Is Tibet Prepared for a Post-Dalai Lama Era?

Tibetans have shaped and sustained their lives for more than 60 years under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader turned 88 in July, and as his longevity is discussed amongst his followers, there is also concern about Tibet’s future without his physical presence.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama divested himself of all political authority, yet, as the architect of democratic governance, he continues to remain a larger-than-life figure for Tibetans.

Along with that come other challenges; safeguarding the democratic system he initiated, engaging younger generations in the cause for Tibet’s freedom, protecting the country’s environment, the influence of external forces and the possible geopolitical fallout of India’s continued support of the Tibetan cause.
Ever since the Lhasa uprising of 1959, and the setting up of a government in exile in Dharamsala, India, the first Tibetan Constitution introduced by the Dalai Lama in 1963 has undergone many changes.

In 1991 the Supreme Justice Commission was added to the other two pillars of democracy, the Legislature and the Executive. Along with that, an Independent Audit Commission, an Independent Public Service Commission and an Independent Election Commission were set up, and women were assigned two seats in the Legislature. The current operational body of the Tibetan government in exile is known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

The debate on Tibet’s sovereignty, which fell under the control of the Chinese in 1951, is ongoing, with the Chinese government terming it the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ and the CTA and Tibetan diaspora referring to it as the “Chinese invasion of Tibet.”

Despite the reforms and the Dalai Lama divesting himself of all political power the spiritual leader exerts considerable influence and therefore there is still, a heavy dependence on him, notes MP Youdon Aukatsang. Speaking at a webinar titled “Tibetan Democracy in Exile’ organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia, on September 15, Ms Aukatsang pointed to a recent constitutional crisis which was finally resolved following the Dalai Lama’s intervention. “Tibetans must take full responsibility for political matters as envisaged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” she said.

There is also the challenge of dealing with the internal dissent amongst Tibetans, which she claimed is spearheaded by China.

The webinar moderated by Ms Tenzin Peldon, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of Voice of Tibet, included Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Director, Tibetan Library and Archives and honorary Professor, University of British Columbia, Gondo Dhondup, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress and Sujeet Kumar, an Indian parliamentarian and the Convenor of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet.

The current Sikyong, Tibet’s political leader Penpa Tsering and Dr Jurgen Murtens, a member of the German Bundestag also addressed the webinar.

The democratic model, Aukatsang states is successful, yet it is a work in progress. The current make up of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has 45 members representing the three provinces of U-Tsang, Do-med and Do-tod, the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the traditional Bon faith, Europe, North America and Australasia. It is headed by the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aukatsang would like to see a modification in the composition with more representation from the diaspora, and less from the provinces to better reflect the changing demography. She also proposes an increase in the number of members of the Standing Committee from 11 to 15 and calls for the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism rather than the direct impeachment process, which is the current practice.

Though the 1991 reforms made way for women’s representation in the TPiE, (currently 10 ministers and the Deputy Speaker are women), Aukatsang is hopeful there would be “more meaningful engagement of women in leadership roles,” for, as she points out, they are the custodians of Tibetan culture and language. Women have also distinguished themselves as founders of several non-governmental organisations and in the field of education.

Her sentiments were reflected by the Sikyong, Penpa Tsering when he said that unless the administration is ready to adapt to demographic and social realities, its relevancy will be challenged.

When the Buddha was on his deathbed, and his followers were fearful of being on their own, the Buddha had advised that the focus should be on his teachings and not his physical presence. Likewise, says Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Tibetans must continue to abide by the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and not worry about his absence. When Tibetans were prohibited from displaying photos of the Dalai Lama, they hung up empty picture frames, he said, aware that the Dalai Lama remains within them.

Ven Geshe Lhakdor also advocates a separation of Church and State, pointing out that clergy must involve themselves in the spiritual upliftment of society, rather than in politics. The idea of the religious ruling a country is outdated, he points out, adding that once clergy get into a “political mindset” they are unable to send out good signals to the people. He adds that their responsibility is to safeguard culture and harmony and be role models.

The principles of democracy are a reflection of Buddhist teaching the Venerable noted, pointing out its time to extricate oneself from a tribal mentality. The focus must be on a long-term, robust vision, rather than quick fixes. He also believes that Tibetans must safeguard themselves from internal fragmentation, even more than external threats.

