The Spectre of Sinicization of Tibetans Grows Big

Beijing has been tightening its grip on Tibet since China annexed the Buddhist nation more than 70 years ago. What China claims as a “peaceful liberation from theocratic rule” was in fact a brute invasion by China’s People’s Liberation Army. Over the years, economic development has been used as a pretext under the garb of which China has been transferring a large number of Han ethnicity people into Tibet. This is being done with the agenda to settle these Han Chinese and thus change the demography of the region which will facilitate the Sinicization process easily[1].

Sinicization is the process through which China imposes its culture, such as language and ways of life, in particular that of Han ethnic people, over non-Han people. This pattern can be seen not only among Tibetans but also with other minority groups in China such as Uighurs. Beijing has consistently combined the strategy of relocating Han people in Tibet with the elements of suppression and coercion. Tibetans consider the process of Sinicization as nothing short of cultural genocide of Tibetans[2].

Sinicization is not a new phenomenon but has been in work since Mao Zedong’s time.  Since the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China began populating the lesser-developed regions by bringing people from the urban areas on the Eastern side. Xiafang or “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement” – a movement of massive mobilisation with a purported goal of “integrating” the minorities with the mainstream Chinese while also augmenting China’s economic growth began as a concerted effort by the Communist Party of China (CCP)[3].

China’s aim was to extract the rich mineral and energy resources from the western regions, like Tibet, and use these resources in industries and manufacturing hubs in China’s central provinces so as to boost China’s economic growth. By the end of the 20th century, the Western Development Policy of China came into place through which China aimed to promote socio-economic integration in the western regions including Tibet. As part of this policy, China sought to relocate over 58,000 Han Chinese farmers into Tibet under the Western Poverty Reduction Project[4].

China continues the policy of suppression and intervention in the spiritual and cultural matters of Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese repressions have frequently targeted Tibetan monasteries and nuns, a phenomenon dating back even before Mao’s Cultural Revolution. China strictly enforces a ban on the images of Dalai Lama and prohibits celebrations of Tibetan festivals. China has also been trying to usurp the power of nominating the next Dalai Lama, vying to place their own nominee who will be pliable and reverential towards CPC[5].

In its pursuit of the Sinicization of Tibet, China keeps attacking the Tibetan language while imposing Mandarin as the medium of learning and preferred language in the region. Human Rights Watch in its report noted how this policy is “eroding the Tibetan language skills of children and forcing them to consume political ideology and ideas contrary to those of their parents and community”[6].  A report by the Spanish international news agency EFE notes that how disproportionately large number of boarding schools have been established in Tibet with over 1 million children in these schools which are nothing short of detention camps. These boarding schools are established with the aim of forced assimilation of the younger generation of Tibetans into Han Chinese culture at the expense of their own culture and language[7].

Recent reports suggest how this Sinicization process has gained much force under the reign of President Xi Jinping. In one of his public statements, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for “stepping up the Sinicization of Tibet”, drawing widespread condemnation from across the world. The CPC is carrying out an aggressive “Patriotic re-education” campaign in Tibet in a set-up akin to concentration camps. In such camps, Tibetans are detained, are forced to undergo pro-government propaganda, and are subjected to torture[8].

In a recent study conducted by Rand Europe Research Institute using night-time lighting analysis, it has been posited that Beijing has expanded the use of high-security detention centres as a tool of repression in Tibet. The report revealed the nefarious designs of China’s ‘stability maintenance’ strategy under which innocent Tibetans are detained, convicted, and persecuted even for minor non-violent protests or for expressing dissent. The report notes that there are over 79 detention centres in total spanning almost all the towns and villages of Tibet[9].

A major strategy as part of CPC’s Sinicization process remains to incorporate nearly all the regions in Tibet under its own stranglehold. The succession plan of the 14th Dalai Lama is also an integral plank of this strategy. By being able to install its own nominee as the next Dalai Lama, China aims to gain some points in a perception war and bolster its legitimacy. Recent reports published by the International Tibet Network and Tibet Justice Centre highlighting the findings from two crucial CPC internal documents elaborate on China’s extensive preparations for a post-Dalai Lama era. The Chinese designs of Sinicizing Tibet are a cause of concern for the entire world. As an emerging power showcasing an expansionist and aggressive agenda in both the domestic and international realms, China’s actions in Tibet are a reminder to the world of what looms ahead if China’s belligerent actions are not checked. Calling out China for its repressive policies in Tibet does not merely have to do with the future of millions of Tibetans but also to stymie the march of aggression that China is building upon, be it on Uighurs, Taiwan or even India.

[1] Sahai, D., CCP and Sinicization of Tibet, March 16, 2021, Tibet Policy Institute, accessed on July 31, 2023.

[2] News Desk, Decoding the CCP’s Sinicization Strategy for Tibet, July 31, 2023, Tibet Press, accessed on August 1, 2023.

[3] Dhananjay Sahai, 2021.

[4] Ibid.

[5] International Campaign for Tibet, Analysis: Sinicizing Tibetans in a Chinese nation-state, March 2, 2022, Central Tibetan Administration, accessed on July 31, 2023.

[6] Report, China’s” Bilingual Education” Policy in Tibet – Tibetan-Medium School Under Threat, March 4, 2020, Human Rights Watch, accessed on July 31, 2023.

[7] News Desk, Boarding schools in Tibet seen completely immersed in Chinese culture, July 30, 2023, Tibetan Review, accessed on August 1, 2023.

[8] Report, China ‘coercing’ thousands of Tibetans into mass labour camps, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), accessed on August 1, 2023.

[9] RAND Europe, A night-time lighting analysis of Tibet’s prisons and detention centres, RAND Corporation, 2023, accessed on July 31, 2023.

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