There is always a trickle of information about conditions in Tibet and they do not lend any confidence that China intends to do good for the people of the region. The latest development in this regard comes from Rebgong County in Qinghai province where authorities have been forcibly confiscating lands of Tibetan villagers to construct a hydropower dam. Tibet Press reports that residents have been instructed to cooperate and passed directions to impound the land with the threat that compensation would be withheld if any resident refuses to give up their land. Authorities in Langya village, about an hour’s drive from Rebgong, issued the order on 23 May 2023, requiring seven villages in the region to move, so that the Chinese government could begin the first phase of construction ten days after the notice’s issue date. This dam is one of the major initiatives of China’s 13th Five-Year Plan and has a total area of 4.58 million square metres and will cost Yuan 245 million to build.
Rebgong, also known as Tongren in Chinese, is located in Malho, or Huangnan, a Tibetan-populated region of China’s Qinghai province. Tibetan villages Shu-Ong-Kye, Shu-Ong-Nyi-tha, Langya, Malpa-Jam, Malpa-Kharnang-Kharshi, and Malpa-Chauwo are situated in the project’s reservoir area. The reservoir’s development is anticipated to begin soon. If local authorities confiscate property of the villagers’, then they would be forced to migrate to towns and cities in search of temporary jobs. China’s aim to forcibly incorporate Tibetan minorities into the Han-Chinese dominated majority is visible in the programme of rural urbanisation, forced relocation of Tibetan nomads and farmers to urban areas, and the ongoing settling of significant numbers of Han Chinese in Tibet. Chinese infrastructure and development projects in Tibet have led to frequent clashes with Tibetans, who accuse Chinese firms and local officials of improperly confiscating land and disrupting the lives of local people.
This story is not new and goes back to China’s invasion of Tibet in 1951. Since then the lives of the Tibetan people have constantly deteriorated. Ever since the protests in 2008, more than 150 Tibetan monks have self-immolated. The torture, mis-treatment and deaths of thousands from Chinese state repression has resulted in repercussions that are felt even today. Note that 87,000 people died when China invaded Tibet in 1951. Countless more have died in the subsequent years and the toll is telling. The cultural and ethnic identity of Tibet is being erased systematically by China.
Today, relatives of Tibetan protestors are routinely harassed, thrown into prison for “re-education”, denied political and medical rights, and even killed if deemed to be a threat. The treatment of nomadic herders who lived in Tibet have been even worse. More than a million nomads have been forced to leave the grasslands with ridiculous plea that this move is meant to protect the ecology of the grasslands. After two years of living in urban environments, most were forced to abandon their new homes to use them as tourist centers and for government housing. The year 2017 witnessed a state-sponsored forced resettlement wherein Tibetan nomads returned to the grasslands without the animals that were their main means of livelihood. By 2018, Chinese security forces in the region were forcibly promoting “bilingual education” by arresting anyone promoting the Tibetan mother tongue and related issues as an ‘underworld gang crime’.
Following Xi Jinping’s directive to improve security in the region, various organs of the Chinese state including, the Public Security Bureau, the State Security Bureau, the United Front Work Department, the Religious Affairs Bureau, the TAR Internet Affairs Office, and the Internet Management Department jumped to establish political achievements. There is no authentic information about the extent of secret trials being conducted in the region. With the introduction of cash rewards for spilling the beans on ‘dissidents’, cadres at every level of government are making the lives of remaining Tibetans in the region even more difficult. A recent Freedom House report lists Tibet as the worst country to live in the world. Another feature of Chinese rule in Tibet is the political re-education camps. China has criminalized any form of social activism in the region and is hard at work to try and destroy the influence of any form of traditional leaders at the grassroot levels under the excuse of eradicating ‘mafia-like’ gangs. There is a massive database of Tibetans in the region wherein anyone affiliated to dissidents is deprived of political rights and access to jobs and healthcare.
Tibet is one of the issues that China remains sensitive about globally. This translates in practice to the United Front Works Department (UFWD) which operates to subvert opposition to the CCP, both within China and overseas. Apart from confusing ethnic minorities on their rights of self-determinism and setting up a false narrative, the UFWD is also active internationally with the objective of co-opting ethnic Chinese individuals and communities abroad. The spy case against the Overseas China Affairs Office was a prime example of the UFWD in action. The launch of the ‘China Association for Preservation and Development for Tibet Culture’ is a “NGO” that has been set up by the UFWD for the sole purpose of defrauding the world on China’s human rights track record in Tibet. Another institution that is being led by former top CCP officials is the ‘China Society for Human Rights Studies’ which deeply studies foreign human rights in the US as a propaganda tool.
The presence of the government sponsored non-governmental organizations is an obstructionist tactic that China is utilizing to establish itself as a paragon of human rights in front of the United Nations. According to UN sources, more than 23 Chinese NGOs have falsified data in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) to defend China’s track record of breaking international treaties and covenants it is party to. The ‘rule of law’ is noticeably absent in China, where there was the infamous 709 crackdown against more than 300 lawyers, para-legals and assistants. Three years after the whistle-blower Dr. Li Wenliang died of Covid, China is still standing firm in maintaining its stance on the pandemic in the international arena. China’s game plan in Tibet becomes clear from three UN reports released in February 2023. These reports state that nearly one million Tibetan children have been separated from their families and sent to residential schools run by the CCP. Tibet Press claims that in these schools, Tibetan children are forced to learn mandarin with a curriculum that teaches them about Chinese culture and are indoctrinated with CCP ideology. In March 2023, the UNCESCR expressed concern at China’s “coercive boarding school system and expressed concern over the CCPs attempt to undertake large-scale erasure of Tibetan identity and culture.
There is a clear and present danger to the Tibetan people from the CCP. One way or another, the Communist Party aims to Sinicize all of Tibet and its people. This being the objective, it is not surprising that the record of their actions makes their intentions crystal clear. The lesson learnt is that Tibetans the world over must unite and rally behind their brethren in Tibet. Unless this happens, China will soon subsume the Tibetan identity within a Han China and then it will be too late.