One unique feature of the administration is that it is free of corruption, the Venerable notes, despite being surrounded by corrupt systems.

Even though Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, sought and had the cooperation of all Chief Ministers to offer refuge to Tibetans in 1959, MP Sujeet Kumar is of the opinion that the current Indian Parliament is rather diffident in openly rooting for Tibet against China.

While acknowledging that Indian parliamentarians have huge constituencies and are busy, he is hopeful his colleagues would take more interest in Tibet and her issues.

Tibetans alone have the right to decide on the Dalai Lama’s successor, says Kumar, and India must back that. India should also rally the support of other nations to help Tibet charter her own course in a post-Dalai Lama scenario.

Kumar would like to see more Tibetan youth become part of India’s trillion-dollar digital industry.
He is concerned, however, at the lack of enthusiasm amongst the youth to use social media to fight disinformation being circulated about Tibet.

Acknowledging that youth could be more engaged in social media to fight disinformation, Gondo Dhondup says all Tibetans are “born to be activists” and to the cause, even though it is difficult to envisage a freedom movement without the Dalai Lama.

Youth are the agents of change, and Tibet’s future citizens, therefore they must stay informed. The TYC organises leadership training, and Tibetans, even those scattered around the globe must take advantage of the programmes, Dhondup says.

While calling on India to introduce a national policy on Tibet, Dhondup cautions that India’s waterways that originate in Tibet are under threat. The rivers are either “diverted or polluted” affecting downstream villagers, and India must ensure her water security, Dhondup explains.

The recently concluded G20 summit was themed “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, and that gives India an opportunity to be more vocal about the environment, he says.

Bharat Tibbat Sangh Delegation Visits the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile

Dharamshala, 21 September 2023: A delegation of Bharat Tibbat Sangh visited the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile today and had an interactive meeting with Deputy Speaker Dolma Tsering Teykhang at the Standing Committee’s hall.

The visiting delegation observed the ongoing session where they were accorded a warm welcome by the house.

Greeting the visiting guests, the Deputy Speaker briefed them on the evolution of the Tibetan democracy in exile and establishment of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile on 2nd September 1960 under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

She further spoke on the current alarming situation of Tibet under China’s rule including restriction on practicing one’s own religion, speaking one’s own language, and other basic human rights.

In addition, She highlighted the unfortunate fate of Tibetan children in Tibet who are forced to colonial boarding schools and stripped them of their right to learn their own language, religion, and culture.

In an effort to reach far flung areas of India, the Deputy Speaker informed the delegation of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile’s endeavour in spreading Tibet awareness through state advocacy campaigns while urging their corporation in reaching out to India’s grassroot level.

Explaining why Tibet matters to India especially with regard to its national security, the Deputy Speaker said, “Tibet is a case to study’ and elucidated how India can learn from the process of usurping Tibet and policies practiced there following its occupation by China.

She further explained TPiE Speaker’s open letter to G-20 leaders calling their attention to Tibet and clarified questions asked on TPiE’s campaigns and programs on international level by explaining working of International Network of Parliamentarians on Tibet (INPaT), 8 rounds of world parliamentarians convention on Tibet (WPCT), and others.

On behalf of the Indian people, the delegation emphasized their working for Tibet as a matter of pride and honour and assured their full support and coordination in resolving the Sino-Tibetan conflict and briefed the Deputy Speaker on the BTS’s composition and functioning across its 22 chapters.

Delegation members assured their best in escalating the fight for Tibet with renewed energy on returning their respective locations and promised to carry forward the flame of Tibet to reach the general public of India.

In the interaction session, the delegation shared their roles, responsibilities, and contribution in spreading awareness on Tibet and fulfilling the objective of BTS in India and across the world.

They deliberated on need of having joint and coordinated campaigns between the Central Tibetan Administration and the Bharat Tibet Sangh, forming coalition with ASEAN countries, reaching out to young Indians by bringing them to Dharamshala for a first-hand experience of the working of the CTA, and bringing contribution of Tibetan sweater seller’s associations in reaching far flung areas of India with inclusive participation of the local dignitaries in celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birth anniversary and other Tibetan celebrations and events.

