China is relentless. Its efforts to assert more control over Tibet continue. In the latest move, the state-controlled Chinese media has increasingly started using the term “Xizang” when referring to Tibet in English articles.
This comes after a white paper on the region in western China was released by China’s Cabinet early last month. The paper titled “CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements” outlines the developments in Tibet since Chinese president Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
The November paper which talks about governance is the latest in a series on Tibet issued by China’s State Council Information Office. These white papers are designed to throw light on economic, livelihood and cultural development in the region under Communist Party leadership.
However, it is the first time in the series that “Xizang” was used as the English translation for the Tibet autonomous region. “Xizang” is the pinyin, or Chinese romanisation, of the Mandarin script for “Tibet”, according to a report in South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The language change is a departure from the norm – white papers published earlier refer to Tibet as the “Tibet autonomous region”.
The use of “Xizang”
In the past month since the paper was released, the use of “Xizang” in official Chinese media reports has increased. Tibet has reportedly been used only in a few instances.
From 10 November, the date of the paper’s publication, until Friday, the state news agency Xinhua used “Xizang” in 128 articles. Tibet was used only in five articles when writing about the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the geographic term covering most of the Tibet autonomous region, reports SCMP. Before this, throughout 2023, Tibet was used on the English website more than 700 times and “Xizang” was used in 128 articles.
While the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily used both “Tibet” and “Xizang”, the use of the latter was far less before 10 November. But since the release of the paper, “Xizang” has been used four times more than “Tibet”. “Tibet” was mostly used in English translations like Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Tibet University, the report says.
The use of “Xizang” has also gone up drastically in the English mouthpiece newspaper, China Daily.
China’s push for “Xizang”
China has also used the term earlier in official correspondence. In October, China’s foreign ministry used it in the English translation for Tibet in a published speech by Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a regional forum in the region.
Chinese e-commerce provider Weidian advised merchants on its platform to replace “Tibet” with “Xizang” and warned that their products would be removed otherwise.
Earlier, in August, some Chinese scholars demanded that “Xizang” should be used officially as the English name for Tibet as they believed it would help “reshape” the region’s image, reports SCMP.
Wang Linping, a professor at Harbin Engineering University’s College of Marxism, said that the name Tibet had “seriously misled the international community” over the “geographical scope” of the region.
However, it is not restricted only to Tibet. In April, Beijing issued a new map in which it showed Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of its territory and labelled them new names.
A Tibetan woman in exile wears a mask during a protest against China. File photo/AP
According to experts, the use of “Xizang” is another attempt by Beijing to emphasise its sovereignty over Tibet. However, its impact on the international community is expected to be limited.
Barry Sautman, an emeritus professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was quoted as saying by SCMP, “The Chinese government’s change in Tibet’s English name does not reflect a stance on ethnicity but on sovereignty… It is to vindicate the sovereign right to use a term derived from China’s official language for a part of China’s territory.”
‘Extermination of Tibetan identity’
However, the move has angered Tibetans. The president of the Tibetan government in exile accused China of denying the most fundamental right to the people of Tibet and carrying out the “extermination of the Tibetan identity”.
Tenpa Tsering, in a statement marking Human Rights Day, said that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “forging a strong sense of the Chinese national as one single, promoting the Chinese language, the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism and developing socialist values”, reports The Times of India.
“Such infliction of suffering and oppression on the Tibetan people by the CCP authorities is unparalleled and unprecedented,” he added.
He also said that there was a sharp increase in the appointment of Chinese officials in Tibetan areas.
China has occupied Tibet for more than 60 years. It was annexed in 1950, a year after the Communist Party won the Chinese civil war. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and remains Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile.
Beijing has refused to negotiate with Tibetan leaders since 2010.
Under Chinese rule, rights groups say that Tibetans are persecuted simply for preserving their cultural identity and most basic rights.