TIBETANS GET AN ULTIMATUM FROM THE CCP: SINICISE OR ELSE
The only choice Tibetans have today, 70 years after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, is to subject themselves to the Sinicisation process voluntarily or by force.
That is the near-ultimatum served on the Tibetan people by the Chinese leadership twice between July and August as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is expected to intensify in the near future the exercise to erase not just Tibetan culture or language or faith but the people’s basic belief in themselves.
Two top leaders of the CCP visited Tibet in the last fortnight to drive home the point that Tibetans without exception must “embrace” Communist Party rule along with the “cultural symbols and images of the Chinese nation”.
The first to visit the autonomous region controlled by the CCP thanks to the sheer presence of the PLA was President Xi Jinping, the first head to visit Lhasa after Jiang Zemin in 1990. He went there ostensibly to review progress of railway projects. He did not make any major political statement there, limiting himself to words of approbation and congratulations at the happy rate of progress by the Tibetans.
His comments travelled much before he came there. In last August, he delivered what is now called his ultimatum to Tibet: “To govern a country, it is necessary to govern the border. To govern the border, it is required to stabilise Tibet first.”
If Tibetans still believed his words held out some hope of respecting their rights, here was the second salvo: “…actively guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to socialist society, and promote the Sinofication of Tibetan Buddhism.”
The second leader to visit Tibet, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the PLA invading Tibet, was Wang Yang. member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee – China’s most powerful political body — and chairman of the CPPCC National Committee.
His message to the Tibetan people was terse: Follow the leadership of the CPC, contribute to stability in the region and its border areas, advance ethnic unity, promote high-quality economic and social development and protect the ecological system of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
He then said something China has been officially saying for 70 years but which no Tibetan or none in the international community believe: “China ‘drove out all the imperialist forces and carried out sweeping democratic reform, separated religion from political powers and ended theocracy’, and ‘established the people’s democratic government’ in Tibet, as seven million serfs rose and held their future in their own hands”.
Just to send the nail home, a message was also delivered to the Tibetans. It talked of the four priorities of the CP in Tibet: “Stability, development, ecology and border management.” It is left unsaid if the beneficiaries are Tibetans or the CCP. The signatories to the message are the most powerful in China: The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the State Council, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee and the Central Military Commission.
The choicest description of China’s policy on Tibet came from its Governor, Qi Zhala, in October 2020 as the world, including China, was breathing again after the initial wave of the coronavirus epidemic. “Due to some outdated conventions and bad habits – particularly the negative influence of religion, people put more attention on the afterlife, and their desire to pursue better living this life is relative weaker. Therefore, in Tibet, we will need to not only feed the stomach, but also fix the mind.”
The exercise in Tibet appears to be part of the grand plan to hasten the assimilation of ethnic minority regions including Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. The possibility of a fresh controversy over the selection of the next Dalai Lama and China’s intentional standoff with India in the Ladakh region appear to have made Tibet a priority issue.
The Sinicisation currently in motion in Xinjiang was originally tested in Tibet. Chinese Mandarin is taught in schools, with students encouraged to speak in the new language. It is being introduced in governance operations as well. Han Chinese have been coming into Tibet to settle down thanks to a bevy of incentives the CCP provides. Han cultures and social customs and religious practices are made popular and given legitimacy to. The Dalai Lama is vilified and Tibetan Buddhism officially ignored. The locals do not have a right to free speech and assembly, while official Communist Party jargon is seeking to replace all Tibetan cultural markings. Tightening screws, the Chinese government imposes severe controls for allowing Tibetans to pursue their religious practices.
The penultimate weapon – next only to use of brutal force – the government uses in Tibet is economic progress. In the last five years, China may have spent over $11 billion in developmental activities in the region. It has certainly brought prosperity in terms of better housing, clothing, education, leisure activities and jobs. The government claims fewer Tibetans are now poor than before. Far-flung villages now have roads, drinking water and health care facilities.
As part of the poverty alleviation campaign, that brings with it higher salaries and perks, Tibetans are encouraged to relocate elsewhere on the Chinese mainland for employment and comfortable lives. Uprooted from their cultural moorings by enticing them with jobs is how the Tibetans see it. It is a daily mental clash for them, between their links to their homeland and their personal development and prosperity.
Despite these policies that challenge human rights, the Tibetan spiritual leadership only reiterates its original demand of not freedom but autonomy for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China. Yet, China has to every now and then do something to confirm to itself that it controls Tibet. The latest round of messages is part of the series.