-Report filed by Tibetan Parliamentary Secretariat 

“Sinicization Of Chinese Buddhism: Ideological Transformation In The Shadow Of Mount Wutai”

On September 5, 2023, an event of profound significance unfolded on the sacred grounds of Mount Wutai in Shanxi province, China. The “Buddhist Educational Affairs and Teaching Style Work Training Course of the China Buddhist Association” commenced at this hallowed site, where the essence of Chinese Buddhism has flourished for over a millennium. However, beneath the spiritual façade lay a deeper purpose, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to reinforce its influence over Chinese Buddhism under the banner of “Sinicization.” This article explores the implications of this endeavor and its impact on the age- old traditions of Chinese Buddhism.

Mount Wutai, often referred to as the foremost among China’s four Sacred Mountains, is a place of profound spiritual significance for Chinese Buddhists. Home to more than fifty monasteries, some of which trace their origins back to the Tang dynasty (8th and 9th centuries CE), the mountain exudes a sense of timelessness. Its temples, sculptures, paintings, and music have seamlessly integrated with traditional Chinese culture, reflecting a centuries-old process of “Sinicization.”

The term “Sinicization” in the context of Chinese Buddhism signifies the adaptation of a religion born in India to the broader Chinese culture. It encompasses the assimilation of spiritual principles, language, architecture, art, and music. This process began more than a thousand years ago and is a testament to the flexibility and adaptability of Buddhism.

Ironically, the recent “Training Course” at Mount Wutai was not aimed at preserving or enhancing the existing harmony between Buddhism and Chinese culture. Instead, it was yet another step in the CCP’s campaign to reframe Chinese Buddhism in its own image. This campaign, referred to as “Sinicization,” seeks to make Buddhism a conduit for promoting the CCP’s ideology and slogans.

Master Yanjue, President of the China Buddhist Association, laid the foundation for this campaign during his introductory lecture. He highlighted the importance of implementing the spirit of the 20th National Congress of the CCP and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. The course attendees were tasked with comprehensively studying and implementing General Secretary Xi Jinping’s views on religious work.

The CCP’s Sinicization of Buddhism is underpinned by a fourfold approach:

Ideological Understanding: Monks and devotees are expected to embrace Marxism and Xi Jinping Thought. This shift in ideological orientation suggests an attempt to exert control over the spiritual and philosophical foundations of Buddhism.

Socialist Legal Education: The CCP seeks to inculcate Xi Jinping’s thoughts on the rule of law within the Buddhist community. This includes strict adherence to new and restrictive laws and directives on religion, further emphasizing the party’s dominance.

System Management: The CCP aims to establish top-down bureaucratic control over even the most remote temples. The “Administrative Measures for Religious Activity Venues” have been introduced to transform religious institutions into vehicles for CCP propaganda.

Sinicization of Academic Courses: Academic courses on Buddhism are to be Sinicized, aligning them with the principles outlined in Xi Jinping’s 2021 speech. This not only restricts religious scholarship but also reinterprets Buddhist history and doctrine through a Marxist lens.

The implications of the CCP’s Sinicization campaign are profound. It raises concerns about the erosion of the unique spiritual identity of Chinese Buddhism, which has evolved over centuries. Monastic traditions, meditation practices, and philosophical teachings may be subsumed under the umbrella of party ideology.

Moreover, the risk of religious persecution and suppression looms large. The CCP’s efforts to exert control over religious institutions and beliefs can stifle the

freedom of religious expression, undermining the very essence of Buddhism as a path to spiritual enlightenment.

The unfolding of the “Buddhist Educational Affairs and Teaching Style Work Training Course” at Mount Wutai underscores the CCP’s unyielding quest for ideological supremacy. Chinese Buddhism, a harmonious fusion of cultures, is now facing a pivotal juncture. The intricate equilibrium between tradition and ideology must be safeguarded to ensure that this ancient tradition continues to kindle the spiritual flame for generations to come. The lasting consequences of this profound transformation on China’s revered spiritual heritage will become more apparent with the passage of time, raising questions about the resilience of ancient wisdom in the face of modern political forces. This evolving narrative prompts us to reflect on the enduring resilience of spiritual traditions in the face of external influences. The tension between preserving the essence of Chinese Buddhism and adapting to the changing sociopolitical landscape encapsulates a broader global conversation on the intersection of faith and governance. Mount Wutai, with its rich history, now bears witness to a profound struggle, echoing the timeless quest for the soul of a culture amidst shifting paradigms.

