Occupied Tibet should be a reminder to Taiwan

The securitization of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a warning
to all of China’s ethnic minorities that all of them eventually face the
possibility of being made Hanised and extinct. The same message also applies
to the Taiwanese people who have lived under the shadow of the PRC all these
years, and the increasing belligerence of Beijing has important lessons for
Taiwan from the experience of Tibet under Chinese occupation. The Tibetan
people who have been under the occupation of China, have considerable
experience of this Hanization. Despite the deep sinews of Chinese state power
penetrating the region, Beijing is still wary of attempts that questions its hold
over the region.
That is why when the elections to the post of Sikyong were held in India, China
released its White Paper on Tibet, for no reason but to show its control. While
the White Paper spoke in glowing terms of the progress made by Tibet under
PRC rule, the world should be aware of China’s oppression of Tibetans and
this should serve as a warning to the people of Taiwan, an independent nation
who China claims to be its own and constantly threatens to take over. This
was recently stated by Kelsang Bawa, the Tibetan government-in-exile
representative to Taiwan, who added that Tibet’s experience should serve as
a warning to Taiwanese that their country’s freedom and democracy was in
their hands.
During a book launch (2 September), Kelsang Gyaltsen Bawa, representative
of the Dalai Lama to Taiwan, noted that over the years, intellectuals from Tibet
had either been forced into exile or faced brutal crackdowns in their homeland
by the Communist Party of China (CPC), and their suffering continues to the
present day. He recalled that after the signing of a peace treaty between the
Dalai Lama’s government and CPC in Beijing in 1951, Tibet witnessed “seven
decades of blood and tears shed by Tibetans”. Kelsang Bawa was referring to
the 17-Point Agreement that had affirmed China’s sovereignty over Tibet, but
which also promised Tibetans a high degree of autonomy. None of the
promised autonomy was ever given. Even as Chinese forces invaded Tibet,
they let loose a campaign of repression and loot. Several thousand
monasteries were destroyed, and many monks and their families lost their
lives. Subsequently, following the uprising by Tibetans in Lhasa, the capital
of Tibet, in 1959, the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama escaped to India,
where he formed a Tibetan government-in-exile.
It is significant that the Tibetan representative who had assumed his post in
January 2021, spoke at a book launch about the 1951 peace treaty
commemorating the 61st anniversary of Tibetan Democracy Day. Several
Taiwanese lawmakers joined the event and spoke in support of Tibet. For
instance, Freddy Lim an independent Legislator, who also heads the Taiwan
Parliament Group for Tibet, said the people of Taiwan should cherish their
freedom of expression and fight for democracy, while supporting the Tibetans
who faced oppression at the hands of the Chinese.
Similarly, warning the Taiwanese to be wary of the uptick in Chinese military
exercises off the coast of Taiwan, a legislator from the ruling Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP), Fan Yun, noted that China’s military belligerence
towards Taiwan had increased over the years. He added that people in Taiwan
should also keep faith in important values that the country shares with the
international community, including freedom, democracy, and human rights.
Another DPP Legislator, Hung Sun-han said China had shown what it would
do after a peace treaty is signed and noted that what happened in Tibet should
be a wake-up call for the Taiwanese when they think about the future of the
The relevance of these comments comparing the situation in Tibet and the
possible Chinese takeover of Taiwan lies in the fact that China’s position on
the peaceful reunification of Taiwan has witnessed a gradual shift in the last
several years. On 2 January 2019, President Xi Jinping said, “We do not
forsake the use of force,” talking of the process of reunification. He added:
“China must be and will be reunified”. While President Xi Jinping had then
spoken mainly of “peaceful reunification”, the tone and context of his remarks
suggested he was firing a final warning shot to Taiwan. The basic message is
“give in or else.” China had earlier positioned itself as the one advocating
peace, and seeking integration without an invasion, while the Taiwanese
President Tsai Ing-wen was cast as the villain. In other words, if conflict and
invasion of Taiwan does take place, it would be blamed on the Taiwanese.
Four decades ago, when China entered the era of “Reform and Opening”,
“peaceful reunification” became the mantra of official CPC policy toward Hong
Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. With Hong Kong and Macau having been
“peacefully reunified” (1997 and 1999 respectively), Chinese expectations that
Taiwan would follow suit have been building up for two decades now. These
expectations redoubled a decade ago, as the Beijing Olympics and the Global
Financial Crisis (both in 2008) increased China’s self-confidence and
assertiveness internationally.
But in recent years, China has been losing its patience with the notion of
“peaceful re-unification.” President Tsai Ing-wen’s election in 2016, and her
re-election in January 2020, “forceful re-unification” has become ascendant.
Beijing views Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as being radically proindependence and has been tightening the noose around Taiwan, both
diplomatically and militarily. For instance, China has limited Taiwan’s
“international space” by forcing it out of international organizations. After Tsai
was sworn into office, China prevented Taiwan from participating in
international organizations such as the World Health Organization even
under the name “Chinese Taipei.” International airlines have likewise been
pressured to replace “Taiwan” with descriptions such as “Taiwan, Province of
China.” More importantly, military exercises off Taiwan have intensified both
in scale and intensity. All these measures are evidence of the hardening of
China’s line.
The government and people of Taiwan should, therefore, keep in mind the
negative results of the occupation of Tibet by China. The political and socioeconomic disaster that has befallen Tibet since 1959 is a matter of historical
record. Additionally, the environmental impact of Chinese rule over Tibet is
something whose consequences will be felt for many years to come. Taiwan is
a free country today. It should retain its freedom and democracy and not
become an extension of the CPC. Tibet is today an outpost of the Han Chinese
and has had its religious and cultural identity irreversibly changed. In every
single way, Tibet is today, not the Tibet of the past, but with more negatives
thrown in by the Chinese, than the positives of progress and modernization.

News Desk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *