, and the preferential preference to employment and higher education.
Probably, the damage caused by China in Tibet can never be fixed. However, the Chinese government is taking efforts to preserve the justice of law and help Tibetans to improve their living situation. When the flag of peace and cooperation flies in the sky of Tibet, China will not regret these efforts. A new Tibet, a united China, and a bright future are in the horizon.