Jamyang Norbu’s book “Echoes from Forgotten Mountains” details the Tibetan struggle’s buried past.

IT is not often that one comes across a very special book. ‘Echoes from Forgotten Mountains — Tibet in War and Peace’, written by Jamyang Norbu, is one such work. We know the Tibetan author from his novel ‘The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes’, which won the Crossword Award. Some would have met him when he was the director of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala. He was then admired for his role in reviving the performing arts of Tibet endangered under Chinese occupation.

But Norbu’s new book is different; it is a detailed and accurate record of the Tibetan resistance against Communist China from the first months of 1950, when Tibet was invaded by the Chinese army.

Today, when Chinese propaganda blares the world over what Beijing would like us to believe that Tibet has ‘since time immemorial’ been a part of the Middle Kingdom, Norbu demonstrates it has not always been so. The Tibetans fiercely resisted the occupation of their fatherland (Tibetans called Tibet ‘phayul’ or ‘fatherland’).

For a nation to continue to survive despite the odds of the present days, ‘memory’ is crucial. It has been Norbu’s mission in life to record the memory of Tibet and he has done it brilliantly. He writes: “Tibetans are still not a very modern people, and many of them retain their native ability to recall their past in accurate and vivid detail. I have spent a considerable period of my life interviewing people for their personal stories. My inquiries also extended to less-private areas: music, dance, opera, costumes, ceremonies, crime, jurisprudence, rituals and especially travel…”

But first and foremost, by portraying the resistance against the Communist indoctrination, which started long before Beijing began to speak of the ‘sinisation of Tibetan Buddhism’, Norbu’s book gives a new lease of life to his nation.

At times, it worries me to see the young generation of Tibetans not knowing enough about the glorious past of their nation; do they realise that they belong to a race of warriors? Did not their great King Songtsen Gampo conquer a large part of Asia?

Norbu is from a martial family. His grandfather, Gyurme Gyatso, was one of the five young officials who while serving the 13th Dalai Lama volunteered to fight the Chinese in the beginning of the 20th century. Norbu recalls: “My grandfather was given the rank of Dapön or General. I have this old photograph above my desk of his at around twenty-six years of age, looking very dashing — very much the beau sabreur — a long Tibetan broad-sword stuck in the belt of his fur-lined robe… He is holding a Mauser automatic pistol in his right hand in a business-like fashion.”

This aspect of the Tibetan people has today been forgotten, with the West propagating the myth of Tibet as the most peaceful and compassionate nation on earth. The latter may be true, but the Tibetans also knew how to fight and they fought the Chinese intruders well.

Through his own experience, as well as countless interviews of freedom fighters, soldiers, farmers or traders, Norbu has reconstituted (in nearly 900 pages) the ‘lost history of the Tibetan struggle’.

Norbu’s work helps the reader (and especially the young generation of Tibetans) understand the complexity of Tibet’s modern history from the time Mao’s troops entered eastern Tibet, to the first uprisings in Kham and Amdo provinces, the creation of the ‘Four Rivers, Six Ranges’ resistance force and the March 1959 uprising of the entire population of Lhasa. The fact that Norbu served in the Mustang Guerilla Force sponsored by the CIA in northern Nepal adds heft to his first-hand account.

One of most tragic incidents recounted by Norbu is the revolt of the Lithang monastery at Kham in 1956. Already, in May 1950, one regiment of the ‘liberation’ army had walked into the area with 5,000 Chinese troops.

The author narrates the fighting led by a young chieftain, Yunru Pön, “who became the leader of his tribe when he was just fifteen years old… The chieftain and his warriors take an oath to defend Lithang monastery to the last man, and hold out against numerous Chinese attacks. Finally, the monastery is bombed to rubble and Yunru Pön announces to the Chinese that he is prepared to surrender. The Chinese commander is reassured when Yunru throws out his rifle to the Chinese. But our hero has a pistol hidden in the sleeve of his robe, which he whips out and shoots the Chinese commander. The other Chinese soldiers gun down Yunru Pön.”

This book is Jamyang Norbu’s labour of love, the result of a lifelong commitment to collect the ‘echoes’ of those who fought for a free Tibet. It is worth having in one’s library.

Taiwan’s Presidential hopeful rejects peace plan with China, cites Tibet’s misery

Vice President of Taiwan William Lai Ching-te, who is running as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate, rejected a proposed peace plan with China put forth by opposition presidential candidate and Foxconn founder Terry Gou. Lai said the proposal as unviable, citing the “misery” experienced in Tibet, Hong Kong and Macau.

“If peace agreements (with China) were effective, Tibet would not be so miserable,” Lai said while addressing supporters’ groups in Kaohsiung.

The presidential hopeful was referring to the Seventeen Point Agreement, which was signed between China and Tibet in 1951. The agreement included commitments from Beijing, such as a promise to “not alter the existing political system in Tibet.” However, the Dalai Lama who was the political head of Tibet at that time renounced this agreement in 1959, stating it was signed under duress. Furthermore, the Tibet government-in-exile has stated that China has failed to uphold many of the commitments outlined in the agreement.

Lai further expressed his concern that some candidates were willing to pursue peace at the cost of relinquishing sovereignty. He emphasized, “Peace without sovereignty is a false peace. If peace without sovereignty can lead to peace, Hong Kong and Macau would not be so miserable.”

The context surrounding Hong Kong was noted in the speech as well. The United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, which stipulated that Hong Kong would maintain its economic and administrative systems for 50 years. However, international observers and human rights organizations have accused China of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy through repressive measures, such as the imposition of the Hong Kong national security law by Beijing in 2020.

The one million Tibetan kids attending boarding schools in China

One day in late November 2016, back home in Tibet, I received a distressing call from my brother telling me I needed to check on his granddaughters. “Something very strange is happening,” he said.

My young relatives, who were 4 and 5 years old at the time, had just enrolled in a boarding preschool that the Chinese government had established in my hometown, Kanlho, a seminomadic region in the northeast corner of the Tibetan plateau. Their new school was one of many — I have personally tracked about 160 in three Tibetan prefectures alone — and part of Beijing’s growing network of preschools in which Tibetan children are separated from their families and communities and assimilated into Chinese culture.

Though it had only been three months since the girls had started at the school, my brother described how they were already beginning to distance themselves from their Tibetan identity. On weekends, when they could return from school to their family, they rejected the food at home. They became less interested in our Buddhist traditions and spoke Tibetan less frequently. Most alarmingly, they were growing emotionally estranged from our family. “I might lose them if something isn’t done,” my brother worried.

Concerned, I set out to the girls’ school a few days later to pick them up for the weekend. When they walked out of the gates, they waved to me but barely spoke. When we arrived home, the girls didn’t hug their parents. They spoke only Mandarin to each other and remained silent during our family dinner. They had become strangers in their own home.

When I asked the girls about school, the older one recounted how on the first day several children, anxious from being unable to communicate with teachers who only spoke Mandarin, urinated and defecated in their pants.

As the Chinese government continues its 70-year quest to build legitimacy and control over Tibet, it is pivoting increasingly to using education as a battlefield to gain political control. By separating children from their families and familiar surroundings and funneling them into residential schools where they can become assimilated into Chinese subjects, the state is betting on a future where younger generations of Tibetans will become groomed Chinese Communist Party loyalists, model subjects easy to control and manipulate.

Today these boarding schools house roughly one million children between ages 4 and 18, approximately 80 percent of that population. At least 100,000 of those children — and I believe there are many more — are only 4 or 5 years old, like my young relatives were.

After listening to the girls’ stories, I asked my brother what would happen if he just refused to send them. He teared up. Disobeying the new policy would mean having his name blacklisted from government benefits. Others who have protested the new schools have suffered terrible consequences, he said.

He also didn’t have any other choice. Though Chinese boarding schools for Tibetan children have been around since the early 1980s, until fairly recently they had mostly enrolled middle and high school students. But beginning around 2010, the government, in preparation for the new wave of residential preschools, began shutting down local village schools, including the one in our hometown. Then it made preschool a prerequisite for elementary school. Though many of the new boarding schools are far from children’s hometowns, refusing to enroll in them would mean children would grow up with little to no education and become further marginalized from an economy that many Tibetans are already excluded from.

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Distressed by the changes I observed in my family, I set out over the next few years to visit more than 50 boarding preschools across northern and eastern Tibet, areas that China calls the Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces. Over the course of my three years of fieldwork and meetings with students, parents and teachers, what I discovered was worse than anything I could have imagined.

I met young Tibetan children who could no longer speak their native tongue. The schools strictly controlled parental visits. In some cases, schoolchildren saw their families only once every six months. Dormitories, playgrounds and teachers’ offices were heavily surveilled. I saw security cameras installed in classrooms, no doubt to make sure teachers — many of whom were young Chinese undergraduates with little to no background in Tibetan language and culture — only used C.C.P.-approved textbooks.

In one school I visited in the nomadic town of Zorge, a homesick child, in a very quiet tone, said, “When it gets dark in the evening and I can’t take care of myself, I miss my mom and grandparents.”

A woman in my village whose small children had been sent to a boarding school told me: “Whenever I came home exhausted after working all day on the farm, I wanted to hug my 4- and 5-year-old kids. But they were not there.” To heal the pain of their separation, she and a group of other young mothers from her village organized a 1,200-kilometer walking pilgrimage to Lhasa.

One villager told me: “We realize that the government is not ours. When officials come to our town, they don’t know our language or how to communicate with us.”

Another asked: “How can our language and culture survive if we are not able to stop what is happening?”

Beijing’s use of schools to erase Tibetan culture isn’t new. During the Cultural Revolution, the government banned the teaching of Tibetan in many schools. Then, in 1985, in addition to the boarding schools that had been set up inside Tibet, Beijing pioneered its Inland Schooling Program, which sent Tibetan students off to boarding schools in cities across China. James Leibold, an expert in Chinese ethnic policies, described the schools as “a military-style boot camp in how to be ‘Chinese’ and how to conform to acceptable ways of acting, thinking and being.” By 2005, 29,000 Tibetan students had attended these schools.

The trend has only accelerated — and reached younger and younger children. In March 2018, at an annual Parliament meeting, President Xi Jinping said that “core socialist values should set the tone of the common spiritual home of all ethnic groups” and “should be nurtured among the people, particularly children and even in kindergartens.”

Beijing’s focus on separating younger Tibetans from their culture has finally caught Washington’s attention. Last month, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, announced that the United States would impose visa restrictions on Chinese officials who are involved in “the coercion of Tibetan children into government-run boarding schools.” As other countries like Canada and Australia reckon with their own history of colonial boarding schools, I hope they follow in Secretary Blinken’s footsteps and intervene as China enthusiastically replicates these horrors in my homeland.

I can only hope that the international attention will force Beijing to rethink its policy and alter the fates of children like my young relatives. After years of fieldwork, I am deeply concerned for the fate of Tibetan culture: that it will slowly disappear as more and more children are forced to become Chinese, and the Tibetan culture that I know and cherish will not survive for future generations. Or else I worry that they will grow up as perpetual strangers in their own homes, in their own homeland.

Tibetan girl wins 122-kilometre silk route ultra-marathon in Ladakh

Tsering Yangzom, a Tibetan girl hailing from Ladakh’s Choglamsar village emerged victorious in the 122-kilometer Silk Route Ultra Marathon in Union Territory of Ladakh on Thursday. She completed the course in 19 hours, 26 minutes, and 17 seconds traversing the gruelling high altitude race from Kyagar Village in Nubra, and concluding in Leh, Ladakh.

The Ladakh Marathon is known for its arduous races set against the Himalayan backdrop. The Silk Route Ultra Marathon, spanning 122 kilometres, is particularly renowned for testing the endurance of participants in high-altitude conditions. Athletes preparing for this race must arrive in Leh at least a week before the event to acclimate themselves to the elevated terrain, of an astounding 3,500 meters above sea level.

Named after the historic Silk Route that connected North-West India to Central Asia through regions like Yarkhand, Kashgar, and Turkestan, the Silk Route Ultra Marathon pays homage to the rich cultural heritage left by this ancient trade route. The race route passes through the Nubra Valley, often referred to as “Ldumra” or the “valley of flowers,” underscoring the historical significance of the Silk Route in Ladakh.

The Silk Route Ultra Marathon is specifically designed for experienced runners who have previously completed the 72-kilometer Khardung La Challenge, recognized as the world’s highest ultra-marathon, situated at a staggering 5,370 meters above sea level. It continues to attract Ironman athletes and other seasoned ultra-runners, providing them with an opportunity to push their limits amidst Ladakh’s unique landscapes.

How India is fortifying its border infrastructure against China with 90 projects

The news that Chinese president Xi Jinping would skip the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi from September 9-10 dashed hopes of a bilateral meeting between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where they could have further exten­ded their discussion of a fortnight ago. Meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg on August 24, Modi and Xi agreed to intensify efforts for “expeditious disengagement and de-escalation” of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, where the Indian military and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been involved in a protracted standoff since May 2020. Though there is large-scale deployment of men and machines by both sides on the LAC and multiple military and diplomatic negotiations have failed to produce complete disengagement, China’s defence minister Gen. Li Shangfu, during his visit to New Delhi in April, had sought to delink the standoff from bilateral ties, saying the border situation was “stable”. India’s stand on the matter is unchanged: unless the border row is resolved, relations cannot be normal. Despite Chinese claims, the situation on the ground tells a different story—the Chinese have been constructing military/ dual-use infrastructure and strengthening existing installations at a frenetic pace in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), often within striking distance of the border with India.

Whatever Chinese leaders may say, Indian military observers believe that China’s infrastructure build-up belies expectations of complete de-escalation and the restoration of the pre-April 2020 status quo, as India has been demanding.

Indeed, China observers are surprised at the fast-changing strategic geography of Tibet. As observed in satellite images and other reports, new strategic assets include construction and upgradation of roads in proximity to the LAC, underground missile launch silos, blast pens in airfields, positioning of fighter jets, construction of new railway lines and dual-use civilian-military villages. Around 50 air strips/ airports and helipads are being completed to facilitate faster mobilisation of men and materiel. All these are indications of PLA’s extended deployment preparations.

Though the Indian military has readied itself for any misadventure with better infrastructure and defence preparedness, the swiftness of development across the LAC has been a point of concern for military planners in South Block. The Indian military firmly believes that the PLA is preparing for offensive operations, not shoring up its defences. Jaidev Ranade, an expert on China, points out Beijing’s “almost fanatic” dual-use infrastructural developments in Tibet—new expressways, plans to build more airports and two new railway lines linking Tibet to Xinjiang and Yunnan. According to its latest budget, China is planning 191 key projects this year in Tibet, with an investment of more than 143 billion Yuan ($21 billion/ Rs 1.72 lakh crore).

Declare Tibet to be an occupied country.

The speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, called the attention of G20 leaders and issued a 10-point appeal to the members of the intergovernmental forum, urging them to recognise Tibet as an occupied nation with an independent and sovereign past.

In his letter, Tenphel appealed to the G20 leaders to desist from endorsing China’s false narrative, labelling Tibetans as a minority, referring to Tibet’s occupation as an internal issue of Beijing, and proclaiming Tibet as a part of China thereby aiding its colonisation of Tibet and the subjugation of Tibetans. He also asked the member states to “re-engage in substantive dialogue with the representatives of Dalai Lama without preconditions to resolve the Tibet-China conflict through the Middle-Way Policy of seeking genuine and meaningful autonomy.”

Tenphel has further made an appeal to the leaders to call upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to launch a scientific research on “China’s exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources and its negative impact on global climate change.” The speaker has also appealed to the G20 leaders to demand from China unconditional release of all Tibetan political prisoners, including Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, whose whereabouts remains unknown since May 17, 1995

Tibetan refugees in India demand that Tibet be discussed during the G20 conference.

More than a hundred Tibetan refugees staged a protest in New Delhi on Friday, demanding that the “occupation” of their country by China be discussed during the two-day G20 summit in the city this weekend.

Global leaders have started descending upon India’s national capital for the summit, including U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

China President Xi Jinping will not be attending the gathering and will instead be represented by Prime Minister Li Qiang.

“China has captured our country, that is why we want to give a message that China is not a trustworthy country,” Gonpo Dhundup, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which organised the demonstration, told Indian news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

“We place a demand before our Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other global leaders to discuss Tibet during the G20 summit,” he said.

China sent troops into Tibet in 1950, terming the act a “peaceful liberation”, and has ruled the remote, mountainous country ever since.

While rights groups and Tibetans have made allegations of “cultural genocide” and strict controls on religion, language, education, and labour under China, Beijing denies any breach of the human rights of Tibetan people.

The protest on Thursday took place barely 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from Pragati Maidan, the venue of the summit, and ended peacefully.

TibetPress footage showed protesters, ranging from young children and students to the elderly, carrying Tibetan flags and chanting slogans of “we want freedom” and “Tibet belongs to Tibetans”.